"A Person of Substance"

An obese person's interior and exterior life.

Posted Jul 24, 2016

BigPlankton, CC 3.0
Source: BigPlankton, CC 3.0

I wrote this short-short story to encourage us to think about what we want to accept about ourselves or change.

A review of 18 studies found that obese newborns are more likely to become obese adults.

So it was not surprising that Letitia, who was born weighing 9.7 pounds, would, at age 15, weigh 240 pounds.

Contrary to the stereotype of teens being mean, most of her peers were careful,  never calling her "fat." A couple of kids called her what some fat-acceptance activists suggest: "a person of substance."

But privately, Letitia considered herself a pig. That was even though she ate less than one might think. Yes, occasionally, in frustration with her self-hatred and lack of friends let alone flirtations, she would overeat. But that didn't begin to explain her obesity.

Like many teens, in an attempt to form an identity, she started getting tattoos. People politely praised them, as we often do when someone does something edgy. Letitia rarely was praised, which motivated her to get more tattoos until she had covered both arms and shoulders.

Letitia tried diets, first on her own. She'd be "really good" for a day or even a few days and lose a pound or two, but one few-minute "cheat" would negate many hours of being good—so she figured she needed to try a structured program. Consumer Reports rated Weight Watchers the best, so she tried that but soon quit because she found the rules too cumbersome and the weekly weigh-ins embarrassing, not only because of her weight and slow progress but because she was the youngest person there. Then she tried a medically supervised plan and, with great effort, lost 20 pounds in six months. But the thought of a lifetime of such restraint and, as she aged, a slower metabolism that would make it even harder, led her to despondency: "Shopping at Lane Bryant at age 16. I hate it." She began eating moderately. "Fat acceptance feels wrong but I don't feel I have a choice."

Her replacing weight-loss efforts with eating moderately allowed her to turn her focus to other things. Notably, she loved singing but hadn't allowed herself to get serious about it because she felt, as a "pig," she didn't deserve to. But now, she took singing lessons and with her teacher's encouragement, sang at a karaoke bar. At first, her voice kept cracking but eventually, she sounded good and got applause. "I've never been applauded about anything. It gives me goose bumps and makes me cry."

That gave Letitia the confidence to pursue a career. She was never good at school, not because of psychological issues associated with her weight, but because she simply found school hard. She was diligent enough—Indeed doing homework was a socially acceptable way to avoid trying to have a social life. She said, "School just isn't my thing."

So after graduating from high school, Letitia took a job at Lane Bryant as a sales clerk who specialized in younger customers. She did well and within a year, received two promotions: to assistant store manager and then associate store manager.

At age 38, now 285 pounds, her doctor encouraged her to pursue weight-loss surgery and she carefully looked into it. But the risks scared her too much and chose to accept the health and social risks of morbid obesity over the surgery. Instead, she started using a top-rated weight-loss app, My Fitness Pal, and it's helping, albeit modestly.

Letitia, now 40, works as a sales manager in Lane Bryant's corporate office, hiring, training, and supervising retail sales people. Some weekends, she still sings at karaoke bars and even occasionally at a nightclub's open-mic night. She's still healthy and grateful for every day. All in all, she feels she's done okay.

The takeaway

I created this story based on my experiences with real people, to encourage us all to consciously decide what to accept about ourselves and what we want to change. Those decisions, let alone changing, are rarely as easy as others might assert.

Perhaps you want to take a little time to look at the major aspects of your life: Your career, relationships, physical and mental health, appearance, recreations, habits. Have you been beating yourself up about something you should finally make a concerted effort to change or accept as immutable so you can focus on something more productive?

Dr. Nemko’s nine books, including his just-published Modern Fables: short-short stories with life lessons, are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net