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The costume over my bones

In my continuing effort to comment on television shows weeks after they’ve aired, I finally watched the PBS documentary Fat: What No One is Telling You which is also available to watch online. (Up next, my comments on the second season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Wasn’t that heartbreaking? But how come TV shows always use the Sarah McLachlan music when something sad happens?)

I felt like this show should have been called Fat: What Everyone Is Telling Me because after it aired several people asked me if I’d watched it, only I hadn’t. I felt like I’d skipped doing my homework so I could drink Slurpees down at the 7-11 with my friends. I suppose it is now my unofficial duty as a weight-loss blogger to watch all obesity related programming and comment on it. Thank God I don’t have cable and I’m limited to only reviewing PBS specials. The number of loose skin operations covered on the E! Network alone would put me in a backlog until 2009.

The documentary is well-done and doesn’t oversimplify the issue of obesity. They frequently kept the camera on someone for at least a minute without cutting, letting them talk in-depth, which is not something most late-night new magazines would do. However, if you read a lot of dieting and fitness information and keep up with the weight-loss blogs, you probably won’t learn anything you didn’t already know. The only new thing I learned was the theory that the gastric system has its own “mini-brain.” One doctor theorized that part of the reason gastric bypass surgery is successful is not only because of the reduced size of the stomach but because nerves are severed during the process that help regulate hunger. The show was compelling mostly because you got to hear the stories of several people who are trying to lose weight or keep it off.

One woman who had gained over 50 pounds was upset because she thought her body didn’t reflect who she was. Another guy said he wanted to lose weight so people would see him for who he was. Well, yeah, wouldn’t that be lovely? Too bad that’s never going to happen no matter how thin or fat you are. It’s odd that we think that if we become thin or ripped with muscles people will suddenly be able to look directly into our souls. It’s kind of silly that we think our bodies are going to be reflections of who we are. You can certainly choose what image you project – your clothes, your haircut, your make-up, the way you walk, the way you talk ā€“ all that sends a message of who you are. But you’re never really going to know what someone is like just by looking at them. It’s like Wednesday said in The Addams Family when she didn’t dress up for Halloween, “I’m a homicidal maniac, they look just like everyone else.”

So I understand why someone thinks being thinner or fatter will better project the idea of who they are. It changes the image other people see, but ultimately “thin” is just another costume you wear over your bones. It’s not you. If there’s anything I learned from being fat it’s that I was a cool person then and I’m still a cool person now. I certainly prefer being thinner, but even if I got fat again it doesn’t reflect negatively on who I am. It just reflects the lifestyle I’m currently living. People see it as a disguise, but it really shouldn’t be. Yet we’re all still kids playing dress-up out of the costume box in the classroom corner.

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laurie • April 23, 2007 at 11:07 am

I Tivo’d that program, too, and I’m going to watch it this coming week sometime. But I agree with you that being thinner won’t instantly make people see “the real me.” Just like being fatter didn’t make “the real me” go away. I know sometimes I pin too much hope and expectation on what my life would be like if only I were skinny. I’m trying hard to break myself of that habit.


Amy • April 23, 2007 at 12:19 pm

I find this entry extraordinarily insightful.

I think that it’s a human tendancy. We’re always looking for an external thing to make us feel good internally. No matter your circumstances, there’s always a desire for that external something that will make life better.

With some, that thing is extra food, then later, the thing turns into a thin body. Once you have that, then it turns into something else, like having that perfect job or relationship.

There’s nothing wrong with having and pursuing goals, but perhaps there should be some understanding of the limitation of the reward. Obviously, you have that understanding, and perhaps this is the reason you have been so successful.


i dunno • April 23, 2007 at 1:16 pm

I dunno … I mean, if someone is heavy, than that heaviness is often the only thing new people see.

i mean, if you are 25 years old and 270 lbs, no one cares what your face looks like, or how nice your hair is, or too much about your personality — you are the fat girl. It informs EVERYTHING about you. So I don’t think the desire to strip that away and project “the real you” is illegitimate. i mean, why do people LOVE before-and-after pictures. You want to see “what the person looks like” — the person without all the weight on them.


PastaQueen • April 23, 2007 at 1:25 pm

i dunno – Yeah, I’m not denying that. My point is that no matter what you look like, it’s still a costume. Maybe that costume is more in line with how you see yourself or how you want other people to see you, but ultimately it’s still a costume.


G.G. • April 23, 2007 at 3:43 pm

I think it’s the difference between “surface” and depth.” It’s like when people make snap judgments about land based on the curb appeal–they buy or pass many times based on their first impressions. If a piece of property looks bad at first glance, buyers will move on to the next piece of property that might have what they’re looking for–they don’t care that the ratty piece of land may harbor an oil well. They just care that it’s overgrown or abuts a highway or overlooks a meat processing plant and that’s not where they see themselves living.

Losing weight simply makes a person more visible as a person, ironically. It’s like being fat messes with other people’s focus. The fatter you are, the harder it can be for them to identify you as a legitimate person–a self worthy of attention. Maybe what the people on the PBS special really want is just to be noticed as a thinking, feeling, valuable person AT ALL, and not just as some insult-deserving, cautionary-tale-making, feelingless bulk. But they’re making a mistake if they’re thinking that fixing their surfaces will shore up any flaws in their sub-strata, so to speak. Improved topsoil won’t prevent a sinkhole:-)


Rah • April 23, 2007 at 4:28 pm

Eloquently put, PQ, and very insightful. I remember the specific moment when I declared my “indpendence” from what other people think of me. It still matters at one level, of course, because I win and lose according to society’s rules. But underlying it all is my own knowledge that I am a competent, worthwhile, intelligent person with a marvelous sense of humor.

Your writing is priceless. Thank you for sharing it with the world.


lme • April 23, 2007 at 4:35 pm

What I really liked about the show was that it put some very human faces on the issue. You didn’t just see the headless shots of fat people, you met people, got a sense of who they were and what it is like to be in their situations. There is so much fat hatred out there. So many people who just think if fat people would just “eat less and move more” they would lose weight. I thought the program did a good job of showing the complexity of the issue.


Debbie • April 23, 2007 at 4:48 pm

If someone doesn’t want to associate with you because of your weight, then that person isn’t worth knowing.


metamorphose • April 23, 2007 at 5:36 pm

I think you make a really interesting point…and really makes me rethink what people are saying when they say, “I know there’s a thin girl inside of me, just waiting to come out.”

And sure, if they say that purely in the physical sense, I understand that. But if they really think the thin person is going to be any different…the thin girl may have learned a lot more self-discipline by transforming from fat to thin…but most likely the person is exactly the same.

It’s funny, apparently I’m a “thin girl” but when I’m not living a healthy lifestyle (living at the McDonald’s drive-thru, and never going to the gym, completely ignorant to vegetables) -am I a fat girl inside a thin girl? Just waiting to claw her way out?

Maybe I’ll have to post about this on my own blog. It’s very interesting.


Lose Weight With Me • April 23, 2007 at 8:15 pm

I have not yet had the opportunity to watch this show, but I have to agree with PQ in that this isn’t who we are.

I’ve known people who’s sole motivation to lose weight was to look good. While there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, they didn’t know how to act once they lost their weight. They had lost their motivation.



krissie • April 23, 2007 at 10:13 pm

I love the thought that we are all wearing costumes. Even though my fat costume is a hinderance, it also keeps me safe. Keeps me from being approached by strangers. Keeps me from the high expectations of others. Keeps others from being intimidated by me. So even though I complain about the real me being stuck, I do still reap some (self-depricating) benefits from my size.

Great post.


Chris H • April 23, 2007 at 11:28 pm

Oh bugger, I’m too tired to give this too much in depth response…except to say… I get what your saying, but in today’s society people are very judgemental, and our outward appearance is more often than not what people judge us on… sad but true…. never mind how we feel about ourselves.


hopefulloser • April 24, 2007 at 12:40 am

Hey PQ,

About the train. It’s awesome! The seats are more than twice the size of airplane seats and they recline with a leg rest. And there’s four times the amount of leg room. I went through Chicago.


Julia • April 24, 2007 at 2:56 am

What a great post, thanks!


Amy • April 24, 2007 at 7:43 am

hey, that sarah song was current at the time.


english muffin top • April 24, 2007 at 7:48 am




anonymous • April 24, 2007 at 11:01 am

Ok, I don’t want to get everyone mad, but I have to say this. I’ve been fat (in fact, was fat for most of my life) and have now spent the last few years thin. If there are those of you who really feel you are the same person on the inside regardless of how you look on the outside, I can sincerely say more power to you. This was not true for me. I am a different person now, inner and outer. I am at peace. I am happy. I am confident. I am positive. I am outgoing. I even think I am thoughtful and more kind, certainly less angry, maybe because I don’t feel so defensive. I am many things now that I think were either not there before or were deeply, deeply hidden. I have changed, and I’m glad for it. If that fat was just a costume, then I was wearing it on the inside too.


Peach • April 24, 2007 at 11:10 am

I know what you mean. Losing a lot of weight can make a person feel elated and more confident, and their friends and families may be very proud of them for it. But, to the rest of the world, the person is still invisible, just another face in the crowd. Being thin won’t change that. And you’re right… who a person truly is isn’t reflected in a person’s waist size.


PastaQueen • April 24, 2007 at 11:44 am

anonymous – I did a meme back in January that included the question of whether weight loss had changed me and I agree with what you said, I’m not really the same person. But I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t a “different” person per se, just more myself, like I had my amp turned up to 11.

The thing about costumes is that they do effect how you live. If I were to wear a corset I wouldn’t be able to breathe well. If I had to wear stripper shoes I’d probably fall on my face. But the way I look and what I’m wearing aren’t who I am, just part of the image I’m projecting. The way people react to that image will in turn effect how I react to them and how I feel about myself, but it’s still all ultimately smoke and mirrors when you get down to it.


PastaQueen • April 24, 2007 at 11:53 am

And also, a lot of that newfound confidence comes not just from looking better, but because I feel more in control of my life and take pride in accomplishing a huge task. I also find eating healthy and exercising makes me feel better, period. Being thinner is good too, of course :) But the thinness seems to be more of a side affect of taking better care of myself.


Sheri • April 24, 2007 at 2:59 pm

I agree that I feel more myself, like Sheri turned to 11. But that is still different. The question is, can I attribute it to weight loss? Partially, maybe. I’ve lost over 120 pounds. But Iā€™m also older, too. Out of my twenties, at least. I do feel out of my shell, but because of everything else, including motherhood, it is hard to pinpoint where the shell fell.


K • April 24, 2007 at 6:40 pm

I think Sheri has a good point: I had largely stopped feeling embarrassed by my body some time before I started a proper effort to lose weight. And I think that had a lot to do with growing up and changing my outlook, and less to do with any actual change in my appearance. I needed to feel happier before I could do that.

“The thing about costumes is that they do affect how you live.”

Yes – and I don’t think this just applies to weight. I mean, my work clothes are quite different from my weekend clothes, and that affects how I behave; but I find it’s self-defeating to think of the weekend clothes as reflecting my real self better. I’m still myself in a skirt with my hair up, even if I’d rather be in jeans and a T-shirt with my hair down my back. There are good things about my “work self” too.

One of the things that bothered me, to begin with, about my decision to lose weight, was that I’d spent many years carefully maintaining a pretence that I was above caring about such things. And now I was going to have to admit (to myself, at least) that I did. I was afraid I was somehow going to turn shallow, vain and single-minded.

Surprise! I’m just as easily distracted and scruffy as I was before… on the weekends, anyway ;)

Possibly it’s not such a big deal for me because I haven’t (and couldn’t have) completely transformed my appearance. It might be different if you’ve lost so much weight that you feel everyone you know must notice.


jae • April 24, 2007 at 8:56 pm

I love your last paragraph. What a great insight. I wish I could elabarate, but I need to think about what it means to me. ~j


Johanna • June 13, 2008 at 6:41 pm

It’s been a while since you posted this. But since I am new to reading your blog I have to commment. I have never been overweight, but I have been underweight, in fact struggling with anorexia.

I was so moved by this documentary, largely due to the fact that I have always known instinctively that morbid obesity and anorexia are in fact one and the same struggle.

It doesn’t seem so, of course. But everytime I watch a documentary like this one, it just seems to me: fat or too thin, all one and the same mindset, not much of a difference.

Someday, I hope someone comes up with something that explains the connection that I instinctively know is there. It will certainly remove some of the stigma attached to overweight… and de-romanticize weighing too little.


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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