Commentary: The New Skinny
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.
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