Im never going to stop wanting to be thinner and chasing it. But Im OK with that
Every morning I have the slightly morbid habit of reading the New York Times obituary section. I have a subconscious wish to see in one illuminating flash how another person figured out her story so I can gain some insight into mine. It was mostly a soothing habit, until the morning I read about Jean.
In late April 2015 the obit headline read: Jean Nidetch, a Founder of Weight Watchers, Dies at 91. It had not ever occurred to me that an actual person had thought up Weight Watchers. To me, at 38 years old, the ubiquitous weight-loss company had no origin story; it had always just existed, I thought, to torment me.
Tortured would be a polite way to label my relationship to dieting. I cant even recall how old I was when my parents put me on my first diet. Four? I think I was nine when they signed me up for Weight Watchers. It didnt work. None of the diets ever did. I am a chronic yo-yo dieter whose weight has risen and fallen so many times that, if charted, it would resemble a city skyline.
But there was Nidetch smiling at me, with big owl-like glasses and a blond bouffant, holding a piece of cake she clearly had no intention of eating. My first thought was that, finally, I had a face to put to my misery. I thought I knew what the story of her life would be: some variation of a thin woman becomes rich and famous butting into overweight peoples lives, never giving them a moments respite from calorie-counting.
But as I read, I didnt see a villain in Nidetch; I saw myself. Jean had been a chubby kid who turned into a fat adult, a woman who wrestled with a raging sweet tooth and whose preferred method of consumption was not enjoying a slice of cake with friends but rather inhaling an entire pack of her favourite cookies in the privacy of her own bathroom. Jean and I were both 5ft 7in, Jewish, blond and residents of Brooklyn. When I look at photos of her before she lost the weight, the physical resemblance between us is so strong, she could easily be my aunt or cousin.
I realised that I was the same age as Jean was when shed begun to lose the weight and transform her life beyond her wildest expectations. Her rock-bottom moment was when someone mistakenly assumed she was pregnant. Dozens of people have mistakenly assumed I was pregnant. One woman wouldnt even take no for an answer. You must be at least postpartum, she said, and stared at my abdomen. I made a mental note never to wear the grey hoodie I had on again.
Jean also sounded human, a woman whod struggled with love and age and work and family and her place in the world. So instead of delighting in the demise of a newfound nemesis, I felt a moment of connection.
For the past several years I have felt trapped between dieting my way to a slimmer body and simply trying to love myself as I am. But no matter how impossible perfection may be, working towards it is satisfying in its own way. Theres action involved in inching closer to a goal, even one you cant attain counting calories, working out, weighing in.