Prologue

Prologue

I am a fat woman in a thin body.

I am a thin woman in a fat body.

I am a fat girl in a thin body.

I am a thin girl in a fat body.

Fat girl, fat woman –

Fat woman, thin girl –

Thin girl, fat woman –

Fat woman, fat girl –

Fat girl, thin woman –

Thin woman, fat girl –

Fat girl, fat woman –

Fat woman, fat girl –

Fat girl, thin girl –

Thin girl, fat girl –

Fat girl, fat woman...

Around and around

I go,

Not-so-merry-go-round.

Fat is my truth,

Consuming above all.

Two tales, one body,

One body, two tales.

Two bodies?

Thin narrates a sudden lie,

Fat an epic truth,

*A Tale of Two Bodies*

Another truth:

Fat, I am shamed;

Thin, I am raw.

A bared secret:

I turn to fat,

In a flash;

I dwell in fat.

I have journeyed to thin –

A distant land,

A short sojourn.

I am a fat woman walking.

I am a thin girl running.


*

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Autumn: The “Why” and Conversations with My CPAP

The Author's CPAP mask as an artifact
________________________________

Without my “Why,” I would probably gain my weight back.
My Why had better remain strong and at the forefront of my mind – yes, a healthy obsession – otherwise, I will gain the weight back.
Indeed, as I have said in previous chapters, there is no guarantee that I will keep the weight off, despite my Why – it is no accident that I refer to myself as a fat woman walking.
I need a constant reminder of why I have undertaken this difficult journey and why I continue on its path, even though it remains tricky – in some ways more treacherous than those heady weekly weight losses.
Frankly, it’s not all that exciting to see, every day, the same number register on the scale, except to note that it represents a normal weight.
Even in paradise, days normalize and become ordinary with the same-old, same-old daily slog.
I remember well when my Why was born, a date that will remain forever etched in memory:
May 5, 2016 –
The day I picked up my new CPAP from the medical supply company.
For most people my age, this intrusive piece of equipment would represent a minor bump in a life that has been generally robust and healthy. After all, this machine would manage my newly-diagnosed sleep apnea by helping me sleep better and, more importantly, help me breathe at night.
Not me – I was thoroughly pissed off – affronted at the device that had the audacity to muscle its way into my bedroom:
How DARE you intrude in my life!
But what choice did I have? Untreated sleep apnea can kill – and does.
Often, the first diagnosis of this condition is at autopsy, after someone has died in his or her sleep – in that regard, I was fortunate. My case was mild to moderate and diagnosed after my complaint of not sleeping well.
Specifically, I was diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), caused by “a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.”
According to WedMD, sleep apnea is a “serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain – and the rest of the body – may not get enough oxygen.”
Yikes!
While there are many causes for this disorder, excess weight seems to be a major commonality – according to the NIH, 50% of sufferers are overweight or obese. Also, patients with large tonsils and/or small airways are prone to obstructive sleep apnea.
Evidently, the cause isn’t the overall excess weight, per se, but when the body picks up pounds, the flesh in the neck also expands, hence the soft tissue collapse.
In other words, a largely avoidable disorder.
I was thoroughly disgusted that I had allowed myself to arrive at this point.
Moreover, I viewed my new CPAP as an unwanted tenant in my house and on my nightstand, which meant I would have to move my books and magazines to make room for “that thing.” (I later bought a magazine rack from the Goodwill.)
I got mad, but mad without a plan.
After I set the CPAP up, I fumed and stomped around the house in a fury.
How could this happen to ME?
Then the voice: “You know what you have to do.”
My fat body was speaking to me.
It was then that we had a serious conversation, which is posted here.
Once I had made the decision to return to Weight Watchers, it was time to face my Why head on:
ME: (To the CPAP, all set up): Hey, you!
CPAP: You called?
ME: I hate you.
CPAP: Who, me?
ME: Do you see anyone else here?
CPAP: No, but –
ME: Don’t get too comfortable.
CPAP: Hey, don’t get mad at me. I’m just the messenger.
ME: You’re an intruder.
CPAP: (Settling in) Heh.
ME: Expect to be evicted, sooner rather than later.
CPAP: Not likely. We CPAP’ers tend to enjoy a long tenure in our new digs. (Pause.) I think I’m going to like my new home, although it’s a bit messy here.
ME: Everyone’s a critic.
CPAP: You know, you’ll have to keep me clean…
ME: Yes, I was told that.
CPAP (Looking around.) It’s kinda dusty in here.
ME: Your point?
CPAP: You can get sick from a dirty CPAP mask. Dry throat. Post-nasal drip. Bronchitis. Pneumonia. Death.
ME: I’ll be washing – IT – every day.
CPAP: You’d better.
ME: You’d better do your job and shut the fuck up about it. My husband needs his sleep and no drama about it from you.
CPAP: I’ll be a very quiet resident –
ME: You mean “unwanted guest.”
CPAP: (Chortles.) It’s quite cozy here.
ME: You’re already a romance killer…
CPAP: You lack imagination…
ME: (Exasperated.) Now, look here –
CPAP: (Sighs and raises its tubing.) We could go around and around on my resident status, but could we call a temporary truce on deportation?
I agreed.
So we raised the white flags and retreated to our corners.
I promised to keep the machine and its parts clean, and it assured me it would work as agreed.
Meanwhile, I quietly plotted: I would work toward losing weight, although there would be no guarantees of an eventual cure.

For the next 11 months, I struggled with the CPAP. For one, I had to keep the mask scrupulously clean, which meant a daily scrubbing with hand soap. I had to do this each morning upon arising; otherwise, I would forget – out of sight, out of mind.
Once, I got the bright idea of using baby wipes for this chore. I thought it would be more sanitary and easier.
HA!
What I hadn’t considered: wipes contain tiny little fibers – okay for baby bottoms, but not so good for a closed environment that would be delivering air to my lungs. Fortunately, we all have little hairs in our noses to stop such dangerous substances from entering our airways, but, unfortunately, tiny fibers tickle those hairs. For three nights, I couldn’t figure out why I was sneezing all night.
Then, on the third day, I saw hundreds of those fibers all over my mask, inside and out.
Well, duh.
Back to soap and water.
Other little indignities: The water chamber requires distilled water – I suppose to mitigate mineral buildup in the equipment – and regular cleaning. In addition, a filter needs to be replaced every few weeks – I’m famously disorganized when it comes to medical issues, forgetting to take medicine and, now, changing the filter.
In the early days, the mask dried my mouth out, particularly in winter or other low humidity weather; I would often wake up in the middle of the night without any saliva, which causes a sense of choking. Also, if the mask isn’t adjusted correctly, I wake up to a loud and annoying raspberry noise (THBBPTHBPT!!!). And as I continued losing weight, adjusting the mask was a daily battle.
Believe it or not, heads and faces, regularly lose and gain weight – not much, but enough to wreak havoc with a device that seems cranky and capricious when it comes to mask sizing.
And then there’s “CPAP face,” deep indents left by a mask that must fit tightly – as if I need more wrinkles…
Hair. I learned early on to braid my long hair before retiring at night. Otherwise, I would awaken with a rat-tail tangle.
If I made the mistake of eating onions or some other delicious but pungent food too late in the day, I got to smell my own hideous breath all night, even after scrubbing my teeth and gargling with mouthwash.
Sweet.
Travel. OY!!!
Manufacturers of CPAP devices tout the portability of these devices, but don’t believe it. CPAP + water chamber + electrical cord + hose + mask = carryon hog (Snort!). And while TSA is supposed to recognize medical devices and treat them gingerly, well, that doesn’t stop them from giving you a hard time and mishandling your possessions.
One group of TSA brainiacs in Savannah, Georgia, manhandled my water chamber and cracked it. No accountability, and not covered under the warranty either.
I lucked out; the medical supply company gave me another chamber, returned by a patient who no longer needed it (Now dead???)
Oh, and then there’s the distilled water conundrum. When you fly into a strange city, you must hunt for a store that carries it – I remember, not too fondly, one 1:00 a.m. foray into Wal-Mart in search of the precious liquid, only to find that local drug users or dealers had cleaned out the inventory.
Evidently distilled water is used for dissolving illicit drugs for injection.
Who knew?
Occasionally, hotels have some on hand, sometimes not. You can’t carry on distilled water on airplanes (because terrorists), and packing it in your luggage is bulky, heavy, and risky.
Then there is the electrical outlet issue in a hotel room – where to plug in the damn thing? I have had to come up with some interesting acrobatic solutions, such as using an ottoman for the CPAP’s temporary home and being attached to a short tube.
Okay. It could be worse – at least I’m not toting around oxygen tanks, day and night.
Always an upside.

Fast forward to April 2017. During my yearly appointment at the Pulmonary Clinic, I was hoping for some good news.
I was very close to my goal weight – I felt entitled to be rewarded for all my hard work.
Alas, I was told that while my cmH2O pressure had dropped from 11 to about 7-9, it was not indicated that I could go off the CPAP just yet. Instead, it would be reset to a dynamic setting, starting at 6 cmH2O and varying throughout the night as needed, up to 14, and my condition would be reassessed in August.
Then in August, during my follow-up appointment, I was hoping against hope.
In the interim, I had lost a few more pounds; I had been at goal weight for about four months, and my body was adjusting and firming up.

But, again, bad news. My stats were still showing some breathing abnormalities – some isolated incidents at 9 cmH2O, albeit mostly at 6 or 7 cmH2O, which could be considered a normal breathing pattern.
According to the Pulmonary Specialist, I wasn’t quite there yet.
I was disappointed, but I had heard about an option that I wanted to explore: Inspire, which involves implanting a device that would eliminate the need for the CPAP by stimulating key airway muscles and keeping them open during sleep.
The Specialist seemed to think that this could be a good option, although I didn’t quite fit the criteria: I no longer had moderate OSA – now upgraded to “mild” – and I hadn’t been “non-compliant” in my CPAP use.
Constant kvetching didn’t count.
Who knew that non-compliant petulance could be rewarding?
Silly me, we live in the age of Trump…
I did fit one criterion: my weight is normal. In fact, slight overweight also fits the criteria.
After I begged, the Specialist referred me to an ENT who specializes in the Inspire program.
Long story short, the doctor looked at me and then my chart. He said, “Hmmm, I don’t think you have sleep apnea anymore.” In a jocular manner, he explained that this $20,000 device is covered by Medicare and that he could make a nice profit prescribing this therapy, but he didn’t think it would serve my needs.
“Let’s make sure by sending you back to the sleep lab.”
I wanted to hug him.
“I’ll prescribe a possible split session, but I suspect you’ll not need it.”
In a split session, the patient is first assessed without CPAP therapy. If the patient’s stats are abnormal, the patient is then hooked up to the CPAP for the second half of the test – if they are at least near normal, the rest of the night will proceed without the CPAP.
I passed my study, finishing it without the CPAP!
Indeed, I was diagnosed as having a nearly normal night, although my sleep “architecture” was poor, the test itself “suboptimal” (in other words, I did not sleep well – not surprising, given that (1) I am a natural night owl forced to tuck in early, and (2) I was hooked up to numerous wires). Still, based on my sleep study, the findings were “consistent with no significant obstructive sleep apnea.” My apnea-hypopnea was fewer than 3.9 apnea events per hour  fewer than five is considered normal thus no longer qualifying for the CPAP.
Yay!
Now it was time to start eviction proceedings against my nemesis; besides, Medicare would no longer cover the “rent” for my CPAP, so I would need to return it to the medical supply company.
I didn’t have a problem with this.
ME: (To the CPAP.) CHOP! CHOP! Time to pack up! You knew this day would be coming!
CPAP: You don’t have to rub it in…
ME: Nothing personal. You take up too much valuable real estate, physically and psychologically.
CPAP: (Choking.) I was just settling in…
ME: The Company will refurbish and clean you and send you to a more loving home.
CPAP: (Whining.) If I were a service dog, you wouldn’t evict me.
ME: I like dogs. I don’t like you. Besides, you’re a machine, devoid of any discernable personality. My car has more personality than you, and it doesn’t have much.
CPAP: That’s harsh.
ME: That’s the truth.
CPAP: I didn’t think you’d really do this – I thought you’d lose interest in walking and staying on plan and become used to me. You weren’t so bad as a fat person.
ME: While I had issues with being fat, I had accepted it and swore I would never diet again. You were the tipping point.
CPAP: (Petulant.) So you should thank me, not demonize me.
ME: (Pausing.) I’ll give you that.
CPAP: I gave you many nights of good sleep. I helped moderate your monstrous appetite into a dull roar, a positive side effect of decent sleep. I kept your airway open so you could breathe better. All in all, I’m a very sophisticated machine who did its job as agreed. I’m sorry I couldn’t entertain you, like Mr. Kindle. Where was Mr. Kindle when you woke up in the middle of the night, choking and trying to catch your breath?
ME: Good point. But my Kindle was designed to make me happy, not to plaster itself all over my face and cause sore throats and dry mouth, not to mention more wrinkles.
CPAP: Sorry I haven’t been perfect.
ME: (Softening.) Well, I can’t blame you for all my ills. You didn’t make me fat or give me sleep apnea – I did all that all by myself.
CPAP: We did have some good times together…
ME: Spare me the fake nostalgia…
CPAP: (Softly.) I may have looked like plain vanilla, I know I took up precious space in your life, and I was a nightmare traveler, but I enjoyed helping you.
ME: (Tearing up and choking.) You did help me.
CPAP: Thank you.
ME: No. Thank you!
CPAP: Change is hard.
ME: Yes, I know. This past year has been hard.
CPAP: I’m sorry.
ME: Don’t apologize. You were just doing your job.
CPAP: I did my best.
ME: And you did it well. (Pausing.) Look, I suspect that your next assignment will be more permanent. Most fat sleep apnea sufferers don’t lose weight, at least not enough to shuck CPAP therapy.
CPAP: I’ll never forget you.
ME: Yes, you will. You will be reset and reissued. I bet you don’t remember your last user.
CPAP: Maybe you’re the first…
ME: But you don’t know.
CPAP: No. I’m just a machine.
ME: Now I’m going to pull my data card to keep and send you; the water chamber; unopened masks, tubing, and filters; and the modem back to The Company.
CPAP: Okay.
ME: You probably won’t remember me.
CPAP: Please just unplug me and pack me up. I’m ready to go now.
ME: Okay.
Now that the parting of ways was real, I was feeling a bit choked up; the year that I was using the CPAP turned out to be a game changer. I am convinced that getting enough sleep and breathing consistently has changed my physiology in major and positive ways.
For example,
I no longer go to bed at 5:00 a.m. and sleep past noon; I am in bed by 2:00 a.m. (or earlier), and I arise at 8:30 or 9:00, not kicking and screaming. Upon awakening, I am no longer groggy and cranky; I jump out of bed, ready to go.
I no longer need to tame a voracious and often uncontrollable appetite (unless I don’t eat when I should); my appetite, while still requiring “volume,” is more manageable, my appestat working like it should, and that is huge.
I am no longer clinically depressed. Sure, I still have down days, but they feel “normal.”
An unexpected benefit: I no longer feel groggy and out of sorts. My thinking is clearer, and my intellect sharper. Before the CPAP, I felt as though my intellectual abilities were slipping – I felt foggy and depressed.
All these changes have happened – in large part – because of the CPAP therapy.
But for me, it represented the demarcation between good health and the slide toward physical decline.
As a reminder, I have hung my old CPAP mask on the bookcase, next to my side of the bed.

In late October I went to the medical supply company to return the CPAP.
It turns out that the device was a rent-to-own deal, my last payment made in August.
“You own it,” the representative, with a wide smile, said – as if this were a good thing.
Sighing, I dragged the thing home.
As I stashed it in the attic:
CPAP (Snickering.): Heh, heh. I’ll be waiting for you…
ME: (Petulant.) I’m not going to screw this up.
CPAP: We’ll see.
Yes, we’ll see.

The Author posing in her CPAP regalia.
She hopes this will be the last time she has to wear it.
_______________________







Friday, October 20, 2017

Summer: An Open Letter to My Friends Who Have Recently Lost Weight

The author doing what she likes doing best:
Curled up in a shawl and reading.
Skopje, Macedonia, Lile Ordev's flat, March 2011
__________________________

(I wrote this on June 8, 2011, mostly as a reminder to be kinder to myself – fat or thin.
“This Time Would be Different,” I told myself: I would keep the weight off.
Unfortunately, I regained most of it.
A reminder to take nothing for granted.
A reminder to celebrate life, no matter what, because the tomorrow we are given may not be the tomorrow we expected – or wanted.
In fact, tomorrow is not guaranteed.)

Dear Friends,
Be kind to your former self.
Love her, love him.
Don’t be so hard on that person who decided to take matters seriously and lose weight and gain a healthier body. Remember, it was that brave person who made an important decision to spend a significant amount of money and admit publicly that he or she needed help.
Do you remember that day so many months ago, how tentative you felt about going to Weight Watchers (or whatever program you selected) and how it all seemed so difficult and impossible?
Do you remember hiding in the back of the room, trying not to be noticed? Well, you came back the next week, and the next week, and the next week...
You have made it this far, and it was because of your strong fatter self that you are still here.
So instead of dissing him or her, you should look at that old photo of yourself and thank him or her for his/her bravery and strength.
Don’t focus so much about her big butt or his big belly; forget about the double chin, big waist, and the larger number on the scale; those are superficial things.
Instead, celebrate your improved health and physical strength.
Take that old photo and try to look past the fat and think about the good things that your former self offered.
For example,
Were you kind?
Did you have a sense of humor?
Did your family love you any less when you were fat?
Overall, were you happy with your life?
You offered those positive aspects back then, just as you offer them now. While your exterior has changed, your interior hasn’t changed a whole lot.
Yes, you may have not been happy with your heavier body, which is why you took the important step of doing something about it.
Back in September 2010, I was happy with myself and my life; I had just returned to the States after a fantastic year abroad, where I walked just about every day. Although I was fat, I was fairly fit – had I not experienced a scary health warning, I might have been content to stay as I was.
Maybe your reasons are different from mine, and that’s cool; perhaps you found your own body repulsive or were having mobility issues. We all have our own motivations for seeking help.
However, I fear that if you scorn your fat photographs, you are dismissing an important part of yourself, the very best self who got you where you are today.
Besides, if you find yourself backsliding (and most of us do, if even just a little), you will find yourself closer to the “old” you, and wouldn’t it be nice if you loved that self, no matter what she or he weighs?
In the past, I would ridicule my own “before” photos by posting them on the refrigerator and poking fun of them; now I realize I was indulging in a form of self-hatred.
I won’t do that anymore.
If I post any “fat” photos on this blog or on my refrigerator, it will be in spirit of celebration, not as images of scorn.
Instead, I’ll take out any disdain on my plus-size clothes; unlike photographs, clothes do not represent who I am – I’m the kind of person who must be reminded to buy new threads when my old clothes become threadbare, even when I’m slim.
I’m more likely to shop in my closet rather than at the mall; after all, jeans from 2001 are basically the same as jeans from 2011 [and 2017].
No matter your weight, love yourself, and…
Stay cool!


Winter: Let’s Talk White and Thin Privilege


Created from a photo:
The author as a young person -- circa 1969
_________________

(This chapter isn’t quite where I want it, and I’m not sure if it will make the final cut into my book, but I thought I’d toss it out there.)

My husband Jerry and I entered the gleaming, dripping in money medical center, located in a tony neighborhood near Timonium, Maryland.
Jerry was dressed in a striped shirt and Khakis; I wore a sports tee-shirt and denim clamdigger leggings – way underdressed for our expensive surroundings (I didn’t care – I wore a pretty necklace, what more should they want?).
We had been there just once before – not quite familiar with the building layout – so we must have looked slightly confused.
I had to use the facilities, but I knew that the restrooms had to be accessed via a security code.
“You remember what the code is?” I asked Jerry.
Before he could answer, a lady ahead of us looked back and said, “Oh, it’s **** for the ladies’ room and **** for the men’s.”
Casually and without hesitation.
We had never met her.
Think about that: we were strangers.
We thanked her and went about our business.
Encounters like this happen every day; we don’t think about them – they are just small moments paving the way for an easier path through life.
But what we experienced was an example of subtle White Privilege. On the fly, assumptions had been made about us: an average white couple who looked like they belonged in that medical center.
Never mind that we could have been unsavory characters, albeit white, up to no good.
The sad part: in most of these encounters, white people don’t even recognize their White Privilege status – which is part of the problem.
At first, I didn’t, even though I was in the middle of writing this chapter and thinking a lot about it!
It was only after Jerry’s appointment that – DING, DONG! – it hit me.
I asked Jerry if he had observed a recent instance of White Privilege.
He had not.
He looked surprised when I pointed it out – and then his aha! moment.
You see, we need to be reminded about privilege, and, more important, we should listen to our minority friends and peers when they tell us that, yes, they are treated differently than we are.
That an African-American stranger, especially one not dressed for the occasion – you know, tees and clamdiggers – probably would have been treated differently in that medical center.
At the very least, that lady would have told an African-American couple that they could get the bathroom code from their doctor’s office.
Most likely, she would have ignored them.
If the man had been wearing a hoodie, she might have had a visceral reaction.
Might she even report the man as being out of place? Perhaps to a custodian or to a receptionist – if his actions seemed out of place, even the police.
So what does White Privilege have to do with Thin Privilege?
Hang with me – I’m getting there, albeit via twists and turns.
For now, keep this in mind: if you are fat or have ever been fat, you understand Thin Privilege all too well. It’s not quite the same, of course – navigating life while Fat is not going to be fraught with fears of dying by violence while living day-to-day as Black.
But fat people understand clear instances of Thin Privilege, always easier to note when one doesn’t enjoy it.
Let’s begin with White Privilege.
In 2017, the “Us” and “Them” camps seem more divided than ever.
As I write this, a great debate rages whether “taking the knee” at sporting events is a valid form of protest or a sign of disrespect against the flag and the military.
It started in August 2016, when Colin Kaepernick, then of the 49’ers, decided to sit out the National Anthem to protest the treatment of African Americans, particularly the police killings of black men and some women, many who were not even suspects. 
Since then, Kaepernick’s means of protest has evolved into kneeling on one knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and has spread throughout the NFL (National Football League), adopted mostly by African-American players.
The “Us” side: mostly white people dripping with White Privilege who believe that not standing with hand over heart is the ultimate insult to flag, country, and veterans.
The “Them” side: mostly African Americans who do not enjoy White Privilege and have a genuine societal beef, insisting that taking the knee is not disrespectful to the troops or anyone else but a valid protest of racism and mistreatment.
This very topic came up recently in a setting of all white people, most agreeing that if one does not stand for the national anthem, he or she should be arrested and charged with a crime.
“That would go against the First Amendment,” I said.
“Not standing for our national anthem is un-American,” one person said.
“Peaceful protest is American and patriotic.” I reminded them that the First Amendment protects the voice of the minority, because the majority voice does not need protecting, that it’s easy to speak out when just about everyone agrees with you.
In other words, it doesn’t take courage to parrot the majority view.
The room grew silent.
I was hoping that some insight had seeped into their brains.
But, no.
One woman piped up: “Well, it’s just disrespectful.”
The others agreed, and the subject was changed.
Sigh.

After reading Roxane Gay’s stunning memoir Hunger, I was struck just how much covert racism still exists –
Hell, these days, forget about covert; particularly in the age of Trump, it seems that overt and ugly racism is on the rise – a day doesn’t go by that some outrageous act of violence against an African American hasn’t been reported on the news: Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner – iconic names for all the wrong reasons.
In August 2017, the remarks of Lt. Greg Abbott, of the Cobb County Police Department (Georgia), seemed to confirm that African Americans are being targeted by the police: Abbott was caught on his dashcam telling a white woman during a traffic stop not to worry. “…You’re not black,” he said. “Remember, we only kill black people. Yeah. We only kill black people, right?” (1)
While I could offer a grocery list of atrocities perpetuated against minorities in the past five years, I won’t – this is beyond the scope of my book.
See for yourself by Googling “hate crimes.” 
I’m not sure what first drew me to Ms. Gay’s memoir; certainly, the title was a draw – aren’t fat people constantly hungry and not always for food?
I must have known that her life story would somehow resonate with me, although I had never heard of her or seen her photo – I didn’t even know her race, which, as I began reading, assumed was white. I was pretty much into the book before it dawned on me that the author was brown, when she began weaving into her narrative stories about her background and family.
Had I known this fact, would I still have selected this book?
I’d like to think so, but I can’t say for sure.
But I’m glad I did.
My eyes were opened wide to what Ms. Gay has experienced as both a minority and an obese person. Add Lesbian to the mix, she has won the trifecta of what can make a life a living hell.
Not only has the author experienced fat discrimination, but she has also had to navigate a world that still discriminates against brown people and other minorities.
Hunger is dark, somber, and mostly not hopeful.
While Gay does not offer diet advice – she warns readers that they should not read her memoir for “inspiration” – it was the impetus for this book.
So at least one reader has been “inspired.”
After writing Memoir Madness, I swore up and down that since the rest of my life has been relatively normal (translation: too boring for readers), I would not inflict my minute woes on a general audience.
I mean, how could my experience as an entitled white woman ever top Ms. Gay’s experience as a fat Lesbian Brown American?
But after reading Gay’s painful account of her life, I realized that I needed to write this book, irrespective of audience interest –
I would write it, and maybe they would come – or not.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about White Privilege, perhaps because of Hunger and the current political climate, which has encouraged white nationalists and blatant racists to crawl out of their hidey holes and into the light.
Although this unearned perk favors me, a whiter than white person, it irks me that White Privilege exists.
It shouldn’t exist, but it does.
And while it’s obvious to people of color, most white people are clueless, preferring to believe that after 50-plus years of civil rights we should now dismantle the mechanisms currently in place to protect the rights of minorities.
Voting rights? Done.
Head Start programs? Don’t need them anymore.
Affirmative Action? Not fair to white people.
Improving racial attitudes? African Americans need to get over themselves and start pulling themselves up by the bootstraps and stop whining about systemic racism.
I hear this list of Civil Rights progress all the time, usually accompanied by a long sigh and the ubiquitous eye roll.
Of course, much progress has been made, but I fear that this era of regression, which, if allowed to continue its current trajectory, may spark another Civil War and spell the doom of this country.
Let’s just consider some ways in which being white affords people an easier passage through American life.
As someone who experiences White Privilege, I will never be pulled over by the police while driving White. In fact, I have never been pulled over at all (knock on wood), and I have been driving for over 40 years.
If I am pulled over – because of a real infraction – I’m probably not going to get beat up, shot, or even killed. I might just get a warning, especially if I am young, female, and beautiful (Youth Privilege?).
When I shop, I will never be tailed by store security while being White. If I am caught stealing, it’s because security saw me stuff merchandise under my blouse. Chances are, I would get off easier than an African-American male, perhaps even just a warning.
If I am ever questioned by the police regarding a crime, the officers will not automatically assume I’m guilty of something nefarious just because of the color of my skin – they will study the evidence to decide if I’m a suspect. If I am convicted of a crime, I am more likely to receive a lighter sentence than an African-American woman.
No one will ever cross the street because he or she fears me, even if I’m wearing a hoodie and eating Skittles in the “wrong” neighborhood.
No one would ever claim that I was awarded my Fulbright just because of my whiteness. I can be reasonably assured that others believe that I earned that award because of my carefully-prepared application, good references, teaching experience, and writing talent, not because of my skin color.
No one would question my intelligence based on my white skin – unlike the brilliant President Obama who suffered an onslaught of insults and abuse from white-trash bumpkins because of his skin color.
Even though I can acknowledge the existence of White Privilege, I have no idea what it would be like to drive a car or walking while being Black – I mean, really know. Feel it –
Although, early last spring, I got a small taste of what it must be like going through life without White Privilege.
It so unnerved me that I posted about the experience, both on Facebook and my main blog Like This Page:

Today, I got an inkling of what it must be like being an African American in the United States of America.
It was cold and raw today, so I wore my hoodie and mittens.
As I was checking my phone before finishing up my walk, I heard this angry voice behind me:
“Hello? Hello? Can I help you with something?”
At first, I ignored it – he couldn’t possibly be speaking to me. I didn’t know him, and he had no reason to speak to me like that.
Again, he yelled, “I said, ‘Hello, can I help you with something?’”
Confused, I turned around, and said, “No, I’m fine.”
A young man – maybe mid-20’s – in shorts and a tee-shirt, stopped short, obviously embarrassed. He slunk away.
Why this happened didn’t hit me until I was about two blocks away; yes, this is what it’s like being white in America – on a visceral level, we just don’t get what African Americans experience every day.
It took me two blocks to figure it all out, and that is sad.

So what does White Privilege have to do with Thin Privilege?
While there are major differences between the two Privileges, there are some significant similarities.
I’m an expert when it comes to Thin Privilege: I have both enjoyed it and been denied it – mostly denied, given that a disproportionate part of my life has been spent existing while fat.
Thin people glide through life effortlessly, at least on a superficial level – this is not to say that life is all roses and smiles for the Thin – thin people still have bills to pay, children to raise, careers to manage, problems to solve, and marriages to work at – but the Fat have a whole other level to navigate, which I have discussed in Spring: Fat Woman Body.
As I write this chapter, I am technically a thin person, so I now experience Thin Privilege.
I would define Thin Privilege as a societal perk experienced by people who are deemed to be average size – you’ll know it when you see it – just as White Privilege has been granted de facto upon by white people by virtue of their skin color, not by their characters and actual accomplishments.
As a thin person, I have shucked a cloak of unwanted visibility – I can “pass” as an average person, I can weave in and out of a crowd without drawing negative attention – or any other kind of attention. At first contact, my body size no longer defines me, unless I choose to emphasize my exterior – if I want to be “visible,” I can dress the part by wearing flamboyant or even slinky and revealing outfits. Given my natural inclination toward shyness and modesty, this isn’t a likely scenario. But that’s not the point – the point is: I am now able to choose when, how, where – or if – I want to be visible.
I can blend or stand out – I can choose to not be preoccupied with my size and shape and concentrate on my real interests and hobbies, for example, writing this book.
In short, I no longer need to worry about being judged because of my size.
For anyone who has never been fat, this may not seem to be a big deal, but I assure you that it is – the fact that my size is not the first thing people notice is such a relief; how I present myself is totally up to me, not by my dimensions.
Thin Privilege means being able to pay reasonable prices for my size of clothing, and I can expect to find stylish clothes in any department or discount store – no more shops or departments specializing in plus-sizes.
Thin people are viewed as being more intelligent, energetic, and ambitious than their fat peers. Also, thin people are not perceived as looking sloppy or unprofessional based solely on their size. As a result, thin people are more likely to be promoted at work and given larger raises.
I no longer receive unwanted suggestions from friends, family, and even strangers about joining a weight-loss program. If anything, people are now likely to push more food my way, along with a concerned warning not to overdo my weight-loss. “Surely you can eat whatever you want now,” they’ll say as they shove a piece of chocolate cake under my nose.
Uh, no. It doesn’t work that way for a Fat Woman Walking.
As a thin person going to the doctor, I no longer dread the scale, even though I swear that my doctor’s office has set its scale at least five pounds too heavy. My doctor no longer automatically monitors me for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other “weight-related” maladies. If anything, she warns me not to lose any more weight. “You’re perfect just the way you are.” – music to my ears, although I would still like to shed that last five pounds.
Shhh! Don’t narc me out.
The media don’t describe my thinness as part of an “epidemic” – a bit too breathless of a pronouncement, in my opinion, regarding larger body shapes.
Not all heavy people are unhealthy, just as not all thin people enjoy robust health.
I no longer need to scope out public spaces to make certain that I will fit into them – I fit into all chairs, with or without arms, and the narrowest of restaurant booths. If anything, wooden and metal chairs just about kill my tailbone and back – okay, now I’m just complaining about minor inconveniences suffered by thin people.
A thin person can navigate a buffet line and pile her plate as high as possible, and no scrutinizing food police will come a-calling. In fact, she will receive looks of admiration, tinged with envy that say, “That lucky duck can eat whatever she wants!”
Note that I use the third person here because if I eat whatever I want, I can expect to gain at least five pounds. Overnight. And kick in an indefinite binge, perhaps lasting years.
Thin Privilege can have its downsides as well – for one, unwanted sexual attention by strangers and peers. Even women “of a certain age” have experienced inappropriate comments by men who, somehow, believe that all women are fair game and that “Take a Hike” doesn’t apply to them. Even as a thin female senior citizen, I’m no great beauty, but that doesn’t seem to matter – my thin body seems to attract the skeezy underside of the opposite sex.
I don’t think I’m unique in that matter.
As a fat person, I didn’t get that kind of uncalled-for attention, although some very obese women have discovered – and cashed in on – a subculture of men who have a fetish for watching obese women eat and strip naked online. – certainly, a worthy topic for someone other than me.
White and Thin Privilege share this commonality: both are based solely on superficial attributes: skin color and body size, nothing more.
Those who do not enjoy Privilege of either kind are treated differently, and not in positive ways, and those who enjoy both are often unaware of how easily they glide through life, at the expense of non-privileged folks.
While I have somewhat of an insight into the existence of White Privilege, I cannot really know and feel, on a visceral level, its lack – all I can do: remain aware and vigilant about my own beliefs, biases, prejudices, racism (yes, even self-aware people are still prejudiced and racist, at least on some level), and to constantly question my own motives and knee-jerk reactions to uncomfortable situations.
One cannot earn “White Privilege”: you either have it or not – it has been automatically granted or denied, based solely on skin color.
Fair?
Of course not, but that’s what happens in the United States of America.
Depending on circumstances, “Thin Privilege” can be “earned,” by the process of losing weight, but, often, it is unearned – if someone has been thin for her entire life, then she has no idea what it is like not experiencing Thin Privilege, except to think,
“There by the grace of God, go I.”
Let’s now consider some ways in which being white, albeit still fat, offers an easier passage through American life.
As a fat white person, I will never be pulled over by the police while driving Fat.
If I am pulled over – because of a real infraction – I’m probably not going to get beat up, shot, or even killed. I will likely get a ticket and, perhaps, an accompanying eyeroll, but I will leave the encounter pretty much intact, albeit a lighter wallet and a few points on my driving record. As I said earlier, a thin, white person could very well get a warning instead of a ticket, especially if the offender is also pretty and young – once again, Youth Privilege?
When I shop, I might be tailed by store security while being Fat – but only if my size raises suspicions of merchandise hidden under my clothing. Even so, unless I am caught stuffing stolen goods under my blouse, I will not be apprehended. If I am caught, I would likely get off easier than an African-American male, perhaps even just a warning – that is, if it’s a first offense.
If I am ever questioned by the police regarding a crime, the officers will not automatically assume I’m guilty of something nefarious just because I’m fat – they will study the evidence to decide if I’m a suspect. If I am convicted of a crime, I am more likely to receive a lighter sentence than an African-American woman.
No one will ever cross the street because he or she fears me, even if I’m wearing a hoodie, although I might be mocked for eating Skittles while walking Fat.
No one would ever claim that I was awarded my Fulbright just because of my fatness. I can be reasonably assured that others believe that I earned that award because of my carefully-prepared application, good references, teaching experience, and writing talent, not because of my size, although some unenlightened folks might wonder how a fat person could win any prestigious award.
While being Fat, job applicants or employees may be passed over for jobs or promotions – such prejudice is subtle and largely unprovable, but fat people recognize it when they experience it.
Unlike minorities, fat people are not protected by Federal, State, or Local law.
Unfortunately, some privileged folks might question, on a subconscious level, the intelligence of fat people – this is borne out in popular media (TV, movies, books, and comics), where fat people are often depicted as lazy, stupid, bumbling, unaware, and/or comedic – something shared with African Americans.
As a chubby elementary school pupil, I was treated as if I had limited intelligence, especially after moving to Iowa from California, where the 1950’s public school system was in deep financial trouble – in second grade, I was going to school for only half days – lagging far behind the excellent Catholic school system in Sioux City I found myself trying to navigate. It was only after my sixth-grade teacher discovered my advanced reading level that I was no longer labelled as “slow.” To my chagrin, I was assigned more challenging work.
I have always “enjoyed” White Privilege; I don’t know any differently – it would be too easy to assume that my human experience is universally enjoyed, to stick my head in the sand, and not acknowledge the truth of the black experience in daily American life.
But I have also been denied “Thin Privilege” – certainly not as powerful as “White Privilege” and, with its lack, not as potentially fatal.
Long after I have finished reading Hunger, the book has stuck with me – I cannot fathom how Roxane Gay has navigated her life with her triple whammy, quadruple if you add “woman.”
Yet she has managed to carve out a significant writing career, two best sellers, and a rigorous public speaking tour, all while being African American, Lesbian, Fat – and Female – no way does she intend to fold up her tent and hide.
Unlike the fat me, who pretty much hid from public life.
Part of that may have to do with my natural shyness and reticence – though I am more outgoing as a thin person.
Still, I’ll never win any awards for being Ms. Social Butterfly of the Year.
While writing about my journey has helped tremendously, I must recognize that my experience pales that of Roxane Gay’s.
Quite simply, in life, I was dealt a more conventional hand.
I must continue writing about my experience – my pain is still my pain – but I now do so knowing that my journey toward physical and mental health will be less fraught with traumas, and, therefore, the burden I carry will be lighter.
I can only imagine the heavy burden borne by Ms. Gay – I admire her fortitude and unwillingness to allow White and Thin Privilege to stop her from what she wants out of her life.
I admire her.
I highly recommend Hunger.




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 (1)   Hauser, Christine and Jacey Fortin. The New York Times, “‘We Only Kill Black People,’ Police Officer Says During Traffic Stop,” 30 August 2017.