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6 August 2008, 1:00 pm 40 Comments

Commentary: The New Skinny

Is fat, apparently.

Due to a confluence of forces, namely my limited budget and a declining (if ever present) inclination toward sartorial splendor, I shop for clothes mainly at thrift stores and retail chains catering to the American masses—mass being the operative word. For some time, stores such as Marshalls, Filene’s Basement, and Target have yielded steadily declining returns. They offer few choices among the 30-31 inch waist sizes, particularly for men with long legs. On my last couple of trips to Marshalls, the pants section didn’t even begin until 32 inches. At this point, I’ve abandoned retail shopping in favor of the Internet, which as most are aware, is a risky proposition.

Considering my shopping-FAIL, I shouldn’t be shocked to learn of the following three news items: 1) the mean American waist size is 39 inches, 2) a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study released last week suggests that 86% of adults in the US will be overweight or obese by 2030, and 3) that people who live in neighborhoods built before 1950 tend to be less overweight.

39 inches. That leaves half the adults in America with waist sizes in excess of 39 inches. I suppose I could say something snarky, but mean-spirited dismissal is worthless, the personal anguish of those who struggle with weight is real, and the increasing medical impact on our lives and national economy and health care infrastructure is too frightening for jest, particularly as the odds of reversing this trend are as likely as finding a non-high fructose corn syrup infused juice bottle/vodka mixer at 7-11 on a 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning while propping yourself up on the refrigerator door, drunk off your ass and eyeing the electric carnival wheel of deep-fried taquitos by the cash register. But enough about my weekend. The point is, the coming Tsunami is upon us, it was instigated by an America-sized cannonball into the bottomless big-gulp of our excess, and the lifeguard can’t fight the tide.

86% of adults will be overweight or obese. Me and a young heterosexual friend, a slender reed of a man who subsists on a steady diet of ramen noodles and Kool menthol cigarettes, tried to break down the math last week:

Intern: I can’t date fat girls. I’ve tried, it doesn’t work. They all want to turn the lights off, and they have all these issues because they’re fat.
Ben: And if they aren’t comfortable with their bodies, they won’t be adventurous and do all that nasty shit.
Intern: Exactly, and I’m a kinky Mother F*****
Ben: Extracting %1 for many gay men and lesbians, and lets say 6% for fit straight men, that leaves roughly 7% of the available female population to potentially receive your seed, assuming you’re single and still have the same tastes at 40.
Intern: And the fit girls will want the fit guys that kick sand in my face at the beach and laugh.
Ben: So add another 3% to that, and throw in 1% for representatives of either sex who shouldn’t be allowed out of their cage without a trained handler in possession of a cattle prod and an advanced degree in psychosocial disorders. You’re looking at 3%.
Intern: (defeated) That’s depressing.
Ben: Have you thought about exploring bestiality?
Intern: I hear a sheep’s uvula is remarkably similar to a woman’s.
Ben: Yeah, but when you get them on their back, they’re hard to manage when kicking all four legs.
Intern: Have you ever shaved a sheep?
Ben: Strangely enough, I have.
Ben: I grew up in the South.

Which leads me to the final news item, about well designed neighborhoods. Those developed before 1950 tend to offer greater overall walkability, as they more often were designed with the pedestrian in mind, while newer neighborhoods are designed to facilitate car travel. Unfortunately our culture has evolved (poor word usage?) to the point of selecting bipeds from its competitive environment to the extent that we no longer know how to exist without sedentary modes of transport—a reality that most don’t perceive as a problem. This seems to be the heft our our collective weight problem, as I see it. Nobody knows how or wants to cope with the new order of modern life.

I see my mother and extended family grow larger as their years advance, fed on a southern diet known for its cruelty yet ingrained in its place at the dinner table as solidly as any family member, with an invisible chair also drawn close for the chemicals and processed foods that are guests my family isn’t informed enough to identify. My relatives blindly consume, and their stories of health problems continue to grow in accordance with their waistlines. During most telephone conversations with my mother I bring up the issue of exercise, and my gentle and sometimes not so gentle suggestions are accepted then disregarded as little more than leaven for the cake. Most of my words are understood in basic fashion, but their implementation is a recipe too exotic to comprehend. It saddens me, and I’m left wondering when the next illness will come, and who will leave the next chair empty as they follow death from the dining room table. Considering the rate at which my extended family and many in this country eagerly follow this shrouded ghost without so much as questioning their diet choices or understanding that they would live longer and live better if they would, I’m willing to believe that the grim reaper is no scythe-wielding skeleton, but the ghost of Col. Sanders himself, carrying a bucket of original recipe. Sadly, the ghosts of deep-fried chickens past all come home to roost.

It seems hopeless. In my own life, I know a great deal about fitness and healthy eating. I live in a sub-culture that prizes health, am immersed in an environment defined by a constant flow of reasoned information, and I have a boyfriend who keeps cooking and feeding me these brightly colored things he calls vegetables, yet I still struggle daily with patterned behaviors that threaten to destroy me. If I can barely keep my own train on the tracks, how can I possibly help my family when they don’t have the benefit of my circumstances? How can they help themselves? How can entire communities, like the ones in South Los Angeles (the city government put a moratorium on construction/opening of all fast-food establishments because no other dining options were available and obesity rates are skyrocketing) rethink their options, much less understand or know how to implement them effectively when their environment won’t allow it?

Writing about this depresses me. A bacon cheeseburger would make me feel so much better right now.

Great comments, folks. However, this site works best when you submit your own thoughts as opposed to a string of politically-correct shame words, so if you have a
rebuttal or want to give me the smack down, sharpen your pencils and let me have it at submit@thenewgay.net. The more dialogue we have here, the better this site will be. TNG looks forward to your posts.

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  • learn about stock market said:

    im here because of few cents for you. just dropping by.

  • clearlyhere said:

    The American ethos of bigger equals better has ruined our sense of proportion of food. Also, proportion of exercise. Americans are too extreme with exercise to look like models or eat like they are storing up for the winter. Add on top of that the convenience food market making every meal way too high in calories, you get the American populous.

    The worst thing I’ve heard is that TGI Fridays doesn’t have a single entree that is less than 1000 calories.

  • NationsKappatol said:

    Ben, fantastic timing on this story as I just yesterday had a conversation about this with two of my students.

    I run a teen program out in VA, and while I work 9-5 over the summer in the office, many of my students are here working at the camp that is housed in the same building. Two rising 11th grade boys that I have a good relationship with sat down in my office yesterday to ask for advice on something. Both boys are in good health and exercise regularly…they were concerned about another counselor who is obese at 14. This counselor is very overweight, and they did not understand how the parents could allow this. I talked to them about my own (continued) struggles with weight and health, and how it is hard to break habits. Ben, I live in the same educated, body-conscious sub-culture, and it is only recently that I have lost 35 pounds and have been able to fight off the ghosts of my family.

    Our culture does not make it easy to be healthy, despite good intentions. I don’t know where I am going with this, but I could write a novel…

  • Anonymous said:

    Y’all are fat

  • Sam said:

    I regularly curse the fat bastards who make shopping impossible for me. 10 years ago, I had a wealth of choices when I needed a pair of slacks or some t-shirts, but at this point, almost every store starts at 30 or 32 in the waist, and even extra-smalls are baggy now. If one more sonofabitch tells me to check the kid’s section when I’m shopping for businesswear, I’m gonna start a fucking riot.

    Several years ago, I went shopping for linen pants for a beach vacation I was taking. When I told the clerk that I was a 28″x32″, he just shook his head, and said that I could look, but I was probably wasting my time. He was right: nothing even close to my size, but I found 4 pair that were 50″x26″. How come all these humpty dumpty motherfuckers get linen pants and I don’t?

  • Michael said:

    Years ago now I was shopping at Nordstrom at the Montgomery Mall (back when I had a car, in a different life/universe) and I thought I'd look for underwear. They had NO (zero) pairs of size 32 boxers. None. And nothing smaller. They were swimming in sizes 36 to 48, though. That's when I decided I was going to stop shopping where old/fat people shop. There are stores out there that make clothing for skinnier people, and luckily many of them have (finally) come to DC. H&M and Zara are well known for their "European cuts," meaning that they're not designed for the bloated American. American Apparel now makes pants and button-downs, too. You can do all your shopping for clothes that fit down at the corner of 11th and F.

    One of these days I'll get off my not-so-lazy-exhausted ass and start doing videos on here of how to cook healthy vegetable dishes.

  • NationsKappatol said:

    wow, all the fat hate. do you think fat people like being fat? there is so much shame around it even if everyone around you is fat.

    i joke that my family is a family of weebles, yet they are all hyper-conscious of their overweight bodies. Someone loses 20 pounds and it is the topic of convo for everyone for a week, then they starve themselves to diet, and then they fall off the wagon and put 30 pounds on. For them, too poor to pay for a gym membership, and working a ton, it is hard to get it under control.

    explain to me how this helps? we have a real problem here in our country, and something does have to give on this, but complaining that stores are stocking clothes that fit the majority (i.e. better chances of making money on them) is silly.

  • Michael said:

    I don’t think my comment was fat-hate in as much as an expression of the skinny-man’s frustration. Perhaps it’s your self-consciousness showing?

  • Anonymous said:

    Is this for real?

    I thought this website was supposed to be about rejecting “consumerism” and “superficiality” and promoting “diversity, compassion and self-reflection” but it seems like a large portion of the articles here are about buying clothes, eating at McDonald’s and assimilating into oppressive institutions. What’s the deal?

  • Michael said:

    Anon #2: a homo’s gotta eat. He’s gotta put clothes on his back. We’ve talked about thrifting. We’ve talked about veganism. It’s hard to rage against the machine when you’re naked and hungry.

    If there are ideas about food and clothing that we’re not addressing here, please submit something to educate us.

  • Craig said:

    @Michael, I think nationskappatol was talking about Sam’s comment, which, ironically, shows the sexism of the clothing industry. Larger women have a hard time finding clothes that fit them in stores, while thinner men have a hard time, as well.

  • Steven said:

    Get over yourselves, people. “Fat people get all the nice clothes!” You sound like white people complaining about affirmative action.

    I can’t believe you have such a hard time finding clothes. I shop at thrift stores and discount stores and I see 28-30″ waist sizes all the time. If you can’t find clothes small enough, get a sewing machine.

  • Andrew Pendleton said:

    First of all, I’ve also experienced frustration with Filene’s, etc., and their tendency to cater to larger people (and not just in pants, though that’s the worst area, but also in other clothing).

    Second, a minor statistical quibble: if the median waist size were 39 inches, it would, as you suggest mean that half of Americans were bigger than that, but you said the mean is 39, and I doubt that the distribution is normal. While I have no data to back this up, it seems like the number of men with waists smaller than, say, 26 inches (13 inches smaller than the mean) is quite small, whereas having a waist larger than 42 inches (13 inches larger than the mean) is certainly possible, and, indeed, if these shopping experiences are any indication, common. So, my guess would be that well over half of men have waists smaller than 39 inches (and probably within the 30-39 range), but that the mean is being skewed high by a smaller number of people with substantially larger waists (50+ inches, say). And finally, to disclaim, I don’t mean any of this to be a social commentary on big people, or anything like that…

  • Hans Nelson said:

    A friend of mine and I were considering what life would be like on a planet populated solely by gay men–clothing would no longer be Small, Medium, and Large, but Twink, Stud, and Bear. I suppose XS would be represented by Hipster.

    Anyway, add me to the list of those who used to be able to find clothes but no longer can–a word to clothing manufacturers: yes, the full-figured need things to wear, but that doesn’t mean you must make extra-smalls that fit like a medium. People come in a range of sizes, from the very small to the very large, and if you want to sell clothes, you’d do well to keep that in mind.

  • Meaghan said:

    This post is nothing but superfluous ignorance with a glossy sheen. You’ve basically taken a blog with fantastic potential, spun your fatphobic bullshit up with a tidy bit of propriety, and opened up the flood gates for a whole heaping mass of flaming fat-hating bigotry.

    Your comments and perspective are ignorant, classist, sizeist and ill-informed. The next time you critique yourself or gay people in a public forum such as this, do it with a little more care and thoughtfulness.

    Between this post and Michael’s today about ridiculously generalized sexual preferences (rife with misogyny, no doubt), thenewgay.net is nothing more than a platform for all the nasty cliches by, for and about elitist, image-focused gay people.

  • Brian said:

    First, Andrew, thanks for the statistics lesson.

    Second, isn’t it likely that places like Marshall’s and Filenes have such a dearth of skinny-sized clothes because they’re bargain outlets? Those clothes are there because no one bought them at their original price. If these places get most of their clothes from retailers that can’t sell them, then most people are buying so-called “normal” sized clothes and we starving students/cheapskates/what have you, are ending up with the margins of the population. I too have had trouble finding pants to fit my scrawny 30 inch waist, but it’s not clear that your experience at Filenes is proof of anything but some bad luck.

    Third, the Target thing…Look, I’m not denying that American waistlines are growing. But it’s just as likely that such places cater to lower-income folks who are more likely to be overweight because of poorer diets.

    Fourth, and the real issue here, is that the “obesity epidemic” is a hoax. What we should be looking at is not fatness per se, but health.

    Insofar as weight correlates with certain levels of health, the CDC data suggests that overweight people are just as healthy, if not healthier, than your Ramen-chomping hetero friend. Some scientists have suggested its because people with supposedly high BMIs have more energy/fat to sustain them through times of illness.

    More important, when placed alongside the very real explosion of diabetes in the population, it suggests that the problem isn’t that we’re getting fatter, but that we’re eating like shit. Fatness is a symptom of the serious unhealthinesss of American culture, not a product of it.

    I’m all for living better. I’m all for riding your bike everywhere (I do) cutting meat out of your diet, and living in urban areas with alternative transit. It’s high time we purged corn syrup from our diets, and for God’s sake portions need to be smaller than they are now. But rather than demonizing fat people and claiming that obesity is the cause of the decline of American socity, the facts say otherwise.

  • Anonymous said:

    How is he “demonizing fat people and claiming that obesity is the cause of the decline of American society?” Maybe read the piece instead of reacting to it with slander because you feel attacked. I’m guessing a few fat people read this and reflexively felt threatened. Carry your own baggage, people.

    Obesity is a staggering problem, and we as a people need to develop solutions to help each other make better choices. We need to do this out of love.

  • Brian said:

    Hey anonymous? My comment was directed at obesity alarmists who don’t qualify their arguments. The thing I linked to provides a statistical examination of why claims of an obesity epidemic are overrated. I guess I should have clarified, because “demonizing” was directed at people who draw causal relationships between growing waistlines and a very real health crisis, and who assume that fat Americans are horrible people because of it.

    Furthermore, if you’d bothered to read *my* comment, you’d have read the part about my own difficulties finding clothes made for skinny guys. So I can’t possibly feel “reflexively” threatened.

    Finally, I read Ben’s posts. I read all the damn posts on this damn blog because I’m damn addicted to it. And on your last point, I’m so with you: let’s develop better solutions.

  • Anonymous said:

    Hey, I’m skinny! ;P Where can I buy clothes BESIDES HM-Zara-likes??

  • NationsKappatol said:

    hey Brian, can I buy you a cocktail? Excellent Post

  • Ben said:

    Author’s note:

    Andrew, good catch. And to think statistics is the only math class I didn’t flunk.

    Great comments, folks. However, this site works best when you submit your own thoughts as opposed to a string of politically-correct shame words, so if you have a rebuttal or want to give me the smack down, sharpen your pencils and let me have it at submit@thenewgay.net. The more dialogue we have here, the better this site will be. TNG looks forward to your posts.

  • Stephanie said:

    i'm not going to get into the debate about this post, but i will ask -

    does anyone else ALWAYS think of jackie from roseanne when they see very slim&high-waisted pants?

    i don't know how the women of the 80s/early90s did it.

  • adam isn't here said:

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  • adam isn't here said:

    heterosexual orthodoxy! white privilege! elitist! human capital! dominant culture of neglect and ignorance! counterproductive! dangerous!

  • adam isn't here said:

    heterosexual orthodoxy! white privilege! elitist! human capital! dominant culture of neglect and ignorance! counterproductive! dangerous!

  • adam isn't here said:

    heterosexual orthodoxy! white privilege! elitist! human capital! dominant culture of neglect and ignorance! counterproductive! dangerous!

  • adam isn't here said:

    heterosexual orthodoxy! white privilege! elitist! human capital! dominant culture of neglect and ignorance! counterproductive! dangerous!

  • adam isn't here said:

    heterosexual orthodoxy! white privilege! elitist! human capital! dominant culture of neglect and ignorance! counterproductive! dangerous!

  • adam isn't here said:

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  • adam isn't here said:

    shit. i forgot: PROTOFASCIST!

  • adam isn't here said:

    shit. i forgot: PROTOFASCIST!

  • adam isn't here said:

    shit. i forgot: PROTOFASCIST!

  • adam isn't here said:

    shit. i forgot: PROTOFASCIST!

  • adam isn't here said:

    shit. i forgot: PROTOFASCIST!

  • Anonymous said:

    WAAAAAAAAAAH I can’t find any pants to fit my 30″ VGL DDF waist!

    I have the same problem finding underwear to support my 11″ dick.

    Life is SO HARD.

  • Anonymous said:

    Oh, and as someone who’s waist is anywhere between 36″ and 42″ depending on the brand, the fabric and what I ate that day- Barney’s Co-Op in Georgetown reliably has nothing above a 36″.

  • Anonymous said:

    I understand your pain. I hate shopping for pants, at 30×33. I can never get anything on sale, as by that time, the two 30″ waist pants they got in are long gone. And suits? What a nightmare. 42″ jacket with 30″ trousers. So you buy a 10″ drop and have to have another 2″ taken out. I will say the Tyson’s Nordstrom does the best to try and accommodate.

  • Ben43 said:

    Not every man buying size 33+ pants is overweight, unhealthy, self-conscious, insecure, stupid and addicted to food. Some of us are weightlifters and/or athletes.

    I often have difficulty finding size 33-34 pants. I cannot shop at several stores b/c they just do not carry my jacket/shirt/pant sizes…ever. Yeah, it sucks but I also drive a car (and live in the suburbs) so I usually have more options. I just keep going to more stores and eventually find something.

    It could be the dearth of size 28-32 pants is not because America is fat and retailers are ignoring thin men to profit from an obesity epidemic. It might be due to the fact that many men are thin and simply buying them. Or maybe retailers are adapting their stock to fit different store locations, neighborhood demographics and consumption patterns.

    On a separate note: maybe it’s time we reject subcultures predicated upon unattainable standards of youth and beauty as unreasonable. Just a thought.

    I really liked that news item about neighborhoods built before 1950. I guess it is one of the reasons I like older areas. You can always walk, jog or bike around.

  • Andrew said:

    “Receive your seed” — ew.

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