Say It Loud, We're Fat and Proud
Aaronovitch, David, The Independent (London, England)
I don't know why I was so surprised. Hadn't I watched Roseanne? Wasn't I familiar with Oprah Winfrey's extraordinary accordion-like expansions and deflations? Weren't some of the guests on American people-shows a bit on the large side? Somehow, my mental image of physical America was conditioned by the babes of California, Jane Fonda work-out tapes and thirtysomething (for which I still pine). In my mind's eye, your average non-underclass American was fitness obsessed, sports active and health conscious.
Then, last month, I went to Florida and met Fat America for the first time. On the beaches where I had uncomfortably expected to encounter body fascism at its most self-conscious - washboard torsos, pecs, "cute buns", pneumatic thighs and contemptuous glances - I found myself exchanging greetings with uninhibited men-mountains instead. No athletic beach sports, no limber 40-year-olds in Ray-Bans and Speedo trunks excelling at volleyball, but rather the slow lumbering and gentle floundering of huge people. Their principal physical challenge - whose turn was it to tote the cool-box? It was a revelation.
And it was all on display. Unlike fat Britain, fat America does not wear baggy black thigh-length maternity smocks to the beach, or sit covered- up in a cafe adjacent to the sands, sadly contemplating the antics of the slim and perfect. The uniform of the "big" American appears to be a figure-hugging T-shirt and clinging Bermuda shorts. And whereas obesity in Britain seems to afflict the occasional unfortunate member of otherwise trim families, entire clans of Americans, encompassing several generations, will trundle together to the sea's edge like participants in an Attenborough film on sea lions. Montanans describe them as polyester mooses, apparently.
Since I could happily lose a couple of stone myself, my first reaction to all this fleshliness was one of pure pleasure. Whatever I ate, no matter how much I indulged, I could never become as fat as many of these folks. Who cares how many calories a strawberry daiquiri has? There was also the pleasant feeling that they were giving me the once over and telling each other: "See the skinny guy? I think he's English."
It was also a marvellous opportunity to examine what happens to different people's bodies when they become very, very fat. Human beings wear obesity in various ways. Some plump American men like to describe themselves as "bears", and that is indeed one type. They have large, bearded heads, mounted upon thick muscular necks which grow in turn from a thorax and abdomen of equal immensity. Protruding incongruously from their shorts, like the sticks in one of those bulbous chocolate-coated ice-cream lollies, are two skinny little legs. Overall, they are hugely fat, but not really flabby, having put in a decade or two of hard physical labour and even harder troughing and drinking.
Their wives and teenage daughters tend to be barrels. The fat-filled skin is pink and healthy and distributed so as to make no part of the body or legs stick out. Everything is vast - tum, thighs, ankles, wrists, fingers - with the chubbiness most of us lose when we're weaned. The bear family have got fat by slow, deliberate accretion over time, pizza by pizza, Coke by Coke. They move with confidence and surprising agility.
Then there are those whom fat has suddenly surprised. From behind jowls and chins peek the oddly sharpened features of smaller people somehow surrounded by alien bodies. They have the hands …
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Publication information: Article title: Say It Loud, We're Fat and Proud. Contributors: Aaronovitch, David - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 17, 1996. Page number: 4,5. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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