James Corden has taken Bill Maher to task for claiming that trying to fat-shame people into thinness was a good thing and needs to make a comeback. Corden responded with an eight-minute segment about his lifelong struggle with weight issues, humorously summing up with, “I’ve had good days and bad months,” when describing the seesaw of dieting and the ever-present shame. It captured over a million YouTube views the first day.
I, too, have had good days losing weight and bad months, years and decades dealing with being fat and ashamed. Many, like me, can tell you more about diets and dieting than you’ll find in the self-help section of Barnes and Noble.
Maher is right; obesity is an epidemic. Thirty-four to 41 percent of adults, by age groups, are overweight according to “The State of Obesity,” data derived from a national survey funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As a skinny kid growing up in Boston, my mother coaxed me, “Gerald, eat; Gerald eat,” as I played with my food, moving the plate to the edge of the table until it “accidentally” fell to the floor. Jewish kids eat; what was wrong with me? “He’ll eat when he’s hungry,” friends assured her.
Boy, did I.
With puberty, I responded to my mother’s mantra and my seemingly endless eating and dieting cycle began. Diets all work for a while, usually a short while. Dr. Atkins himself lulled me into a body 100 pounds smaller with a high protein diet, weekly visits and handfuls of supplements for sale at his handy drug counter. For months, people admired the new me. Then the compliments turned to “how are you feeling?” (fat, perhaps?). Yes, and filled with shame and wishing I hadn’t donated my former wardrobe to Goodwill.
The weather warmed but I refused to shed my outerwear. A raincoat became my uniform from May through October. Friends on Cape Cod invited me to visit them in North Truro, walking distance to the beach. “Can I wait until January and wear my gray overcoat?” was my quick response.
I stopped traveling, going to parties, job interviews and weddings. I fly first class or buy two seats and ask for a seat belt extender. I gave up my beloved Broadway to avoid tight seats designed 100 years ago for a thinner audience. The flight attendant or my seatmate’s face reinforces my shame.
Weight issues do need to be successfully addressed. Obesity is a killer. I have high blood pressure and diabetes and my knees are shot. I’ve explored bariatric surgery, but surviving on tiny meals scares me more than dying from being overweight.
Fat shaming never worked, Mr. Maher. As to bringing it back, it never left.
Cornez lives in Manhattan.