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The Joys of Ample Womanood


My television set almost met an untimely end thanks to Jenny Craig.

The commercial for the "Jenny Craig Weight Loss Program" had come on yet again as I sat enraptured with a bacon cheeseburger and a frosty. There she was, hailing her program as the answer to everyone's weight problem. The implicit message, of course, is that if one loses enough weight, all life's pleasures will beat a path to one's door.

I am a large-sized woman, so commercials such as these -- as well as exercise videos and fashion magazines -- fill me with both hope and dread. I am tempted to believe that if only I could scrape enough money together, I too could look like Cindy Crawford. Then I realize that the Treasury Department will never print that much currency.

It is not enough to have a thin waist. A woman is also expected to have "curves." Music videos feature big-breasted, round bottomed, slim waisted wonders. Rap songs pay homage to them, as in Sir Mix-A-Lot's song "Baby Got Back," an anthem to ample womanhood.

According to an article published in the July issue of U.S. News & World Report, this ideal for women is rooted in the origins of civilization. Early man believed that a woman's appearance was directly related to her fertility. A woman with an hourglass figure was considered to be a good breeder. So the ideally proportioned woman has hips that are approximately a third larger than her waist. This belief has held true through the ages even as waistlines have been expected to be smaller and trimmer.

These days teen-age girls line up at the plastic surgeon's office to have their bodies reshaped to resemble cover girls. The ubiquitous ads of the glamour industry tout the latest diet plan or exercise video that will enable a woman to have the "perfect body."

These attacks against all that is robust in woman feed the basic insecurities we all have -- the fear of being different. For women, there is tremendous pressure to be beautiful and thereby gain men's approval. The desire may even manifest itself in the form of dangerous eating disorders that threaten women's health and lives.

There is nothing wrong with being in shape. Everyone could benefit from being more health conscious. Thousands of people die every year of diseases that can be directly traced to poor dietary habits. But young women are being sent an insidious message that warps their self-esteem and their lives -- that their worth is based on their body size.

A wise woman once told me that there are two things a man can never forgive his wife. One is turning off the television during the last couple of seconds of a championship game. The other is to become fat. Both are considered the ultimate betrayal. Yet such is society's sexual double standard that when a married man gains weight he must be "living the good life." If his wife does the same, she has "let herself go."

I am an active participant in the backlash against Western culture's obsession with bodies. I refer to myself as "Rubenesque," "big-boned" or "stacked." My girlfriends and I laugh about what fools men are not to recognize our inner beauty. We grieve for men who are bereft of our intellectual and emotional support because they would rather chase after Ms. Tight Buns.

Food has become our enemy. What we once turned to for comfort, now must be weighed, measured and checked for fat content. Every year, a new movement is introduced to determine what is "healthy" and what is "fattening." We have gone from worrying about sodium to checking cholesterol, figuring grams of fat, etc., etc.

Efforts to reverse the damage done by the Great American Thin Dream have been catching on. There are now support groups, magazines, dating services and stores that cater to large women. Diversity is beginning to be celebrated rather than shunned.

A friend once asked me why I was overweight. I clutched her to my rather ample bosom and recited the first few verses of Maya Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman":

Pretty women wonder where

my secret lies

I'm not cute or built to suit

a fashion model's size..."

I tried explaining to her what food meant to me. Food was my grandmother's warm kitchen on a cold winter's day. It was a cake just because my mom had a few extra minutes and lots of love.

But after giving her an answer I felt was the closest to poetry I had ever come, my friend asked if I had ever tried Nutri-System. That's basically why now she's just someone I used to know.

Lisa Respers is an editorial assistant in The Sun's Carroll County bureau.

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