I'm not really fat. But that's often the first thing I tell people about myself--friends, acquaintances, and sometimes even complete strangers. Whenever I get a compliment--which happens a lot here in the Southeast, where people generally always have something nice to say--I offer the f-word up immediately, like a line of defense, just in case they're thinking it, just in case anyone has noticed that my ass ain't what it used to be.
"You look great," they'll say at a party, or when they see me on the street. "Oh, man," I'll inevitably reply, rolling my eyes for emphasis. "I'm just so fat!"
Then, if I can grab their ear for a second or two, I'll go on to explain that I'm still working to lose my baby weight. I'll tell them I'm trying, but it's just so hard--I'm tired, I'm stressed, I'm busy, I'm eating a lot of junk because it's easy, I just can't get to the gym the way I should, I'm taking some yoga classes (but maybe that's not enough), etc. I cram in as many excuses, in other words, as I think they'll sit still for.
If the other person is a new mom, they'll understand completely--in fact they'll reciprocate with gusto. In fact, get two moms together and the entire conversation will become one long ping-pong combination of complaint and apology--sorry I look like hell, yes that's chewed up cookie down the front of my shirt, I haven't been to the salon in three months, can you believe it's been so long since I last took a shower? And did anyone tell you there'd be this whole new appendage hanging from your lower belly? Yada yada yada.
My friends and I can go on like this for hours sometimes, completely bewildered, looking at each other for clues. What has become of us? Luckily we have each other to help remind ourselves that, yeah, we may be a jeans size or two (or, for fun, let's say three) larger now, but look at these fabulous kids we've got! Who cares if we're a little chubbier and rumplier now?
Which is a very good question. Really, who cares?
I can certainly tell you who does not care: Men and childless pals. Start in on your self-deprecation routine with them, and they'll stare at you like you're on crack. What are you talking about? Why on earth would you willingly say such embarrassing things about yourself? Even if they are true, who in their right mind would willingly call attention to all their petty flaws?
It was in talking to one such childless friend, Michele, that I had a moment of clarity. She had greeted me enthusiastically, noted that motherhood must be treating me kindly, and said, "You look fantastic!" As I prattled through my usual no-I-don't routine, and she stood looking at me quizzically, I realized this was craziness. I stopped short, apologized, and offered the response she was looking for: "Thank you."
Then and there I vowed to discipline myself on this matter in an attempt to stop the madness. And, believe me, it is a matter of discipline. The urge to make excuses for my current condition is so ingrained now that I have to catch myself in the act and jerk my inner choke chain.
But it seems worth the effort. I don't know if there's anything to this business with "The Secret"--wherein you could, the theory goes, think yourself thin. But I do know that words have power--and it's doing me no good whatsoever to think myself porky, or to communicate that vision to the world.
Hillari Dowdle will no longer be labeled "Chunky-Style," and will
henceforth be known only as "Smooth & Creamy."