Behold! ’Tis my pops and my li’l bro, seen here at my grandmother’s 90th birthday this past July in Ithaca, NY. Jake is just back from China, where he’s been for the last 10 months teaching English at a university in Zhengzhou, a city of 7 million people that if you are like me, you’d not previously known about. Here are some facts about Zhengzhou that I know from Jake’s time there:
The fanciest restaurant in town is the Pizza Hut, where they have white tablecloths and their specialty is a pie called American Pizza, which has no tomato sauce and is topped with shrimp.
The latest and greatest American cinematic releases can be purchased from a local grocery store which sells bootleg copies of them behind an ACTUAL ROTATING BOOKCASE LIKE IN THE MYSTERY STORIES.
It is very difficult to get a decent sandwich, prompting Jake to now hilariously crave sandwiches to a degree that I find both extreme and appealing, for I am a lover of sandwiches.
Speaking of sandwiches, at this party I re-encountered or possibly met for the first time a great uncle named Tony who spent at least a portion of his youth pursuing a career in the performing arts, as I am currently doing. And so we were discussing this, and having a grand old time what with him giving me his phone number in North Carolina should I ever come through and whatnot, when he suddenly says to me, “Well, you obviously aren’t starving!”
Which was clearly a reference to the fact that I am not, of late, as svelte as I have ever been. He then added, “Now, the way I see it, we’re family, so I don’t have to sugarcoat it. The build you’ve got here, it may be good for comedy, but let’s be honest; you oughta think about losing some weight.”
Ah, delightful. What welcome, helpful advice from this man who I have met only once previously, at the age of ten on some effing farm in rural Maryland at a family reunion, according to him. He clearly has my best interests at heart, knowing me so well and all. He said these words to me, by the way, mere moments before I was supposed to stand up in front of the entire assembled family to deliver some prepared remarks in honor of Gramma, one of the main themes of which was her ability to cook delicious food. Tony then walked away, leaving me to waddle to the podium feeling, essentially, like little more than a stomach with arms.
If I seem sensitive about the weight thing, it’s because, well, who isn’t. But moreover, I will never understand why people feel the need to come up to me and say things like, “Listen, not for nothing, but I notice you’ve gained a little weight.”
What response are these people hoping for, exactly? Do they want me to look down at my gut, gasp, and then grab them by the shoulders and say, “My God—I am so glad you said something. I would never have noticed!” I know that I’ve gained weight—it’s painfully obvious every time I try to dress myself in the morning and find that I have fewer and fewer viable options. Or when I sit down on the couch at the end of the day and make a grunting sound because my legs are tired of supporting my love handles. Or when I get on a plane and have the pleasant realization that I in fact have to literally shimmy into the seat because my caboose is too wide to fit between the armrests. Trust me, I don’t need you, Helpful Relative/Friend, to point it out to me.
I bring this up because it often seems as though the person pointing out the weight gain seems to think they’re somehow doing you a favor. Their tone of voice is usually some bizarre mix of sympathy and concern, as though you should appreciate them bringing up the thing about yourself you are likely most ashamed of. I don’t know where this impulse comes from, but I think if you stop and think about it for about five seconds, you will see that it doesn’t do much for the overweight person except make them feel worse. It’s highly likely that we rounder folks have been doing everything we can to suck in and ignore the feeling of grossness that clings to us incessantly for the better part of the day, and are hoping that time spent around friends will be an opportunity to relax around people who won’t judge us. So, the next time you’re considering making such a comment, here is a novel idea: DON’T. Instead of verbalizing the thought your overweight friend has been worried literally everyone in the entire world has been thinking all day, you’ll re-affirm their faith that you love them regardless of their shortcomings and couldn’t care less what they look like.