Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fat women, fat clothes

I've been thinking about clothes lately. I'm in no sense a fashionista and all my friends will tell you I mostly wear black clothes that are loose and a bit large. While I choose black in part because I believe it makes me look marginally thinner, I mostly wear black because I'm a chronically sloppy person whose ink pen will die or her latte explode or she'll spill soup down her front and the black covers up more of those stains than lighter colors. And I wear fairly shapeless clothes that are a little too large because I can't stand anything tight. I began wearing elastic waist pants when I was in my 20s and still very thin. I hated jeans (too thick, too tight), I hated the confinement of belts, I hated the itch of tight sweaters even when my breasts were enviable.

So as I've gained weight over the last 15 years, my clothes haven't changed all that much. I like cotton knits, I like soft fabrics, I like things that don't make me sweat (I abhor most synthetics).

But do I dress this way because I'm fat?

I've noticed over the last months, especially over the summer, that a lot of somewhat younger (30-50) fat women are wearing very tight clothing. They wear tight jeans, tight shorts, tight layered thin T-shirts. Their fat thighs show, their belly rolls show, their breasts are barely contained in their bras. I don't know if this is a defiant fashion statement (these are the same kinds of clothes worn by younger, thinner women and appear in the store displays) or whether they had these size 10 clothes and when they got to be a size 20, they just went on wearing them.

I wonder if men find these women sexually attractive with everything on display.I went through a brief period in my 30s of wearing somewhat provocative clothing (low-cut tops). I was thin or at what the culture defines as a good weight. In addition, it was a period of high sexual activity for me and when I met my next steady boyfriend, most of that display disappeared, so maybe that's why they wear it. But I don't find it any more attractive on them as I would on me.

I guess what I'm really wondering is what's a good look for a fat woman. My friend Jan is heavier than she'd like to be and she wears beautiful clothes: suits, jackets, sweaters. But it's all hot and heavy and doesn't appeal to me. She's also a public speaker and dresses up for work. My cats and my computer could care less what I wear.

I'm glad there are real options, catalogs and online shops like Land's End and Ulla Popken, who make what I think are attractive clothes for those of us who are obese. But somehow I can't let go of the image of Sarah Ferguson, the former princess, who became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers and took off her loose comfortable dress to show us the skinny body in the slinky wrap skirt. Is that what I'm supposed to aspire to--something tight and clingy?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Can't vs. won't

Two recent experiences have given me a different perspective on some of my conversations about habits and desires.

First, I've been working with a coaching client who is struggling to develop a strong writing practice even though he expresses a serious desire to write and publish a novel. He is not a novice writer but has been away from writing for more than a decade raising and supporting a family. Instead of clearing space in his calendar for the writing, he finds himself working more than ever, taking on additional responsibilities within his community, and enrolling in a full-time graduate program that is not related to his creative writing. He's aware of the self-sabotage that's going on although he has very logical rationalizations for his choices. But each new activity provides him with reasons why he can't get any writing done.

Second, I met a couple of weeks ago with my buddy Lily. We are each making some small daily changes to our routines for health and weight loss. I was talking to her and it suddenly occurred to me that I needed to confess a lack of integrity. That for all my talk about wanting to lose weight, I wasn't really making any serious changes. Yes, I was walking an extra 3-4 miles a week; yes, I was using a smaller plate; yes, I was drinking more water. But I wasn't eating less. I wasn't cheating on my food plan because I didn't have a plan.  But I wasn't eating any less or any differently.

And I began to think about how often I say I can't seem to lose any weight and how it sounds an awful lot like my client who says he can't find time to write. I know that my client really means he "won't." Perhaps both in the sense of "will not" and "doesn't want to." If he doesn't write, he can't publish, and if he can't publish, he can't fail.

And me. I don't really know if I can't lose weight (like a metabolic thing). All I can say for sure is that I don't lose any, although I say I want to, and yet I don't want to change what I'm doing. I want to continue to eat what and when I want. I don't want to diet. I just want the weight to go away.

It's an interesting place to sit, this idea of can't vs. won't.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Autumn and my drainers

Every fall I get a burst of energy. It may come from knowing the threat of heat from the summer is past (summer is my least favorite season) or it may come from many decades of being a teacher and having September be the first of the year. Maybe some of it is just inherently human or human from the North. The urge to create a winter nest, to put food away for the winter, to plan for survival. While I live in the temperate climate of western Oregon and have never canned in my life, I still feel an urge to make everything tidy for the coming dark. And that includes attending to my drainers.

I got the idea and the word from Cheryl Richardson. Drainers are those little things around the house that nag at us. They drain energy each time we see them and think "I need to take care of that," whatever that might be.

Here is a list of my drainers:
Wax the car
Repair the seat cushion that has come undone from the ties that secure it to the chair.
Move the cooling fans to the basement
Clean out the refrigerator
Take my winter coat to the cleaners
Get new gloves
Fix the broken switch on the bedside light
Get the front door knob fixed
Repaint the kitchen
Get a flu shot
Figure out what is wrong with the scanning feature on my printer
Figure out how to get more oomph out of my wifi

I'm happy to report that almost all of these are done. I'm waiting on an estimate for the kitchen painting and I can't seem to fix the door knob hard as I try so I'll need help with that one. But every day I've tackled one and I'm feeling very ready for the change in season.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The German chocolate cake experiment

Tuesday night I went up to visit my sister and help her celebrate her birthday. As a gift, she'd wanted us to bring a German chocolate cake from Jaciva's, a local bakery. Cakes from Jaciva's have been a staple of family birthdays for years. I gave it some considerable thought and then decided to treat myself to a piece.

If you've been following my blog, you know that I own up to an addiction to sugar that may well have preceded my addiction to alcohol and that on Valentine's Day 2010 I swore off desserts and sweet treats. So I had to have a serious conversation with myself about this new decision. I had not been craving sweets or missing chocolate. I didn't feel that I was on the slippery slope to relapse. I felt confident I could say no if it came down to it. But sharing in the birthday festivities, including cake, I had missed.

We had a very nice dinner out and I ate lightly (soup and salad). Then we went back to her house and changed into our pajamas and had cake. I had a moderate piece, not a tiny sliver but not the large size I would have taken before.

Here's what happened:

  • I ate 3 bites and I had had enough.
  • I finished the piece of cake anyway, enjoying it less and less.
  • I didn't enjoy the chocolate pieces that decorated it--this is excellent chocolate but it still didn't taste good to me. 
  • The cake was pretty good but not fabulous.
  • I most enjoyed the feeling of the frosting smooshing around in my mouth. I don't eat things that have that creamy texture very often. I miss that.
  • After about 45 minutes, I felt yucky, not only too full but buzzing from the sugar and slightly sick.
I haven't spent any time analyzing this. I just feel grateful that it wasn't much fun and I don't really want to do that again.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Poetry therapy

I had a wonderful experience this past weekend. For a number of years, I've been recommending John Fox's books, Finding What You Didn't Lose and Poetic Medicine, to people interested in writing poetry for self-exploration and understanding. Early last week, I found John was coming to Portland to offer a workshop for the weekend and I signed right up. Sometimes it is just so clear what we need to do and considerations of time and money are immaterial.

I wrote some wonderful poems, heard some great poems, met a whole new family of writers. And I learned a lot about what John does at the Institute of Poetic Medicine ( This nonprofit funds the work of writers all over who work to alleviate suffering and isolation through poetry writing programs in schools, prisons, nursing homes, hospitals, and other community gatherings.

I was struck by the simple complexity of these efforts, of our listenings, of our being together, through self-expression. So powerful!

Here's the first poem I wrote in the workshop (for another, see my writing blog at

And what if my words
carry the key to my feelings
in the breast pocket
of the charcoal pinstripe suit
they only wear to funerals
and high-holiday gatherings?
And what if the key opens
the floodgate of tremors and tears
in torrents?
And what if I used the key proffered
by a preposition or an adverb,
heedless, unconcerned, feather-light
on the tongue, salve to the ear,
Tinkering in uninhibited flux
of a trapeze crisscrossing
the high wire of my heart?