Articles

They Used to Call Me Fatty

Fat men aren’t jolly, says this ex-blimp. He didn’t enjoy life till people stopped mistaking him for an elephant

JAMES BANNERMAN February 15 1949
Articles

They Used to Call Me Fatty

Fat men aren’t jolly, says this ex-blimp. He didn’t enjoy life till people stopped mistaking him for an elephant

JAMES BANNERMAN February 15 1949

They Used to Call Me Fatty

JAMES BANNERMAN

Fat men aren’t jolly, says this ex-blimp. He didn’t enjoy life till people stopped mistaking him for an elephant

ONE afternoon last summer I stepped onto the platform of a weighing machine, merely because it happened to be in front of a store I had to pass anyway. True I was getting rather plump; but on a man like me, a strapping five-footniner, a little extra weight didn’t really matter . . . much. However, it might be an idea to check, seeing I hadn’t for over a year.

I put a penny in the slot. There was a dull clunk, a whirring noise, and out popped a small piece of cardboard. On one side of this was a picture of Betty Grable. On the other were brief statements to the effect that I had a sunny nature, was generous to a fault, and should be careful how I invested my money; that the date was Aug. 25; and that I weighed 234 pounds.

Oh, well . . . the machine was out of whack and now I’d have to go looking for one that wasn’t. Several blistering blocks later I came to a drugstore which boasted a scale the clerk said had been corrected that very morning. So I got on it and the thing wobbled and its dial spun and stopped. The other machine had been out of whack, all right. My real weight was 235 !

Then and there, standing on that nightmare scale and seething with shock, I made up my mind to reduce to 165, which most authorities reckon is about ideal for a man my height. Moreover, I would accomplish this in exactly four months, thus hitting my target on Christmas Day. What gave the project a certain novelty is that I not only decided to bring myself down to that weight. I went ahead and did it.

I’d better make it clear right at the start that this isn’t going to be an article on how to reduce in a hurry. If you’re toying with the notion of some such program yourself, go see your doctor beforehand and don’t try anything unless he gives you the green light. This is simply a story about being awfully fat, and growing gradually thinner and thinner until you’re the right size, and how it feels while it’s happening and how some things that go with the process are apt to be unexpected.

I hadn’t lost an ounce before I came up against the first surprise the immense difference in your point of view when, instead of knowing at the back of your conscience that you’re away overweight

but never really facing up to it, you admit it to yourself without any weaseling whatever.

The minute I quit thinking of myself as plump, or stout, and accepted the plain fact that I was a slob built along the lines of the late Hermann Goering, I began to realize a couple of hitherto unsuspected truths about being fat.

Take the popular theory that fat folks are always jolly and good-humored. Now I was being honest about it, I knew I wasn’t a bit jolly; and if you ask me, genuinely jovial blimps are mighty rare. Sure, I went around with my jowls wreathed in laughter and all three chins quaking as mirthfully as you please. When people made cracks about barrage balloons, the loudest yak always came from me. You’d have sworn there was nothing I liked better than taking a ribbing. You could say things that would make a baby rabbit turn on you and bite you in the ankle, but I never got sore. But was I really such a happy, easy-going old tub of lard?

Of course not! On the contrary, I wasn’t happy at all. My stomach was fat, but my brain wasn’t. I was perfectly capable of resenting oafish gags at my expense. I was quite normal enough mentally to be good and sick of going through life ho-hoing like a department-store Santa Claus. I felt the urge to clam up and scowl just as often as any thin person ever did, and probably oftener.

I say that because thin people are apt to be in good health, whereas a mass of blubber such as I was when I started my melting plan seldom or never feels completely well. It was a tiresome and exhausting chore for me to climb stairs. I suffered like a hog from the heat; and unlike a hog I couldn’t spend the day wallowing in nice cool mud. I couldn’t walk a block before my feet began to hurt; and as far as that goes I didn’t actually walk. I waddled. I wheezed. And when I finally got to sit down, panting, in a fine deep comfortable chair, it was an effort to get up again. It was an effort to do practically anything. Sometimes I was pooped before I’d finished shaving in the morning, and would have to pause with lather drying in the folds of my chins while I gave myself a pep talk and snapped myself out of it.

Nevertheless, I kept on chortling and gurgling and beaming in public, like a third-rate actor playing a character part. Which, as I now saw, was just what I was

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doing. The audience, meaning thin people, expect it of a fat man; and besides, instinct taught me that the j quips my appearance provoke would j rapidly become unendurable if I didn’t. So I played the part, but it was sheer defense mechanism and I hated it.

Another thing I hated about being fat, and that I failed to realize until the great awakening, was the load of surplus years I had to carry as well as

the excess pounds. According to the calendar, I should have been in what is loosely called the prime of life. Instead there were days when I felt like my own grandfather—the one who lived to be 83 and was pushed from room to room in a wheel chair and had his mouth wiped for him after meals.

If you’ve never been grossly overweight yourself, you may not believe what I’m telling you. My wife, for instance, who hasn’t varied two pounds one way or the other since she was a girl, and who weighs ir. at a tiny 102, doesn't believe it. One time when I was trying to convince her, I suggested

that if she’d wrap herself from head to foot in a four-inch layer of greasy cotton wool and then fasten a 70-pound lead weight to the small of her back it might give her a rough idea of how I felt.

Another miserable thing about being very fat, although it isn’t a big-league curse like the physical handicap, is that when you’re swollen to the dimensions of a blimp you can’t ever be dashing and glamourous. I am a man. My wife (and it’s one of the main reasons why our marriage has worked out so well) is a woman. We’ve been together many a year and the honeymoon can safely be considered over. Yet she takes a notion every now and again to go dancing, or maybe have dinner in t^e kind of restaurant where women judge other women by the men they’re with and not just by the clothes they’re wearing. And when we showed up on such occasions, and I waddled and bulged along at my wife’s side, she couldn’t have felt any too much like a triumphant female with a prize in tow.

I know my own male vanity took an awful beating, and the only flashing glances that came my way were from the eyes of some unusually polite babe who had noticed me and was trying not to laugh. Now that my outline is normal again, it’s different. I’m never going to put Gregory Peck out of business, but at least I look a little more the escort and less the clown.

Made-to-Measure Steak

Now we come to the actual reducing and with it to the big gimmick in the business of getting thin—the diet.

For the first week I skipped potatoes except at meals, cut down on breakfast toast from six or seven slices to a mere three and thought seriously of taking my coffee without cream. I also contemplated not eating the fat when I had steak and once in a while I actually did leave most of it on the plate. At the end of the week I put a penny in the weighing-machine slot and got a card which informed me I had unusual organizing ability and that I’d gained half a pound.

That was when I really went to work. I sent for a calorie chart and a list of balanced diets and spent hours doing sums on scraps of paper. I set myself a limit of 1,200 calories. I started weighing myself every third day. When the ninth day of calorie counting came, I’d lost seven pounds. I was famished, too, and dreamed about eating all night long. But I didn’t care, I was making progress.

It wasn’t fast enough to suit me, though. I figured I was being too lenient about the quantities of lean meat I had for dinner; so I took to borrowing my wife’s tape measure and checking the night’s steak to see if it was within the limits.

After another week (nine pounds, eight ounces) I entered a more advanced phase. I was sleeping better. Oddly enough, I didn’t snore so much. I was beginning to feel almost energetic. And I was hungry the whole time and hungriest of all right after my measured meals; but at the same time I was beginning to be proud of my torments. Putting up with them showed, I thought, much strength of character. 1 mentioned this to my wife occasionally (about every half hour) and it got so that if I forgot to say it she’d mutter “Yes, dear” anyway.

By the end of the month I had lost enough weight to make me realize this thing was going to be even more worth while than I’d hoped. I was definitely energetic now and some days I felt downright vigorous. My feet hardly hurt at all and then only after I’d walked a respectable distance. I

wasn’t nearly so easily winded—I could run a couple of hundred yards without puffing—and I had stopped wheezing entirely. Whether my ears were getting sharper I don’t know, but it seemed to me the birds were singing louder and sweeter. Quite often I went to the open bedroom window when I got up in the morning and stood looking at the sky and taking deep breaths, something it had never occurred to me to do at my peak load of obesity.

Another change was that I took to weighing myself daily and sometimes twice daily. The collection of little cards from the machine, each with a fulsome tribute to my charm and ability, and a small arrow pointing to my weight, was growing fast. I kept them in a cigarette box in the living room and thumbed through them every night for a few minutes, gloating— until the ghastly series of cards, four in a row, with the neat purple figures that didn’t change . . . 204, 204, 204, 204 ... It was like the tolling of a cracked bell in a bat-haunted steeple, and it just about broke my heart.

Then, the day of the fourth consecutive 204, I read a piece about reducing diets in the paper. According to the eminent authority who wrote it, stretches of unchanged weight had to be expected and were a feature of all diets. These stretches, the authority said, might last as long as two weeks and overweights who ran into them needn’t worry. On top of that the message on the current card was that I was as brave as a lion and never gave up hope.

The card and the diet expert coming together like that was sort of uncanny, 1 thought, and a great encouragement. And sure enough, the fifth day’s card said I was amazingly gentle and a true friend in need and that I weighed 203 . . .

Which introduces another odd thing about getting thin on purpose—a preoccupation with round numbers. When I started, 1 got distinctly more satisfaction out of achieving the even 230 than I did from reaching 231. By 203, which ought to have been a big thing on account of marking the end of the slump, I was fairly agog over the approaching 200. It seemed tome when I made that weight I would be at the point of a profound and almost mystical change; and that when at last I reached 199, and was thus on the way to a clear-cut 190, I would suddenly be a new person.

Playing Tricks on the Scales

I remember how upset I was when a second slump set in and lasted nearly a week. Weight was becoming for me what voices are to opera singers, who, instead of just saying “my voice” like other people, refer to it as “The Voice,” as if it had a separate existence or were Frankie Sinatra. I didn’t talk about The Weight right out loud, but I spoke about it that way to myself.

More and more hagridden by The Weight, stricter and stricter with the measurements, I drifted slowly into yet another phase. I was so anxious to hurry the reducing along that I began to cheat. Not to lie, you understand. That wouldn’t have done me any good anyway, because of the incorruptible purple figures on the little cards. No, I simply cheated, by devices which I would rightly have considered childish if I’d heard of anyone else using them, but which I regarded as pretty smart when employed by me.

For instance, I found out by accident that my weight was always less late in the afternoon than it was at midday or in the morning. So when I went even two days without losing, I had a trick for cheering myself up. I would weigh

myself a couple of hours after breakfast two mornings hand running and the third day I’d wait until around six in the evening.

It always worked out at a loss of at least a pound and I knew perfectly well why, but it made me feel better. Sometimes, when I wanted a more spectacular result, I would leave off the 1 hick woolen pullover I had started to wear come fall, and that meant a further half-pound drop. One night I went so far as to head for the weighing machine without my glasses, which have heavy rims and bows and would probably tip the scales at a massive two ounces, and groped through the smoke-smelling autumn twilight pulloverless, shivering and purblind.

The cheating phase was followed by one where I would occasionally go all the way downtown on unnecessary business, simply so the men I called on could tell me how thin I was getting. The trouble was that quite often they didn’t tell me (it was amazing how some men could concentrate on earning money when there was The Weight to distract them) and this meant thinking up subtle hints.

If they didn’t seem willing to come through of their own accord, I would say for instance, “Look: don’t you

think this jacket is a bit too loose?” Or I would say, “Where do you suggest would be a good place for me to buy a new belt? This one keeps slipping down around my knees.” And if those hints were too subtle, I would put it to them straight—“See how thin I’m getting!”

The stage of waiting for flattery was eventually overshadowed by the stage when I hunted up friends who were on diets too, and compared notes. I had lunch one day with a colleague of this kind, a man whose wit and sense are a constant pleasure to everyone who knows him. We had six oysters and two pieces of brown bread and a mouthful of green salad and a small cup of black coffee, and we talked about weight for a solid half hour.

Thinning may be a bore to the people who aren’t doing it, but there’s nothing even faintly dull about the glorious feeling of being the right size again. To walk once more with a springy step, on feet that don’t hurt, breathing with lungs that don’t pant like Antique Shoppe bellows whenever you come to a hill or sprint for a streetcar— magnificent! To be able to shovel snow or lug ash cans and not get as scarlet in the face as a Mountie’s coat, not to feel your heart flap and struggle,

not to creep into the house to sit down, gasping, and wonder if the coroner Will use you as a horrible warning at the inquest—fine! To feel young agajff,

and get through a hard day without

wrecking yourself for the rest of the week, and be able to go dancing without being asked by some wag why yoq didn’t bring Sabu the Elephant Boy along—splendid!

You won’t catch me overeating and going to pot any more, no matter what-

I’m sold solid on this new life. Cpm-

pared to the old dragged-down, fat-

swaddled days, I feel as I used to feel

when I was young, at sea in a taut }itt}e

ship on a windy morning, or the way I

still feel when a brass band goes by pi)

a sunlit street.

The torment is all over now. I’m accustomed to eating like a rpan

instead of a horse. I weigh the 165

pounds I set myself as a target. Only

one thing has carried over from the

ordeal of thinning. I keep right op

feeling smug about it. I haven’t stopped

congratulating myself, and it’s begin-

ning to look as though I never shall. A

man shouldn’t be too pleased with his achievements. That’s bad, and I

know it.

I know something worse, though, Being too fat. ★