A Heavy Subject

For those of you who really enjoy watching fat women parade around in skimpy swimwear, you’ll be pleased to know that there is now a Big and Beautiful beauty pageant. This bit of information comes to us from my grandmother, who saw it on Sally Jessy Raphael.

According to my grandmother, who is a very reliable source, the only rule for entering the contest was that you had to weigh at least 250 pounds, a requirement shared by many traveling carnivals. The pageant itself was much like the Miss America Pageant, only far more disgusting. The women had to peform a talent (eating did not qualify), be interviewed (“What are your career goals?” “I don’t know. Pass the potatoes.”), and — please sit down, if you have not already done so — model swimsuits.

* * *

Those asterisks indicated a brief period of silence, to give you time to realize the implications of my last statement. My only regret is that my grandmother — a dear, sweet, old woman who has never done anything to deserve such a fate — had to witness this. She must surely be scarred for life after seeing a dozen women, many of whom require license plates, wander around what must have been a steel-reinforced stage wearing swimsuits. I pity her.

But as long as we’re making fun — uh, discussing — fat people, let me tell you about a guy I saw at the courthouse the other day.

See, I had to go to court because I got a ticket for going 80 miles an hour on the freeway. As my mother and I — hey, there’s something I don’t understand. If you’re a minor, which I am, and you go to traffic court, your parent or guardian has to go with you. But it seems to me my mother’s not going to do me a lot of good once I get to court — where was she when I was doing 80 down the freeway? THAT’S when I needed parental guidance — not in court, where I’m already duly intimidated. “Slow down!” my mother would have shrieked in a parental manner. All she can do in court is give me dirty looks when the judge tells me how much I’m going to have to pay.

Anyway, we were outside the courthouse when this man came be. Now, I am not one to make fun of people’s problems, but this guy was FAT. He must have weighed 1,400 pounds, at least. He was not Big and Beautiful. He was Big and Fat. But as he came lumbering past us, we noticed that this incredibly fat man — a man who single-mouthedly could deplete the entire food supply of a third world nation in one sitting — had, by some freak of nature, some bizarre twist of circumstance, somehow managed to acquire a pair of blue jeans that were TOO BIG for him. Bear in mind that while a normal man has maybe a size 36 waist, this man’s waist must have been a size 300, and he had somehow managed to find a pair of pants with a 310 waist.

The result was that he had to hold them up to keep them from falling down. Now, I think it is safe to assume that Levi’s does not ordinarily manufacture pants of that magnitude. My guess is that a piece of factory machinery went haywire and started making circus tents instead of trousers.

But there are still many unanswered questions.

1) Why didn’t he try the pants on before he bought them? It seems to me that if you’re going to go to the trouble of hunting down a clothing store that has a Fat Slobwear department, you may as well go to the trouble of making sure the darn things fit you before you pay for them.

2) Is it possible that the pants used to fit, but that he — stay with me here — LOST WEIGHT? I would be inclined to say no, because I think once you break the 800 pound mark, the goal of losing weight is replaced by the goal of getting out of bed in the morning unassisted.

3) What was this guy doing in court? He can’t possibly have been occupying a vehicle that was going too fast, unless it was going downhill. My guess is that he got a ticket for double parking his butt.

And there you have it. The only column I ever regretted printing.

It's a difficult matter. I think the column is very funny. But it's just so mean! And I knew it was mean, but when I wrote it, I didn't see it as criticizing all fat people. I saw it as criticizing one specific fat person, and one specific group of fat people who wore bathing suits on TV. I realized when I got the backlash from readers that I was wrong.

Many people mentioned it to me. They were all nice about it, but they made it clear that the column offended them. Had they been the usual brand of stuffy, irrational people who wrote me letters, I wouldn't have paid any attention. But they were people I knew, people who liked everything else I wrote. People who were my friends. People who, in many cases, were overweight.

The real kicker came when the receptionist at the Lake Elsinore News, whom I was great pals with, said, "What about your grandmother, Eric? She's kind of a big lady. What do you think she thinks about this column?" And she was right. My grandmother was one of my most adoring fans, but now I could see that perhaps this column would hurt her feelings. Even now, as a grownsup, it pains me to think that Grandma read the column, was bothered by it -- but didn't say anything because I was her grandson and she didn't want to criticize me.

The paper received a letter in response to this column, as you might expect:

To the editor:

I usually enjoy reading Eric Snider's column, except for this one. For such a perceptive young man, he should know better than to ATTACK people on such a personal level.

Eric is too young and inexperienced to understand the problems and dilemmas that some overweight people have, and to generalize about any one of them in the way that he did is cruel and insensitive.

I remember hearing about a man who fell in the bathroom of his house and couldn't get up because he was so large. Well, at that time he weighed 900 pounds; now, almost two years later and 700 pounds lighter, he is proof -- and Eric, this is for you -- that maybe the man with the pants that were too big had actually lost weight and, like the man before, does have a goal.

I lost 100 pounds 15 years ago and I can tell you from personal experience that you are messing with serious problems some people may be having.

They don't need your opinion and insults about 'fat' people to help them along. They need your support and encouragement.

By the way, not everyone wants to be skinny, nor is every overweight person a basket case. [This must be a case of "Well, as long as I'm writing I'll mention these points," because I never even implied in my column that either of these things were the case. Good of her to point it out, though.]

Eric is just a high school student who should stick to subjects that are at his level of understanding and maturity, and the paper should use a little more common sense on what is printed and not let a teenager use it as a forum to insult and write about subjects he knows nothing about!

Helena Holman
Lake Elsinore

The biggest irony in all this is that my editor printed the column without changing a word -- something that almost never happened -- and yet REFUSED to print, the same week, a feature-length special column I wrote about the Bill of Rights because it treated the Bill of Rights lightly. Making fun of fat people in a cruel manner is fine, but making fun of governmental theories in a good-natured, fun manner is unacceptable. Interesting. (You can read the banned column here.)