My husband knew I was The One when he first saw me. I (with a roll of the eyes) chalked up what he called love at first sight to the way the clothes happened to flatter me that evening. He stopped me in my tracks, though, when he admitted for the first time after 10 years together, “But I wouldn’t have wanted to marry you if you were fat.”
Now, he’s one of the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate people I know but apparently all that’s besides the point when it comes to attraction and mate selection. And call him what you will but I wonder. Doesn’t he have the right to want what he wants in a wife? Who’s to judge our sweet palate? Here we plunge into the politically correct thicket. How many people are more attracted to overweight people than to those who’re thinner? Let me preempt the comments. I am not saying large – or can I say it? – fat people cannot be attractive. I know big people who are pretty. And yes, I do believe some men (some) do want “more to love” of a woman. Nor can I say that the large couple over there doesn’t enjoy romance and abiding love. Add to the mix of disclaimers the cultures that are less obsessed with the Barbies of the developed world. So I’m obviously brushing with broad strokes. But do slimmer people, among women especially, really do have a better chance at love?
“I know I’m supposed to hate my body,” the patient said according to Kerry Egan, hospice chaplain and author, in a CNN article What the Dying Really Regret.
“Well, Kerry, ” she looked incredulous that I even asked and laughed. “Because I’m fat!”
“The world’s been telling for me for 75 years that my body is bad. First for being female, then for being fat and then for being sick. But the one thing I never did understand is, why does everyone else want me to hate my body? What does it matter to them?”
Sometimes [what other people want them to believe is] based on their allegedly unattractive features. They might be ashamed of their weight, their body hair…It isn’t always the media and peer pressure that create this shame; sometimes it comes from lessons at home…Some women grow up thinking that their very existence in a body that might be sexually attractive…is cause for shame – that their bodies make bad things happen just by existing.
Clearly, we want to keep grounded in a sense of self that does not rely on our appearance and does not put too much premium on our effect on others (for better or worse). Not to withhold sympathy from this woman, but I don’t believe I am categorically lovely no matter how I look or how much I weigh. I just finished saying in The Obligation of Beauty that it’s a show of self-respect to take better care of oneself, and that means inside and out. But the self-love this article talks about turns a corner where it meets death.
There are many regrets and unfulfilled wishes that patients have shared with me in the months before they die. But the stories about the time they waste hating their bodies, abusing it or letting it be abused — the years people spend not appreciating their body until they are close to leaving it – are some of the saddest.
“I am going to miss this body so much,” a different patient, many decades younger, told me. “I’d never admit it to my husband and kids, but more than anything else, it’s my own body I’ll miss most of all. This body that danced and ate and swam and had sex and made babies. It’s amazing to think about it. This body actually made my children. It carried me through his world.”
It’s the very existence of being in a body, something you likely take for granted until faced with the reality that you won’t have a body soon. You will no longer be able to experience this world in this body, ever again.
So they talk about their favorite memories of their bodies. About how the apples they stole from the orchard on the way home from school tasted, and how their legs and lungs burned as they ran away. The feel of the water the first time they went skinny-dipping. The smell of their babies’ heads. And dancing. I’ve heard so many stories about dancing…I can’t count the number of times people — more men than women — have closed their eyes and said, “If I had only known, I would have danced more.”
Precious, isn’t it? Those drowning in the sea of mortality throw us pearls and we find their wisdom to be the simplest things. This one’s about love at last sight, so sad when the appreciation for self and breath and texture comes so late. The self-love we are encouraged toward isn’t a stout call to self-esteem but a fresh vision of beauty birthed by the anguished promise of loss. Recast in this light, the distinctions between thin and big people diminish. We all have a strong, strong chance at love.