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I was twenty years old when my grandmother sent this letter to me. For most of my life, I’ve been a bit round, taking after my father’s side of the family who were larger boned. My mother who was always trim and stayed within a few pounds of her high school weight routinely commented on my weight. My grandmother, on the other hand, never shamed me and worked hard to build up my confidence. She also infused her writing with touches of humor in-between sage advice.

December 19, 1981

Dear Julie,

To continue a discussion, we started when I accompanied you to Sunday School and couldn’t finish.

If it can be said that the cards are stacked against the fat girl, that she will never have boyfriends, get married, rise to high positions in business or social spheres, and will never be happy with herself or her life, then the reverse must be true. Every skinny girl is thrice blessed. She wears mink provided by her adoring husband, reaches her star in a zoom, never has cause to frown or stretch out on a psychiatrist’s couch. Right?

Hold it! What’s that sound I hear? Laughter? Derisive laughter? From both sides of the aisle? What does it mean?

It means the reverse is not true. It means that the full-blown figure has no more disadvantages than the flat-chested willowy model that so many females hanker after has advantages. They each have the same number of rungs on the ladder, and plums on the tree.

It means the only thing that can hold back the chubby from achieving whatever lies within the realm of her possibilities is her own mental attitude. If she thinks her plumpness will keep her from getting anything good out of life, then so it will be. She anticipates failure so why even try?

And it doesn’t have to be plumpness alone. It could be thinking she is too short, too tall, too restricted, to deprived, too anything. If it justifies her fear of failure. Or maybe it’s just sheer laziness, one excuse is good as another. It’s laying down your arms before the battle is even begun, rather than chance being defeated.

Supposed handicaps are not the prime factor in determining the quality of one’s life and achievements. It’s what you do with the rest of you, your positive qualities, capabilities, ambition, and determination. 

To carry it to a personal level, you think you are overly plump. Well, if you were born a hundred years ago, you’d be snatched up in a jiffy. Then plumpness was in; today, it’s out. And for good reason. The more unnecessary weight one carriers, the more strain on the heart and activities.

It’s the difference between carrying a sack of potatoes or a sack of feathers on your back. Which would you rather?

However, I can understand your feelings. I know firsthand it’s no fun being under-five-footer in an over-five-footer world. It’s not fun to be born with an imperfection that sets one apart from the others. Such hinderances can’t be changed. Bodies can’t be stretched to size; limbs can’t be remade, or sight implanted in sightless eyes. One can only adjust or better yet, rise above them.

But in the areas where we feel out of tune with the dictates of the times, and the changes can be made we don’t make the effort, then the problem becomes a constant nag, gradually looming larger and thornier, holding us back from accomplishing what we are able.

So, if you don’t like something about yourself, change it. Make up your mind and get going. You have nothing to lose, but what’s bothering you.

Now to don my lecturer cap. What follows is bits and pieces I’ve picked up during scores of years of reading, listening, experiencing, and osmosis. Take what you can use; toss the rest in the freezer.

Always stand tall with head up: The minute you schlump, everything schlumps with you, and you appear heavier. When you stand tall, you stretch upward, everything thins out. Besides why shouldn’t you stand proud?

Wall, especially across campus with brisk, steady stride and rhythm: Count off the cadence like they do in the military. Then it becomes an exercise, not a stroll.

Dress to emphasize your positives and ply down your negatives: Don’t be afraid of color, they spark up the personality. Don’t hide as I do behind drab colors.

Exercise: There is a special way to exercise. Don’t look at me. I exercise maybe three times a year for five minutes. The minute a muscle gives a little squeak, that’s it for me. Kicking around a pool or fencing is not really exercise unless you put tension – I think that’s the word – behind it.

Our club once had a lady come in to demonstrate yoga. We followed as moved slooowly, pushing her arms out, out, out, back, back, back, up, up, up, each time, feeling the muscles being pulled and stretched. It felt good.

Speed, she said, was not necessary. And you just don’t hop, skip, jump, finished. It takes time, concentration and dedication. Now you know why I don’t do it!

Actually, the question for anyone, wanting to lose weight and trim up the figure is not, “Do I want to lose weight,” but “Do I really want to make the effort?”

If the answer is “no,” then forget it. You will only frustrate yourself and end up perhaps eating even more.

If “yes,” are you prepared to give up, among other things dessert, chocolates, apple strudels, rich sauces, noshes, the fifth meal of the day, and much more.

Recently, the news program I watch carried a five-part series on addictions: Smoking, drinking, drugs, gambling, and to my surprise, overeating. According to the newscaster, the hardest addiction to break is smoking. That’s understandable. Smoking is so constant, a day-long, every-day activity.

To some, smoking is the first act upon awakening, the last before sleep. It is an accompaniment to coffee, meals, work, play, and daydreaming. Feel restless? Smoke. Feel anxious? Smoke. Feel high, low, happy, angry? Smoke. Every mood invites a smoke.

It’s also an automatically performed physical action. The hand reaches for the pack, fingers fish out a cigarette, light up, and again, and again come to the lips. The smoke curls through the throat and nostrils, the nicotine permeates the body. This whole act is repeated for maybe 20, 40, 60 or more times a day.

When you give that up, you’re really being deprived, both physically and emotionally. It takes stamina and strong will to endure whatever it takes to overcome the desire for that cigarette.

But in giving up excess food, you’re not being deprived. No matter what, you are going to eat. You will still have regular meals, even snacks. As the newscaster said, overeating is more of a bad habit than an addiction. It’s simply a matter of discipline, laying down your knife and fork when you’re full, and not go on stuffing like a goose.

There are so many substitutes for the no-no foods. Instead of fat-rich beef, butter-rich mashed potatoes, seven-layer chocolate cake, five-favored banana splits… oh my, why am I torturing myself so?

It’s not fair. Some people can eat a tubful of food at each sitting and come out with rubs showing; others just take a nibble and another roll appears around their waist.

Know what constitutes an overeating addict? The man interviewed on the TV program. He was big burley hunk, was sitting in a restaurant with a heaped-up plate of food before him. He rolled the spaghetti around his fork and it into his mouth with such eagerness, such impatience for the next bite, and swallowed it so fast, I doubt he tasted it. He said he ate several dinners at once, totaling ten for the day. That’s an appetite to reckon with!

Gracious thanks to FOODISM360 and on Luke Michael on Unsplash for their fabulous photos.