Iowa Writes

MARIAN MATHEWS CLARK
On Being Thin


I'm thin. There, I've said it. I've not bulked up with age but am built like my father who was 5'9" and topped out at 145 pounds. Thin until the day he died at 93.  I want to be liked, allowed in, safe inside the loop. But sometimes you can't be.
Before I realized what I had to do, exchanges over dinner—where such topics are likely to arise—went something like this:

First Weight-Bearing Friend: No matter how much I cut back, I just can't lose. Last week I got so hungry, I ate a box of Wheat Thins in the middle of the night. I'm not talking chocolate ice cream but Wheat Thins, which you should get points for, just because they're awful. But in the morning, I'd gained a pound. It's so unfair.

Second Weight-Bearing Friend (talking to FWBF and ignoring me): And they tell you to sign up for Jenny Craig, but those movie stars have money. You can't tell me that behind the scenes, they're not meeting with their personal trainers. Have you seen those guys? Hell, if I had a personal trainer, I'd do whatever he said, just to keep him coming back, if you know what I mean.

I'm thin. There, I've said it. I've not bulked up with age but am built like my father who was 5'9" and topped out at 145 pounds. Thin until the day he died at 93.  I want to be liked, allowed in, safe inside the loop. But sometimes you can't be.

Before I realized what I had to do, exchanges over dinner—where such topics are likely to arise—went something like this:

First Weight-Bearing Friend: No matter how much I cut back, I just can't lose. Last week I got so hungry, I ate a box of Wheat Thins in the middle of the night. I'm not talking chocolate ice cream but Wheat Thins, which you should get points for, just because they're awful. But in the morning, I'd gained a pound. It's so unfair.

Second Weight-Bearing Friend (talking to FWBF and ignoring me): And they tell you to sign up for Jenny Craig, but those movie stars have money. You can't tell me that behind the scenes, they're not meeting with their personal trainers. Have you seen those guys? Hell, if I had a personal trainer, I'd do whatever he said, just to keep him coming back, if you know what I mean.

Me (feeling left out): It's a pain. I remember when I gained weight in college.

Stony silence with FWBF giving SWBF the "it's the skinny one, trying to horn in" side eye. 
Finally, FWBF looks at me and says, "Oh, yeah, how huge did you get? A hundred thirty pounds?"

Me (smiling feebly, wondering how she knew): One thirty-two, I think it was.

Second Weight-Bearing Friend: My heart bleeds for you.

So I quit trying to jump on the bandwagon. But once or twice in recent years, I've mentioned early in the conversation how I hoped my osteopenia wouldn't progress to osteoporosis and how discouraging it had been that my last bone density test didn't show improvement. Then I would add, "And that was after I'd continued lifting weights, cut back on things I love—like coffee, eaten lots of fruit and carrots and yogurt and taken extra calcium." I hoped someone would take pity on me and admit there's a price to pay for being thin. You know, relate to me in a "yeah, life is tough" kind of way. But no one bit.

The bottom line is, you can talk about people's needing to eat less and exercise more all you want, but it's not fair when you have the high-metabolism thin gene. It's not fair that you eat what you want, and whatever they eat goes to fat. It's not fair that they're hungry most of the time and fight a battle never permanently won. It's not fair that they live in a historical era and country that glorifies thinness no matter how many Kirstie Alleys say it's fine to be full-figured.

And when you're on the upside of an unfair situation, people aren't about to let you worm your way into their good graces. There's no way around it. Kind of like McCain pretending to relate to us but not knowing how many houses he had when folks are just trying to pay the mortgage.

These days, when weight comes up over dinner, I keep my mouth shut. I don't go for sympathy by reminding weight-bearing friends that I grew up in the fifties during the reign of the voluptuous, coveting Liz Taylor's breasts and envying my Jane Russell paper doll's curves. Or feeling defenseless against a colleague who announced in the break room, "If you were my wife, I'd fatten you up." I don't explain how I was traumatized in the fourth grade by a weighty teacher, Mrs. Steen, who announced that in a famine, the skinny among us would be the first to perish.

No, I will not expect my past suffering to earn me any slack. Exclusion is the price I pay. I must take my punishment and sit in silence that acknowledges, yes, life has been unfair to you. And I'll wait until the conversation has moved safely on before saying, "Pass me another corn dog, please."

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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MARIAN MATHEWS CLARK

Marian Mathews Clark earned an MFA from the Iowa's Writers' Workshop. She has published fiction in Story and The Sun and nonfiction in Dutiful Daughters and Persimmon Tree. She has taught in the Summer Writing Festival, and for twenty years has worked as an academic advisor at The University of Iowa.

This page was first displayed
on April 19, 2010

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