Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fat and happy? Or thin and sick?
You make the choice.

As I mentioned last Tuesday, my father-in-law, Herb Bell, died about ten days ago.

Though it may sound strange to talk about the positive aspects of losing someone you love, I have to admit that one of the most heartwarming aspects of the experience was looking at all the old pictures—pictures of my father-in-law, my husband, and the entire family. Over the years, I’ve seen numerous photos of my husband and his parents from his childhood, but last week I think I saw every single photo taken during his childhood—and his parents’ childhoods before him.

It was fascinating on many levels.

Some of things that fascinated me were obvious—how different my father-in-law looked as a child and young man. In one picture, from around the time he was twenty, he is leaning against a brick wall, his knee folded against the wall in an pretty close replica of the famous James Dean photo. I saw that photo, and a man who always looked like a grandfather to me actually appeared hot.

Yes, I said it.

Back in the day, my father-in-law was smoking hot.

But the most interesting part of looking at these photos was that we were all searching for a picture in which Herb looked . . . well . . . I guess the only way to say it is heavy.

Why heavy? Because that’s the way we all remember him—with big glasses, a cigar in house mouth, and a bit of a belly. Like Santa Claus without the hair.

So even though we were tickled to find Herb’s James Dean photo and formal Air Force portrait, we were even happier when we put our hands on a picture of Herb the way we remember him—before he was sick, before he weighed 119 pounds as he did in the days leading up to his death. We desperately wanted to remember him as the happy and healthy man we all loved.

And the whole time we were searching for evidence of his healthier, happier self, I kept thinking about how ironic it was—after Herb got sick, he was initially thrilled by his weight loss and would often brag about how many pounds he’d lost. But at some point, the novelty of being thin wore off, and we were all left with the fact that no matter how svelte and dapper the new Herb looked, we all wanted the old one back. In the end, we longed for the healthy and plump Herb and broke down at the sight of sick, gaunt Herb.

It made me wonder why we are all so obsessed with thinness when, for some of us, being plump means we’re healthy. I even had to ask myself, what would you rather be? Thin and sick or healthy and overweight? Of course, we all would choose the latter, but if that’s the case, then why is it so difficult to accept ourselves the way we are? Imperfect, yes, but still wonderfully, vitally alive.

If I had a wish for all of us, it would be this: I wish that we would all be able to truly believe this—believe that we are better the way we are—long before old age and disease makes waifs out of us, and it is finally—and regrettably—too late.

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