My older sister was fat. It was one of the common topics of conversation around the house, especially as she entered her teen years.
“Are you sure you want seconds on spaghetti, Julie?”
“But I love spaghetti, Mom. It’s my favorite food. Spaghetti isn’t very fattening, is it?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“How about if I eat seconds on spaghetti instead of finishing my salad?”
I grew up hearing about calories, sit-ups, and the latest diet. All my sister’s friends were skinny and pretty and popular. Julie had soft white-blond hair, round blue eyes and a friendly smile. Everyone liked her. But she wasn’t thin. And at 13, 16 and 18 having a trim figure seemed like the answer to all her problems and the most important goal one could hope to reach.
When she didn’t make the swim team, it was because she was too fat. When she didn’t go to Junior Prom, it was because boys don’t date fat girls. When she didn’t get the part-time job she wanted, it was because of the excess weight.
She would try to diet, cutting out seconds and passing by the candy stand at school. After several weeks of such discipline, a two or three pound loss would be her reward. Oh, joy! She was getting there at last. She felt thin and self-disciplined. And then she’d go back to eating mashed potatoes and Snickers until the discouraging cycle would begin again.
In those days I had no weight problem, so I couldn’t really understand my sister’s obsession with her figure. (Although if I had really thought about it, I might have seen a parallel in my own tendency to stand forever in front of a two-way mirror agonizing over my big nose.) I’m afraid she didn’t find me a very sympathetic audience as she stood each morning before the full-length mirror.
“Karen, does this skirt and blouse make me look fat?”
“Well, maybe a little.”
“How about with the blouse out? Is that better?”
“I’m not sure.”
“But look at it from the back. Fat?”
“Uh, no. I think it’s better with the blouse in. Definitely.”
“Are you sure? How about if I wear a sweater?”
“Julie! I’m gonna be late for school. Yes, it looks fine.”
“No, it doesn’t. You’re just saying that so you can go. You don’t even care about me.”
“Yes, I do! Wear the blouse tucked in and the sweater.”
“How about the blouse out and the sweater out? Doesn’t that cover more?”
“No. It looks sloppy. Now I’ve got to get to school. Bye.”
“Mo-ther!” The tears start. “Why am I so FAT?"
Eventually Julie learned why she was fat. It had to do with eating too much and exercising too little. Somewhere along the line, when she was in college, she got it all together and lost her excess weight.
Now she’s ten pounds lighter than me, jogs two miles a day and, although she still loves food, she rarely overeats. My sister who was a teenager with a matronly, frumpy shape is now the mother of two and has the figure of a nineteen-year-old.
And no one deserves it more than my fat sister.
(Note from author: This essay was written 25 years ago, when I only weighed 10 lbs. more than her. Now it's more like 50. Not something I'm real proud of, but just thought I should let you all know LOL.)