Michele Bender photo

Michele Mikesic Bender

Let’s discuss diets.

Readers, I heard you gasp!

“Michele, what’s wrong with you? Making us self-conscious with summer just beginning?”

Actually, this topic has been lurking in my head for a while. No time felt right before, but, given the degree of hostility and intolerance in our world, I chose now. It’s not diet; more compassion, acceptance and kindness.

For years, movie stars and models set the benchmark for beauty. Fifties girls envied Jane Russell, Sophia Loren, Kim Novak, etc. Society approved of curves.

Alas, the ’60s introduced us to “Agent 99” of ”Get Smart,” Diana Ross and Twiggy. Annette, Aretha and Ann-Margret fought to defend the 50-yard line of sanity, but lost when Cher, Karen Carpenter and “Charlie’s Angels” arrived.

Women toasted the event with Metrical and Tab. “We Are the World” celebrated universal accommodation of races, ethnicity and handicaps. Just one group remained fair game: fat people.

At one point in my life, I was tremendously overweight. Illness launched it – cellulitis and lymphedema – but the “PLOMS” – poor li’l ol’ me syndrome – topped it off.

My dress doesn’t fit. My feet are swollen. If I eat a cookie, I’ll feel better. Except I didn’t. Still fat and facing the same problems, I only succeeded in adding guilt.

The public treats obese folks despicably.

One Christmas, I maneuvered my oversized fanny into a Deb Shop, planning to purchase a gift for a niece. A miniature, 20-something clerk scurried over and announced, “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to leave. Nothing here will fit you.”

She took a deep breath, then continued: “Security will escort you out.” Yes, she called them first. Merry Christmas.

A former hubby was a Little Debbie junkie. I’d driven to the market with a galpal, a smoker. The express checker-outer held up the box of Oatmeal Crème Pies and loudly remarked, “It’s none of my business, but should you really be eating these?”

My jaw dropped. I snatched my friend’s carton of Marlboros off the conveyor belt. 

“Do you think she should be smoking these?” I snarled.

We exited, leaving our merchandise and Miss Congeniality in our wake.

Galpal laughed. 

“How rude!”

I sniffled.

Do chubbies not know that we are? Do strangers think we’re happy?

Illness and heredity had taken their tolls on my muscles and mobility, but strict diet, serious exercise and residential rehab brought me home. Adjusting to limitations and a new lifestyle went well until I broke my hip in 2015. Inactivity while healing – and, of course, the PLOMS – helped me gain 45 pounds.

I wallowed quite a while, but became inspired by a People magazine article from several years back. It told the story of an Ohio mom who was verbally chastised in a store by another shopper, apparently offended by Mom’s size.

“You should be ashamed wearing clothing that tight!” ranted the critic. “Obese women should consider their appearance before they leave home!”

The young mother of two wept.

“I teach my kids to respect everyone and not judge. Our children watch us. They pick up on everything we say and do,” big Mom sighed. “They learn to hate and be mean from grown-ups. That evil frightens me.”

It’s an unruly, unpredictable, scary world out there. Everything and anything can set some stranger off.

Millions of people struggle with weight. Laziness and gluttony are rarely the causes.

Sometimes imagination makes us reach for unattainable perfection. (Ask Karen.) I’m shooting for normal. Twenty-three pounds lost, 22 to go: I’m a work in progress.

I saw a T-shirt that said, “The dryer didn’t make my clothes shrink. It was the refrigerator!”

How great if we could pop ourselves in the Maytag and emerge two sizes smaller and wrinkle-free. Until that day, we need to control not only what goes into our mouths, but what comes out of them as well.

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and regular community columnist for The Tribune-Democrat.​ She can be reached at MsGeezerette@aol.com.

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