Thursday, August 4, 2011

Of boxerjocks and jolly people


The last couple of days, in despair of the diminishing number of loincloths in my drawer without evidence of shoddy workmanship, I’ve gone to Wal-Mart to replenish my stock. (Tommy Hilfiger underwear does something I’ve never seen skivvies do: the panels separate from the waistband.) O the joy to find sales of four, five and even seven pairs of Hanes per bag for only $9.47!

(Obiter dictum: Boxerjocks are one of the best developments in male clothing of the last twenty years.)

The downside, of course, is that there’s ordinarily one or two bags in a size that won’t have me singing male soprano. Nevertheless, I bought one bag on Tuesday and another yesterday. I’m still puzzled why anyone would need boxerjocks in a camouflage pattern — who goes hunting in their underwear? — but I wasn’t prepared to complain so long as they fit.

I also wasn’t prepared to pay $11.46 a bag. I let the matter go Tuesday because I was short on time. Wednesday, however, I confronted the checker on the discrepancy between the advertised price and the register price. She took one look at the bag and said, with a sheepish grin, “Ah. It’s the size.”

Ah, yes. The “fat-ass tax”. That’s the extra markup clothing manufacturers and retailers assess on obese people rather than averaging the extra cost of material out over the rest of the sizing bell curve.


Mark Shea has written some marvelously satiric posts about the plight of us “jolly” people. At this point, though, I have no need either to riff on his theme (or rip off his theme); as well, I have no real desire to poke fun at gay activists.

Over the years, I’ve come to accept those times when pants and shorts I buy are difficult to button up because my displacement has increased. But for most of my adult life, I rarely weighed more than 225. When my weight started increasing about ten years ago, I gradually started buying larger sizes. But even after I was put on medicine for hypertension, I still hadn’t fully confronted my weight issues.

The first time it struck me that I was well and truly obese was shortly after I moved down here to Texas. My nieces were all in town for the Independence Day weekend, so the whole Layne cavalcade went to Water World right next to Six Flags Dallas. And I was mortified to find that many of the slides had a weight limit of 250 pounds.

Since then, I’ve had many reminders that the mentality of our society isn’t geared toward accommodating the obese. The ladder to my attic has a weight limit of 250; the last few times I’ve gone up to retrieve or replace things like Christmas decorations, the steps have groaned and buckled in protest. Likewise, for odd jobs around the house, we had to find a fiberglass stepladder that wouldn’t snap under my weight. I can no longer sit comfortably at a booth in a restaurant; in some fast-food outlets, I can’t even sit down, as the seats are at a fixed distance from the table edge.

The most humiliating episode? About three or four months ago, I flew to Indianapolis to help my older brother move back home. Imagine my embarrassment when I found that I couldn’t put the seatbelt on without an extender strap.

Now, it’s tempting to blame my predicament on genetics, on family influences (O those dysfunctional family units!), on a culture that encourages gluttony even as it punishes the inevitable results. In fact, many segments of our society would heartily encourage me to worship with the cult of victimhood, and sacrifice at the altar of Social Determinism.

However, to be logically consistent, I can’t simultaneously assert free will for Madison Avenue and the McDonald’s Corporation and deny it for myself. If Ray Kroc and Harland (“Colonel”) Sanders had the option not to sell hamburgers and fried chicken, if the boards of Hostess and M&M/Mars have the option to change from sugar- and fat-laden sweets to healthy snacks, then I had the option not to plunk down my cash for junk food. If I’m not responsible for my weight, then neither is Corporate America, nor is my family … we’re all just mindlessly obeying social constructs and genetic imperatives.

When St. Paul says that the Gentiles  “[received] in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Rom 1:25), he isn’t just speaking of “men committing shameless acts with men”, but, more broadly, “men who [exchange] the truth of God for a lie and [worship] and [serve] the creature rather than the Creator”. All sins carry material penalties with them, some more obvious and some less; obesity is only the most obvious penalty of gluttony.

While there are some few people who suffer from disorders that wreak havoc on their ability to control their weight, the majority of us use eating as others use drugs, sex, violence, work or making money: to fill an empty spot in our souls, to seek affirmation of ourselves in some form of pleasure. But when the pleasure passes, the emptiness remains; we not only fail to be healed, we extend the damage.

The hole in our souls is God-shaped. Nothing else will fit in it.

Being a Christian means believing in free will. As an extension of it, that means we ultimately “own” our reactions to both outside stimuli and internal compulsions. This is why a claim that “Society is to blame”, “My genes made me do it”, or even “God made me this way” won’t suffice; it’s a shuffling of responsibility for our actions. If we refuse culpability for our vices, we can claim no praise for our virtues.

So no, I shall claim no victim status for my obesity. While occasionally I grumble about paying “fat-ass taxes”, it would be better for me — physically and spiritually — to remove the excess weight than to agitate for fairer pricing.

Am I on a diet? How did you guess?