Tag Archives: weight

Smoke the Guilt Away.


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Elizabeth Williams Bushey self-portrait, smoking with I exited the store today, after some retail therapy, new blue jeans in a bag, and to my delight, saw another smoker just outside.

Thus, I expressed said delight, as I am wont to do. “Ah!” said, I with said delight. “Another smoker!”

The woman – one of those terrific women “of a certain age” whom I admire: you know the kind – they keep in shape, get their hair cut cool, still wear lipstick. On their lips. With lip liner, so it doesn’t bleed into all the cracks they’ve earned. Neat-looking lady.

Except for the part where she nearly jumped out of her skin like we all used to do in the girls’ room when Sister Josephine walked into the nicotine haze. I wanted to go: Calm down, ma’am, I’m not wearing a habit, or carrying a ruler.

“Oh my gosh – I thought – oh, how silly, I felt just like I was getting caught smoking.”

“You were,” I said, lighting one up myself. “Only I’m thrilled. Smoke up. The French smoke, they eat more fat than any other country in the world, and they drink wine every day. They’re thin and they live a long, happy life. Vive le France.”

She felt guilty, however. Guilty that she was enjoying a smoke. Guilty that since she’d stopped smoking in the house, she’d gained a few pounds.

“You look great,” I said. She did.

“Oh,” she waved at me. Have I mentioned? Every woman thinks she’s fat? They’re even willing to smoke themselves to death to be thin.

“Well, there’s always portion control,” I suggested.

“I do that,” she nodded enthusiastically.

For those who have not yet caught on to portion control, here’s the deal. What you get when you sit down to Ruby Tuesday’s, TGIFriday’s, Choose-Your-Own-Weekday EatFest is NOT a human-sized portion. One plate that your server hands you is a skosh or two more like the size of what ordinary-sized people feed a family of about four or so.

On massive plates.

And YOU eat it ALL. With appetizers first. Breaded, fried appetizers. Maybe even some bread and butter, and some iceberg-lettuce salad – or even salad bar, which is a hilarious choice, really, considering that most of the buckets are slop-ful of loose mayonnaise with beans floating in it, or cheese.

Then you ease yourself uncomfortably away from the booth, wondering why you seemed to fit better when you got there (did the coats expand, or the bags get more full?) Stomachs straining, wallets far emptier – especially if you indulged in fake micro-brew beers or wine – you head home after another night of consuming enough calories to sustain a small African village for a week.

Which you didn’t know, because it was all on one plate, after all. And after all, Mom always told you to clean your plate, because of the starving African children.

Which you didn’t know – and still don’t – how cleaning your plate could possibly help them out, but became deeply ingrained in your soul, creating a ferocious guilty monster inside you every time you see half-eaten food on your plate.

You know, forevermore, have my permission to leave it there, and not even take it home, even if you have a dog. (He shouldn’t be eating people food anyway – especially stuff that salty.)

But anyway, back to my new friend, who was feeling terribly guilty, and whose name happened to be Bernice.

Poor guilty Bernice was simply unable to enjoy her poor cigarette: she couldn’t even hold it comfortably, unlike myself, who was standing loose-limbed next to her, loving the warm spring air, my bag of $10 Calvin Klein jeans (TJ Maxx really IS a steal), and taking in long, unhealthy, but stress-relieving drags.

I turned again to Bernice, who was fluttering around, trying to figure out where she was going to put the butt. (Me? I field-strip them, pack the butt in the box and throw them away when I find an appropriate spot. When anyone’s looking, that is. I admit, sometimes the world is my ashtray.)

“Bernice, don’t feel guilty. Guilt is a waste.”

“Oh, but I do,” she said.

“Guilt makes people feel badly about themselves. People who feel badly about themselves aren’t motivated to do better in the future.”

“Oh, but I feel very guilty today. I’m here shopping, and my husband is at chemo.”

Uh… she had me there. Good luck with the death treatment, honey. I’m going shoe-shopping. But, still…

“Bernice, you can’t feel guilty. Seriously.”

She stopped dead in her tracks. I could feel it, palpable in the air: the challenge. What could I possible volley back to that one?

“Bernice, you’ve flown on airplanes, right?”
“Dozens of times.”

“What does the flight attendant tell you to do?”

Don’t you just HATE when people make you GUESS? I didn’t leave her hanging very long.

“Put the orange oxygen mask on THE GROWNUP first. THEN put the little mask on the child. Why? Because otherwise you’ll pass out and die, and then where will the child be? Dead, too. You have to take care of yourself, first, or you’ll be no good to anyone else.”

“I TOLD him that this morning. I made him his breakfast. All he had to do was ZAP it, but he wants me to do everything for him!” Bernice said it in the same voice you use when you say: “I know! How COME the Professor never gets it on with Ginger or MaryAnn? He’s single; he’s not gross. What is there, saltpeter on Gilligan’s Island or something?”

“I told him,” Bernice went on, “that I’m training him to be an invalid – that’s what I said, I told him: I’m training you to be an invalid.”

I took a rare break from my usual ha-ha self (yes, I can even make cancer funny) and spoke softly. “Bernice, when I was still living with my parents, my favorite uncle came to live with us. He had terminal colon cancer, so I’m no stranger to living with and caring with cancer patients. Trust me: you need to keep that oxygen mask on yourself – and he needs to take care of himself, too. It’ll keep him strong, and might even help him recover.”

We used to call ourselves The Amateur Nursing Association; people came to our house to die. You were wondering, maybe, where I acquired this black sense of humor of mine?

“Have fun shopping, Bernice. Don’t feel guilty.” I smiled at her.

“I will,” she said, much more enthusiastic and relaxed than she was before.

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Speaking of naked…


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Very fat woman in undiesSpeaking of naked, aren’t you glad she isn’t?

Actually, aren’t you glad neither of these women are?

I keep explaining to my daughters that extremes – either way – are, well, downright icky.

Who wants to cuddle up to a pile of bones, held together somewhat loosely by thinly-stretched skin? Who wants to kiss an ashen, skeletal face that’s about ten minutes away from cadaverhood?

Not me. Even if I liked the ladies.

On the other hand, the thought of being smothered doesn’t appeal to me greatly, either.
Neither does the thought of finding those panties – or Very thin woman in red dressthat bra – in my laundry, either.

I can, however, imagine repurposing that bra as an awning on an outdoor gazebo in the backyard. Couple of wind chimes – you’re in business.

That, however, triggers a rather nasty image in my fetid imagination of those bulbous girls swinging freely, with their usual support instead shading several square yards of my property.

Think it hurts when they do? Flop around, I mean. Yikes.

Ordinarily, the excruciatingly perfect etiquette my Scarsdale, NY grandmother drilled into my head forbids me from commenting on anyone’s personal appearance, outside of “You look wonderful, darling.” That’s it, by the way. That’s all that’s allowed.

Even should someone show up to your wedding with an overturned flowerpot on their head, peat moss streaming down their face, one bare foot, a potato sack dress and accessorizing the ensemble with a tightly clenched pitchfork, all you are allowed to say – if you’re looking to be strictly polite is: “You look wonderful.”

Of course, one can say vastly more than that with tone of voice, one raised eyebrow, and a very slow inspection from head to toe as one tells the pitchfork bearer how wonderful they look. If you’re my Scarsdale grandmother. That’s the whole trick.

Etiquette, Grandma always reminded me, is to keep YOU from being embarrassed. It can work wonders, she advised, when wielded properly as a weapon.

But, like Ninja warriors, it takes years of training and practice to learn how to humiliate others with grace and aplomb. It helps a lot if you have a natural mean streak, or a talent for quick hurtfulness under pressure.

Take the famous Dorothy Parker, known for many things, but probably best of all for her ability to humiliate on cue. A young starlet tried to embarrass Parker at a Hollywood premiere when they nearly collided at the entrance. “Oh, Miss Parker,” chirped the starlet, heading, as young starlets do, boldly into territory she had no business being, “please do go in – after all, as they say: ‘age before beauty.’”

“Thank you, I will,” said Parker, tossing back over her shoulder, “after all, as they say: ‘pearls before swine.’”

Gotcha. Grandma was a dedicated sensei, but I never quite had the mean streak necessary to pull off snobbery. I ended up WAY too egalitarian, in the end.
Being a starving artist, too, makes it tough. When you’re paying for coffee in rolled-up pennies, insulting people is usually the last thing on your mind.

However, I digress.

The reason I feel at liberty to make any sort of comment on these women’s appearance at all is that they not only deliberately POSED for these pictures, but allowed them to be posted on the Internet, where I found them – to my everlasting shame, I don’t remember where, and so cannot give appropriate credit – and can thus bring them to your attention.

I myself am about a size 4, maybe a 6 on my fat days. I am lucky enough to be a sort of tiny person – annoyingly, so little that complete strangers find it okay to actually lift me in the air, as I may have mentioned earlier.

Still, in my own life, I have struggled with both weight gain – after a bout of postpartum depression with my first daughter, I must have, in my haze, thought that PopTarts were the answer – and also with anorexia. Real, honest-to-goodness, let’s see if we can survive on Altoids and cigarettes anorexia. So I have, in my past, resembled the skeleton in the red dress.

Looking back at a couple of pictures, I see now why so many people that I thought were annoying at the time were actually alarmed when they tried to casually suggest I perhaps indulge in a sandwich or three.

I didn’t used to think there was such a thing as too thin.

We all know there’s such a thing as too fat – and yeah, we’re all pretty mean-spirited about it. It’s the one thing nobody minds being right up-front about, either: if someone’s fat, we’re grossed-out.

Even fat guys don’t want fat girlfriends. (The nerve, really, because who really wants a fat boyfriend, even if he is rich? Okay, well how rich? Nice car rich, nice house rich, or nice portfolio rich?)

But the other day, driving along Main Street (yes, it really was Main Street, if you can believe the perfection of coincidence) I saw this enormously (excuse the pun) happy couple waddling (sorry, HAD to use that verb) along, holding hands. They were both extremely huge, but they were obviously extremely into each other, and I was missing Peter, who won’t be home until June, and I thought to myself: how terribly sweet that these two people found each other – and while many people wouldn’t find them all that attractive, perhaps, they probably see each other as the most beautiful people in the world.

And maybe they’ll have a lifetime of happiness – until their enlarged hearts give out and they drop dead at around forty.

In each other’s big arms.

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Naked! Naked! Naked! (Made ya look.)


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the many faces of me I have no problem being naked.

Not that I’m EAGER to be naked, don’t get me wrong; it’s not as if I’m winking, one hand pulling down the shoulder of my shirt, frantically elbowing passers-by, whispering: “Dare me? Dare me?”

I’m no modern-day Lady Godiva.

(Why DID she take off all her clothes and ride a horse through town? Wasn’t she protesting something her jackass husband did? My – if that worked…)

It’s just that at I’m finally comfy in this skin. And with all the little fat cells that may be – or may not be – floating around underneath it. For instance, after two C-sections, no matter how much weight I might ever lose, or how many sit-ups I might do…

(…Hang on, I can’t type, I’m laughing so hard at the idea of ME doing even one sit-up….)

..I’ll always have a little kangaroo pouch, thanks to my Little Joeys having popped out like toast, instead of, well… the other way. (Yikes.)

I never DID do the bikini thing. I preferred my grandmother’s advice: Let ’em wonder. It’s what you DON’T show that drives ’em crazier. She was right.

A woman is ten times more sexy in a high-necked, backless gown, if you ask me. After all, I always wanted a guy that wanted not only to whisk me up the stairs like that famous scene in Gone With the Wind – but who also wanted to buy me the staircase. (I didn’t have to want the staircase, mind you. He just has to want to give it to me. <<insert evil laughter.>>)

And the surrounding mansion. Don’t forget the mansion and a yacht. (The stairs by themselves would be, well, stupid.)

I’m currently working on a project for pre-teen girls about body image. It’s in the embryonic stage right now, and it’s inspired by my own pre-teen girl, who IS NOT FAT, (can you hear me?), NOT FAT BY ANY STRETCH, but like every other woman in the universe, is tortured by her self-image.

The pictures you see on the left are of me. I took the top two; my daughters’ dad, award-winning photojournalist Tom Bushey, took the bottom one, shortly after our first daughter Emily was born.

Yikes, right?

[NOTE: I went, clad in a baggy sweatshirt, no makeup, to rent a car during this period. No big deal. They gave me a plain-Jane model. Radio, no CD player. Got me where I needed to go. I returned it. More on this later.]

Although outside of the postpartum depression period, I was never really overweight, I DID develop early, growing biggish breasts early on, and since I AM tiny – and all my height is in my legs, making me very short-waisted – at 11 and 12, I felt like a potato with toothpicks. A freak. A fat freak. Fatty McFat-Fat.

A self-image I projected onto the whole world.

It wasn’t until college, really, when — oh yay! I roomed with – dig this: three of the most beautiful women on campus. No kidding, in all seriousness, THE most gorgeous, including an International Vogue model. As nice as they were beautiful, too, and friends to this day. (Did I mention smart? The model is now a doctor at Sloan-Kettering.)

When you’re plunged into that kind of over-the-top fabulousness, there is no question of competition. It’s like being a Sumo wrestler hanging out with racehorse jockeys, or a mermaid hanging out with Iraqui burqa-wearing babes. Just doesn’t enter your mind.

What blew my mind was that none of these smart, incredibly nice, incredibly beautiful women ever did anything on a Friday or Saturday night except go out with each other, while I had date after date.

Turns out there IS such a thing as too, intimidatingly beautiful. (Also, I learned there really IS such a thing as too thin – boys like soft, not bony.)

How cool was that?

I also learned from a former actress and model, later on, when I appealed to her for makeover assistance for a high school reunion (“Is there anyway you can make me look like an International Vogue model? Um… no reason…”) that “beauty” could be achieved with a few tricks of the lip and eyeliner brush. Ah! How easy, especially for an artist like myself.

Or anyone with about an hour to kill at the Esteé Lauder makeup counter.

Confidence + a few hidden grooming tricks? I had this thing licked.

I went back to the car rental place where I had rented a clunker a couple of years back. Same circumstances: I needed to rent a simple car.

This time, I had learned “how to be beautiful.”

They handed me the keys to a fully-loaded sports car.

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