Getting Personal: A Weighty Matter

When I saw a picture of  her,  I could barely recognize the face.  I looked closely and then read the caption. No, my eyes were not deceiving me.  Yes, it was her — the noted journalist, Farai Chideya.  

She was no longer the slender, confident young woman with smooth brown skin an engaging smile who I first saw on C-Span 2 and had the opportunity to interview on a few occasions.   From the photo, I could see that she weighed over 200 lbs. and looked uncomfortable at best.   

I was heartbroken…

…But not entirely surprised.

She had reached that age — between 35 and 64 — when according to the Washington DC-based advocacy organization, the American Obesity Association, women are at high risk for developing obesity. 

Why this age?  Perhaps it’s the age when dreams die and the realization that Prince Charming may never come sets in.   Maybe it’s the age when some begin to tire of hitting their heads against the glass ceiling.

This is just pure speculation.  The fact is that “black (non-Hispanic) women have the highest prevalence of overweight/obesity — 78 percent compared to that of white women at 57.5 percent.”   (American Obesity Association)

An accomplished writer and former co-host of an Oxygen cable network show, Chideya was the go-to girl for all things political regarding Generation X.  She had created an award-winning website and authored two highly acclaimed books:   The Color of Our Future and Don’t Believe the Hype: Fighting Cultural Misinformation about African Americans .

Although I had I never met Chideya in person, from our conversations, I found her to be pleasant, super-smart, and articulate beyond belief. And she was gracious. Chideya even took the time to look at my manuscript.  

She was on top of the world.  And where was I?   Stuck in Alabama, broke busted and disgusted, working two jobs and sometimes three.

Today, I’m in back home in New York City and Chideya now works for National Public Radio (NPR) as the host of News and Notes.  The show is good but not appointment listening to say the least.  The person behind the mic is not the super-smart young woman I’d come to admire and respect.  Chideya often lets her guests take control and her questions are surprisingly sophomoric for someone who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard.

Recently, I came across Chideya’s June 8 blog post and was stunned by the admission:

“They wanted me to do a point-counterpoint with someone who says black women need to stop accepting their fat and start fighting it.  In other words, they wanted me to be a ‘fatvocate’…an advocate for fatness.  I’m not.  That doesn’t mean I don’t promote self-love and acceptance for people of all sizes — including myself.  I do. But it also means I recognize the health risks I am taking by maintaining a medically obese weight (in my case, I am still over 200 lbs.).” 

In a previous, thinner incarnation,  Chideya would have been asked to discuss the Scooter Libby commutation, the Obama effect or hip hop and hoes.  She put a brave face on what must have surely been an embarrassing situation.

I read further…

When she started to make excuses for herself, my former-fatty heart began to harden.

“I’m not deluded about what I am probably doing to my joints and arteries.  I am also not deluded about the many reasons why I haven’t transformed myself.  I am a workaholic, internet-a-holic, and a cheeseaholic.  I never met a salty snack I didn’t like.  But more than that, on some level I still feel that fitness is a luxury… that I should be nose-to-the grindstone (or to the computer screen) rather than brisk-walking though the lovely SoCal weather.”

When is good health and one’s very life is a “luxury”?   I understand that the work-life balance is no joke.  Although I don’t have children, I do have students — over 75 per semester.   I grade endless stacks of papers.  I have to answer countless email and take care of administrative tasks.  I read magazines, watch television and browse the internet to keep at least a half-step ahead of my students.  Starting in the Fall, I will be writing for three blogs:  mine own as well as two for work.  Oh, did I mention that I am working on another book?   

And somehow, I still have to find time to clean my house.  Cook.  Do Laundry.  Buy groceries.  Call my mother from time to time.  Connect with friends.   

Despite “mi vida loca,” I take some very important me time to keep myself mentally and physically healthy.  I haven’t been to a gym in over four years.  Workouts take place in my small one bedroom/studio apartment.  I turn on some Amy Winehouse, a little Mary J. B. or Kelly Clarkson and go for it.  Two 5 lb.  handweights and a chair is all I need.  I eat whatever I want — in moderation.  I don’t weigh myself.  (Just in case your are wondering,  I am a size 2/4. Not so very long ago, I used to carry 160 lbs. on my 5’4″ frame.)

Chideya, even after embarking on a well-publicized NPR-sponsored Fitness Challenge, still could lose the weight and keep it off.

What’s up my sistah? 

My greatest concern for Chideya is that in this multimedia cross-platform world you can’t have a “face for radio.”   You always have to be ready for your close-up.   If NPR decides to go with camera-ready people who can become stars of their own videoblogs, Chideya’s days may be numbered and we would have lost an important voice in journalism.

Two of my favorite shows are TLC’s  Big Medicine and Inside Brookhaven Obesity Clinic both of which take decidedly different approaches to the challenge of obesity.   In Big Medicine, the Doctors Davis, a father and son bariatric surgical team, change the lives of the obese and super-obese by means of gastric bypass surgery.   At the Brookhaven Obesity Clinic, patients lose weight the old-fashion way through diet and exercise. 

As I watch both shows, I realize that obesity is a physical manifestation of a psychological problem.  When looking at these patients, almost all with life threatening illnesses, I wonder what sensors are turned off. Was there ever a line in the sand prior to the patient becoming obese when he/she said, “No more.”?  And if not, why not?

I don’t know what the future holds for Chideya.  I wish her the best with her weight challenge.

As for me, I am certainly not where I would like to be or where I imagined myself to be.  In spite of this, I get up every day with a sense of anticipation that this day will be better than the last. And I stand committed to living a healthy life until there is no more life for me to live.  

5 thoughts on “Getting Personal: A Weighty Matter

  1. Health shouldn’t be a luxury – I think she is just amking excuses. There are many reasons and circumstances for my weight — but I take full responsiblity for it. I have turned my life around and love over 80 lbs so far — I don’t have the luxury of time, trainers, or spas — I do it the old fashion way – one meal at time, one step at time, one day at time – all while working, being a mom, and coping with life.

    I truly enjoyed your post and your inspiration!
    Health and Happiness, Lady Rose

  2. This honest, insightful, and sensitive article is my favorite to date! Interesting that Chideya uses work as an excuse for not pursuing luxurious activities such as not eating a pound of Brie or not taking a power-walk on the beach, while her work seems to have suffered from the same decline in self-worth as her outward appearance (re: letting guests take control and asking sophomoric questions). Ultimately, when a person puts on such mass that their daily activities become difficult or painful and their lifespan is threatened, then that person has literally sung for their supper–giving up a piece of their own self-value for the instant gratification of saturated fat and the embrace of the sofa. They are killin’ themselves softly with every piece of chocolate cake, bag of chips, and cream sauce, telling themselves, I am only worth what I feel now, not what I could feel tomorrow. And, yes, I too am a size 4 and was once 160 lbs at 5’4,” but sometimes, people in glass houses must throw stones, or you could stay indoors watching the rain all day long.

  3. Hi folks:

    You know what: all of us have challenges in life, and weight is one of mine. I am not sure who the author of this blog is, but I’m not mad at you for exploring these issues. (I do take issue with the “sophmoric” thing, but everyone has their own P.O.V.)

    I’ve got a novel coming out in May called Kiss the Sky. Not only have I been working full-time, I’ve also been writing and teaching, taking care of family members, and dealing with the inevitable death and aging of people I love.

    I don’t have any problems with the level of honesty and critique here. It’s the whiff of self-satisfaction that you have remain untouched by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. We all go through it, and I am confident I’ll get in better shape now that I’m reconfiguring my priorities and have ended my role as a full-time host.

    I agree it’s important not to make excuses for your behavior but it’s also important to realize that everyone has their ups and downs. I’m on an up, but I have compassion for plenty of people who are struggling with everything from weight to finances. I know I can deal with the weight if I want to. Thanks for contextualizing the journey… and don’t be too smug! Life is long.

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