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Such a pretty fat: one narcissist's quest to discover if her life makes her ass look big, Page 2

Jen Lancaster


  “Couldn’t—the aisle was too crowded.” I desperately hate having to squeeze through. Makes me feel like I’m stepping on people and sticking my butt in their faces as I try to ease out, and really? No one wants that. “So I’m looking at the dad, taking in how tired he seems. It was raining out, and I felt bad that these parents had to take their baby wherever they were going on a bus. They were visibly exhausted, and if they had their child out in this weather, it was probably because he was sick and they were going to the doctor. Plus it was cold and neither of the parents had on coats, so I was sympathetic.” I’ve already drained my glass, so I shake it at Fletch in a more, please gesture, and he dutifully complies. He’s like my sous chef, only for liquor. “And yet this hair”—I point to my newly streaked locks—“is not going to blond itself, so I had to get off, right? As I tried to exit again, the dad scowled at me, not moving an inch, and that made me mad.”

  “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” Fletch says in his best David Banner impression. “Is that when you turned green and exploded out of your clothes?”

  I throw my hands up in the air. “Listen, did I not just save his baby from being kidnapped? I mean, can I get a little credit here for having an entire plan of attack mapped out? I was about to be a goddamned hero.”

  I see a smirk playing at the sides of Fletch’s mouth. “Your plan of attack entailed what? Filing your nails? Yelling for the bus driver? Eating a candy bar?”

  “No. First, I’d snatch the kid back with a bunch of lightning-fast Sydney Bristow roundhouse kicks to his head—which would really hurt with my pointy boots, by the way—and once the baby was safe, I’d chase him down and go all MacGyver on his ass, handcuffing him with only my purse straps and knockoff Chanel sunglasses.”

  Fletch looks dubious. “Considering you’d rather watch infomercials for an hour than cross the room to get the remote, I have a hard time reconciling your action-packed Alias fight scene with reality.”

  I wave a potato-covered wooden spoon at him. “Oh, please. With the adrenaline in my system, I could have totally done it. People can lift cars off their kids when they need to.”

  “Not lazy people,” he counters.

  Aarrggh. I’m not lazy. I’m simply judicious about excess movement.

  “You’re missing my point!” I exclaim. “The point is, I almost got involved, and I hate that, so how about a little fucking gratitude on his part?”

  “You’re mad at the guy for not reading your mind?” he asks.

  “Do you want to argue with me or do you want to hear my story?”

  “Have I got a choice?”

  I choose to ignore his snarky commentary. “Anyway, I did give up my seat for the mom, even if she chose not to take it, so it seemed like the guy should have been polite when I tried to exit. Again, I said, ‘Excuse me. This is my stop,’ to which he replied, ‘Hey, man. There’s a baby here. Why don’t you think about someone other than yourself?’ ”

  After twelve years, Fletch is well aware of what will turn me into the Jencredible Hulk. He shakes his head and simply says, “That poor bastard,” and then removes his glasses to wipe off the potato specks that hit him when I gestured a bit too hard with the wooden spoon.5

  “Listen, I was sorry he and his little lady didn’t have access to a car to take their kid to the doctor. And I felt bad I was all bundled up in a toasty warm trench coat and sweater, while they both shivered in thin shirts and stupid vests. But the bottom line is, a baby doesn’t give you license to do whatever you want. Newborn or not, you cannot block my exit. I took all these factors into account, and then I smiled at him, and in the most compassionate voice I could muster, I leaned in close and said, ‘Bite me.’ Dumbfounded, he stepped back and let me pass.” I bang my glass down on the counter for emphasis, and it weathers the impact heroically, damn it.

  “Let me guess—this is when he called you a fat bitch?”

  “Exactly! But that’s not the end of the story.”

  “You called me out of a lunch meeting at work last week when Bob Barker announced his retirement,6so I assume the guy didn’t punch you or I’d have seen you both on the news.”

  “Nope. But as soon as he called me a fat bitch, I snickered and replied, ‘Yeah. Like I haven’t heard that before.’ Then I stuck my tongue out at him and climbed down the stairs.” I open the oven and remove the world’s most gorgeous pork roast. The maple syrup will make it delectably sweet, while the Dijon mustard in the glaze will give it a savory bite. According to the meat thermometer, it’s now exactly 170 degrees. I turn off the oven and tent the roasting pan with aluminum foil so the juices redistribute themselves. “Dinner in ten. And I’ll need a refill.” I pass my glass over the head of two slobbery dogs.

  “What’s the magic word?”

  “Um . . . now?”

  “Nice try.”

  “Pretty please with pork roast on top?”

  “Better. Somewhat.” He fills the glass again and comes over to put his arm around me, causing the dogs to temporarily scramble before reassembling themselves right next to me. “Listen, Jen; I’m sorry if he hurt your feelings. You know you’re fine just the way you are, even if you are deeply, profoundly bossy.” Fletch then kisses me on the forehead before opening the cabinet under the coffeemaker to grab placemats and napkins.7

  I unload plain white crockery plates from the dishwasher and use them to set the table. “Sweetie, that’s the problem! He didn’t hurt my feelings. The issue here is that I’ve been called ‘fat bitch’ so many times that I’m totally desensitized to it. I should have been bothered. I should have wanted to kick a lung out of that guy. Instead, I was simply amused, and that feels wrong somehow. I suspect it’s a self-esteem thing.”

  Fletch snorts. “Right. You’re a raging narcissist. Sometimes I hear you saying ‘I look pretty’ in the mirror when you think I’m downstairs. Your self-image? Hardly a problem.”

  “You think you’re telling me something I don’t know? My self-esteem is so out of proportion, I’m no longer in touch with reality. I mean, I’m a size twenty-four. I’m the poster child for rampant you-have-such-a-pretty-face-isms. No matter how you slice it, I’m fat. Not husky, not Rubenesque, not big boned, but fat. Porcine. Beefy. C-h-u-n-k-y. Shoot, I’m about two sizes away from not being able to shop in the big-girls section of the department store,8and yet I’m like an anorexic. ”

  “If you’re anorexic, you’re doing it wrong.”

  I swat him with a dish towel. “No, no, I mean anorexics look in the mirror, and even if they’re eighty pounds, their organs are failing, and they’re on life support, they still see a fat girl. I’m a hundred pounds heavier than I was in high school, my veins are full of crème fraîche, and yet I look in the mirror, take in the hair and makeup, and think, Damn baby, you fiiine.”

  Fletch nods, saying nothing.

  “Seriously, check out my face. I have almost no wrinkles, even though I routinely tan myself into shoe leather. The fat totally fills them out. That’s why I don’t have those gross neck cords yet, either.”

  “If you’re fiiine, then what’s the problem?”

  “I’m almost out of my thirties. I always thought I’d have my shit together by now; I’d be thin, I’d be out of debt, I’d be nice out of habit and not just when I wanted something, and maybe I’d own a home. Yet here I am hurtling toward the big four-oh in an overpriced rental with student loans and a paltry savings account, and when someone calls me a fat bitch, I simply accept it as fact. Right now, I can live with being a renter, I can live with being broke and fat, and I can live with being a bitch, but the minute you add ‘middle-aged’ to the equation, I’m afraid my world is going to collapse on itself like a dying star.”

  Fletch shakes the wine bottle at me, and I hold out my glass. He quickly refills and says, “As for buying a home and paying off debt, we’re working on it. It would be easier if we moved to the suburbs—”

  “The land of strip malls and minivan
s? Soccer moms and church socials?” I interrupt. “Right. If we moved to say, Wheaton, we’d need to buy a home with a basement or an attic.”

  “Why?”

  “So I could hang myself from the rafters. I live in the city. Period. We’re not having this discussion again.”

  Our city-versus-suburb debate has been raging for the past year. Financially, a move twenty miles west makes a great deal of sense, but the thought of it makes my heart cry. At this point, I’d much rather deal with the occasional drug transaction in front of my house than waste away in Wheaton, mingling exclusively with the Illinois version of the Stepford Wives.

  Fletch continues, “Even without a move, we’re worlds away from where we were when we were both unemployed, so don’t give me the ‘broke’ business, because it’s not true. Are we having pork roast tonight and not plain spaghetti with salt like that one time? Yes. Do you have to work temp jobs anymore? No. Did you not just deposit a healthy royalty check you earned from your first book? Yes.”

  I shrug. We had so little money for so long that sometimes I forget we aren’t destitute anymore, even though we worked damn hard to get back to this point. He continues, “You want change? Lose the bitch. Be nicer to people. Stop telling them to ‘bite you’ and threatening to kick them until they’re dead.” Fletch gets up to turn off the overhead lamp and lights a couple of candles on the table.

  I consider what he’s said while plating up our dinner, but I get distracted by what I’m serving. The potatoes are so full of butter, they’re actually yellow, and the beans glisten in the flickering candlelight. I slice the golden pork into mouth-watering slabs, trimming off two of the most egregious chunks of fat and tossing them to the dogs. Then I dice up four smaller bits for all the cats. They all wolf down their pork and immediately clamor for more.

  “I’m afraid it’s not that easy. I’ve had this mean-girl thing since birth. The fat’s a fairly recent occurrence. Maybe it would be easier to fix that?” I grab my own dish and sit, ignoring my chair’s creaking protest.

  Fletch looks thoughtful for a moment. “Losing weight would be healthier, and even though you balk now, you’d be happier if you shed a few pounds.”

  “You think?” I take a bite of my meat, and tiny flavor fireworks explode in my mouth. . . . It’s magically pork-tastic!

  “I do. And I’d help you.”

  “Hmm. Would you maybe offer me a system of rewards, like ten pounds equals a free facial or something? I don’t follow through well unless there’s a treat involved.”

  “If bribery motivates you, sure.” He reaches across the table to pat my hand.

  “What about fifty pounds—would you, say, take me to Las Vegas?”

  “That would be cause to celebrate, so, yeah, I’d take you to Vegas.”

  I chew thoughtfully for a minute before putting down my fork. “Okay. I guess I could give it a try. But only because I really want to see Steve Wynn’s new hotel and not because I have to. Because I?”—I wave my hands down the length of my body, much like Barker’s Beauties do when demonstrating a fabulous hi-fi—“am fiiine.”

  “You’ll try?” Fletch asks. “Well, good for you for recognizing change is possible.” He raises his water bottle and clinks it against my glass, chipping the rim, which I take as a positive sign from God. Or possibly Crate and Barrel.

  “Yes, sir, I’m going to do it. Although if I drop fifty pounds, maybe I should go somewhere more exciting than Vegas, like Italy or somewhere. I guess I can decide later. Regardless, I’m doing this.” I take a bite of my transcendent mashed potatoes and glance over at the cookies waiting on the counter. “I am so totally going to do it.” I take another bite of my pork roast. “Starting tomorrow.”

  from the desk of miss jennifer ann lancaster

  Dear Ben & Jerry’s,

  Just so you know, a pint of Chunky Monkey is considered one serving. Please either adjust your nutritional labels accordingly or create a smaller package.

  Best,

  Jen Lancaster

  CHAPTER TWO

  Pack Your Knives and Go, Mom

  My friend Stacey is over for our regular Wednesday night Bravo-viewing party. Currently we’re watching Top Chef, but we’ve previously covered Project Runway and Top Design. Stacey and I had a rough moment early in our friendship when I told her I’d never seen Project Runway. She looked at me as though I’d said I didn’t like chocolate and that shopping for shoes was a waste of time. Fortunately, before Stacey became an author she was a teacher, so she happily educated me in the Way of the (Tim) Gunn, hence the beginning of our Wednesday night tradition.9

  Normally our Wednesday nights are at Stacey’s house so we don’t disturb Fletch, who’s often busy working well into the evening. Apparently it’s difficult for him to concentrate on projects when we’re squealing over our girl crushes on Padma and shrieking every time Marcel ruins a perfectly delicious dish by adding foam.10And although our arguments about the relative cuteness of Contestant Sam the Hot Diabetic versus Master Chef Tom Colicchio are logical and articulate, they don’t help Fletch get out customer quotes more quickly.11However, Fletch worked all weekend and he doesn’t have much to finish tonight. Plus, I wanted Stacey to see our pretty new living room set, so the viewing party is here this evening.

  Stacey and I are nestled into opposite corners of the new couches in my matchbox-sized living room. I’m especially pleased because they’re a nod to the balance we’ve already found in our lives. Back when we were dot-com thousandaires, I insisted I couldn’t be happy unless I got the seven-thousand -dollar Italian leather sofa that had been featured at MoMA. Fortunately, Fletch had the good sense to say no, not only because of the cost, but also because the couch was back-less and the oddly tufted buttons made it feel like sitting on a bag of rocks.12During the following period of extended unemployment, our ratty old couch served as a reminder of exactly how far we’d fallen, and every day I dreamed of being secure enough again to finally get something new.

  Recently I got my first royalty check, so after months of price comparison and discussion, we found a set we loved at the Macy’s outlet store. The pieces we finally settled on had been marked down so low, it would have been irresponsible not to buy them. After a thorough debate on their merits over a stack of blueberry pancakes,13we had to practically fist fight an investment banker and his charming young wife and toddler who’d discovered them when we went to the diner for breakfast. While Fletch explained to the family in no uncertain terms that the pieces were ours, I dashed to the cash register and paid for everything. The sale was complete before they were even done taking measurements. Charming Young Wife shot daggers my way when I returned lording my receipt and asking their kid to stop jumping on my new sofa. I imagine the term “fat bitch” was bandied about in their Volvo station wagon on the way home, but who cares? That’s fat-bitch-with-a-new-discount-couch to you, lady.

  I can’t tell you how much I love this whole set. The couch, ottoman, and love seat are made from shiny brown Italian leather, but the style is classic with nicely padded arms14and chunky cherrywood legs. The pieces are thick enough to withstand dogs jumping on them and cat-claw puncture attacks, and I’d say they’re ideal . . . except I didn’t realize that when you buy furniture, you have to take length, width, and depth into account. This explains what Charming Young Wife was doing with the measuring tape that day at Macy’s. Now to get from the living room to the kitchen, we have to turn sideways.

  Whatever.

  It was totally worth it.

  Maisy, smelling vaguely of corn chips, has wedged herself against me on the couch, and Loki, refreshed from another round of salad tossing, waits expectantly at Stacey’s feet for a similar invitation that is not forthcoming. He rests his head on her lap and gazes longingly up at her.15

  “How’s the diet going?” Stacey asks.

  Since we met recently, she has no idea of the lithe sorority girl I once was, dancing to “Cruel Summer” at the Delta Sig house in my size-se
ven boy-cut Forenzas. She didn’t know me in high school, either, back when my hip bones stuck out so far they used to rub white patches in my Gloria Vanderbilts.

  You’d think I’d be in mourning for the shape I once had, but my life isn’t much different than it was when I was slim. Sure, I have bad days when I wish I could swap my body for Jessica Alba’s, but who doesn’t? Shoot; Jessica Alba probably has a pair of fat jeans in her closet. I’ll admit, once in a while my weight embarrasses me, like when I was the only fat person at the health and fitness fair.16And sure, I may have died a thousand tiny deaths earlier this fall when Cosmopolitan UK did a photo shoot to accompany an article I’d sold them after I’d just gained twenty more pounds. But due to the magic of airbrushing, the experience was far less traumatic than I expected.17Given a choice, I’d rather shop in the juniors ’ section than the women’s, and if I could stop sweating while I eat, that’d be a bonus, but overall I’m still the same me I ever was.

  “Not great,” I admit. “At this point, I’ve decided to lose weight but haven’t actually done anything about it.”

  “Have you dieted before?” she asks innocently, scratching Loki on his snout. His tail thumps in delight.

  Stacey and I met on an authors’ panel. Before the event, I’d read some of her books and completely fell in love with her writing. Many of her heroines are plus-sized characters who aren’t starving themselves thin or filled with self-doubt and self-loathing. Her books consistently deliver the message that it’s OK to be happy with who you are, so I was excited to meet her. After the panel, we bonded over a million commonalities and we discovered we’re neighbors, so we’ve been fast friends ever since. Together, we are Stennifer.18

  I have to stop snorting with laughter before I give Stacey a straight answer. “Yeah. This ain’t exactly my first trip to the ol’ diet rodeo. I’ve been on them hundreds of times, yet I’ve only had long-term success a few times.”