CHRISTIE'S WEIGHT GAIN
This isn't fiction; it's a personal recollection about a friend's virgin gain and my response to it, though names and some minor details have been changed to protect the innocent. I hope it strikes a chord.
Somewhere in the back of the brain's many chambers there must be a filing cabinet containing images of all the people that we've ever known. When one of the people appears before us, the image the eye detects is compared with the image stored in the brain. If the two are identical, instant recognition occurs. When something is different, the brain pauses, considers, and delays recognition, if only for a few seconds.
It happened to me several years ago with Christie, a friend. She was in her mid 20s, around five foot five, long auburn hair, still finding her way as an adult in London. A pinched and pressurized childhood in the provincial north with parents who divorced had left her with lots of hang-ups and a body that didn't scream "Malnutrition!" exactly but had very little spare fat to go around. Her breasts were her only notable feature, the only curves on a thin, willowy, very English frame; she used to emphasise them with a Wonder Bra. Along the route, a few years before, she had come out as a lesbian, at least to her friends. Her parents back home didn't know a thing.
So there I was, sitting one late spring evening waiting for a concert to start, when a young woman stood before me, greeting me with a smile. She wore silver-coloured jeans, a silver jacket too. Her hair was short. There was a definite confidence, almost a swagger, about her. And this was -- who?
It took me a few seconds to realise that this person was Christie. I had not seen her for a while, maybe two months, and the image stored in the filing cabinet looked markedly different. That girl had long hair, and wore clothes that never declared themselves. And while never exactly mousy, she certainly never swaggered.
There was another difference between the two Christies. Breasts apart, the filing cabinet Christie was thin, the frame slight, the face shaped more by bones than flesh, especially round her distinctive chin -- slightly lop-sided in shape, as though God had given it an affectionate tweak before sending her out of the womb. The Christie before me was like a blurred Xerox copy, the face fuller, the chin's structural quirk barely noticeable, the entire body looking sturdier.
She had put on weight, obviously. Six pounds, eight pounds, ten pounds, twelve pounds -- it was hard to estimate. But the extra pounds were certainly there, fetchingly wrapped around her face and body. The point was rubbed in when the concert was over and I caught her in the foyer. We agreed to meet up soon -- the sooner the better in my book -- and we went our separate ways. As Christie walked ahead of me, I noticed her bottom. She actually had one, above and beyond the bare essential that had sufficed before; a bottom curving, almost bulging, out of her tight silver jeans.
This was a most unexpected development. Christie, I knew, had been anorexic in the past and still had the general shape of someone who fiercely controlled every morsel she ate. The only way she could enjoy an ice cream was by eating nothing else all that day. She scarcely ate breakfast; lunch was a cup of coffee. In fact, in my presence, over the several years of a tentative, still-growing friendship, I'd never seen food of any kind pass her lips.
Perhaps thinness in her eyes equaled perfection. She certainly bore the scars of a childhood spent with a demanding father, always ready with criticism. For her father nothing she ever did had been good enough. Yet here she was, seemingly happy and healthy, not in crisis, having done the exact thing she had always worked so hard to avoid. She'd eaten more. She'd gained some weight. Why? How? What had happened in the last few months to bring about such a change? I could only guess, and look forward to our next encounter.
This duly followed, some weeks, maybe even a month, later: a hurried meeting at a coffee shop. Once again the old filing cabinet image didn't match. Perhaps she'd gained a little more weight; or maybe, seated at close quarters, I just had a better chance to appreciate the weight she had already put on. Anyway, there it was: a face with its contours subtly transformed. With her head at certain angles, she even showed a very slight double chin. "My God," I thought, "Christie with a double chin?"
I wondered if something would come up in conversation to give me a clue to her transformation. But nothing did. Nor could I bring myself to prod it in that direction. I'd hoped she would divert from her usual cappuccino and actually have something to eat: a muffin or a doughnut, perhaps. But she didn't.
The mystery deepened. Sweetened, too. I looked at it this way. The old Christie would never have put on weight in the first place. The new one, for whatever reason, had not only put on weight over several months, but had continued to do so, or at least hadn't gone into reverse. She couldn't have been oblivious. She had to have noticed something: if not the face, then a softer tummy, or tighter clothing, or breasts that now scarcely needed a Wonder Bra to thrust them out into the world.
And the scales. Christie would have to have bathroom scales in the flat she shared (I'd never visited). At some point, surely, she would stand on them and have her suspicions confirmed; instead of 115 pounds, say, the marker would rise to 125. She'd be fascinated. She'd be appalled. She'd press the flesh on her tummy, hypnotised by her virgin gain. And she'd do -- this was the sweetest thing -- absolutely nothing about it. This was something nice to think about.
Our next meeting, further into the summer, supplied me with more visual evidence of the new Christie, but nothing in the way of words about it, either from her or (God forbid) me. There again was the fuller face, the slight double chin. Then, as we said goodbye outside the offices where she worked, I caught sight of something new. Below the waist I could see the slight swell of her tummy beneath her jeans; and just above the waist, an inch of bare midriff, not yet bulging but still nicely covered in fat, in the gap between jeans and blouse. She had obviously gained several pounds more.
By now my fascination -- alright, my obsession -- was reaching fever pitch, and I could contain it no longer. For reasons of politeness, shyness or cowardice, I felt I couldn't mention her weight to Christie herself; I felt too tongue-tied even to use a euphemism and say she was "looking very well". But I could at least mention the matter in some way to Ellen, a mutual friend, also gay. So I did. As I was leaving Ellen the following Monday -- I'd popped round early in the evening -- she said Christie was coming later, and she had to get started preparing their dinner. I had my opening.
"She's actually put on some weight recently, I don't know if you noticed."
I saw Christie less frequently than Ellen, I pointed out, so the change, perhaps, was more obvious to me. That was the end of that conversation, more or less. I took pleasure in imagining Ellen later that night, scrutinizing Christie, noticing the extra pounds, perhaps even raising the issue.
But I did not enquire what happened. By the end of the week I had my own conversations with Christie to excite me. What happened was this. It was Saturday afternoon. We were on the phone, filling each other in on how our weeks had gone. I mentioned I'd gone to the dentist, and had a while to wait before being seen. All I had to read were the waiting room's glossy women's magazines, and one had a feature on women talking about what food meant to them and their problems with it. I sounded all innocent, but obviously I mentioned this for a reason.
Christie was immediately interested. "What magazine was it? I must get a copy."
"Or just go to my dentist!" I said. Sensing a golden opportunity, heart beating, I pressed on. I said as a male I found the article especially interesting, as women's relationship with food and their body image was so different to men's. And I mentioned, heart beating faster still, one particular comment that came up in the piece: that one woman interviewed said she felt safer with men since she had put on weight, feeling that it was good protection against unwanted sexual attention.
Christie's reply knocked me sideways. "I can understand that," she said. "I made a conscious -- well, semi-conscious -- decision to put on weight to make myself less attractive to men."
I could feel my equipment hardening. There she was, admitting out loud she had put on weight. Just what I loved to hear. But more than that. She had put on weight on purpose, or at least accidentally-on-purpose. "Oh Christie, sweet Christie," I thought inwardly, "you were always a friend, but now with those few words you have entered my pantheon, my dream life, for ever!" The irony, too, of her as a lesbian wishing to make herself less attractive to men by putting on weight, only to make herself more attractive to me!
What could I say in reply? I was pole-axed. I could not think. Face to face conversation in person would no doubt have produced a different reaction. But isolated from her as I was on the phone, unaware of the expression on her face -- a vulnerable expression, no doubt -- I simply said the first words that leaped into my mind. All three of them. I was too tongue-tied to say any more. "I've noticed," I said.
There was no immediate comeback. Only later did I come to learn the waves those few words caused.
I then drew the conversation to a close. We'd see each other soon, we said.
After the phone call I was in sixth or seven heaven, at least for a while. I kept imagining Christie, preparing breakfast toast, spreading butter thickly and munching down, knowing full well, or half well, that she would put on weight and that fat now visible on her tummy would build up just a little bit more. Or Christie in the pubs and clubs -- she liked the club scene, I knew -- passing up slimline drinks for a pint of the hard stuff, the stuff with real calories.
What intrigued me most of all, though, was this conscious/half-conscious thing. What was that all about? I tried to construct a possible scenario in my head for the year's developments. This is how it went.
Christie, I imagined, was spending quality time in bars and clubs, and was getting bothered with men's attentions. Women's attentions were what she wanted. So, to make herself less of an obvious male attraction, she took a drastic step and changed her hair style. Goodbye long auburn tresses hanging straight like water from a tap; hello short hair, moulded to her face. Around the same time, she found herself putting on a little weight around the tummy and breasts; a consequence no doubt of her developing social life, and a greater ease about being her own person.
Having made that discovery, she then found herself continuing to do the things that made it likely she would put on more: drinking heavily, eating the wrong things at the wrong time. She tried not to think about what was happening to her body, but when she did one possible psychological explanation loomed before her.
Her slim figure, she decided, was another attraction for bothersome men. If she wasn't so slim, if she gained weight, couldn't that be interpreted as another way of fending men off? Or at least a step in that direction? The thought, as I imagined it, wasn't clear in her mind, but there'd be enough of it to provide a cushion against the inescapable fact that some jeans were getting tight round the waist and her breasts felt uncomfortable in all her existing bras. The "making myself unattractive to men" theory gave her a reason, and an excuse. And it might, way down deep, be the truth.
Well, that was my scenario, and it kept me pleasant company as I thought of Christie in the months to come, weight steadily increasing until, hey presto, there she'd be, chubby-faced, with wide hips, and a beautiful tummy curving upwards from the crotch like a bell, and everyone would suddenly say "Where did the thin Christie go?"
Along the way, though, less comfortable thoughts assailed me. Christie was a friend, not yet a very close one, but a friend nonetheless. And here I was using her for my private pleasure, leading her on in conversation, gloating behind her back. This wasn't good. Wouldn't it be better if I'd taken a different tack on the phone, and talked openly about the benefits of gaining weight -- greater health and strength, for example, less neuroses. Couldn't I at least have said when she mentioned her gain, "Yes, I've noticed, and I think it really suits you"? Better that, surely, than to leave her dangling in the dark and go off on my erotic reverie.
"I've noticed." I had not meant my comment to be critical, but I soon learned through our mutual friend Ellen that Christie had taken it that way. It all came out several days later. Ellen, she said, felt she had to tell me about it because she was sure Christie wouldn't tell me herself. After Christie and I had spoken, Christie apparently had phoned Ellen up, upset, and had asked if she too had noticed any gain. "Well, yes, now you mention it" was Ellen's reported answer -- said I'm sure in a tone that sounded more supportive than my blunt words.
Christie had later come round to Ellen's for comfort and advice. She was still distressed, to the point of tears. She was eating nothing. Christie's mother, it turns out, was coming for a visit the next day: she must have feared this was someone else who would notice her looking fatter. Someone, too, who didn't know she was a lesbian, who might open all the childhood wounds. For all her bravado about her "conscious or semi-conscious decision," Christie was feeling particularly vulnerable. I had said the wrong words at the wrong time.
These revelations -- filtered admittedly through Ellen's melodramatic temperament -- left me feeling wretched and perplexed. I felt I had to do something: I didn't want to leave Christie nursing this hurt, and I certainly didn't want her to go into a tailspin and head back to anorexia. So I wrote to her. I still hid my positive delight in attractive women gaining weight: instead I made encouraging noises about it being a good sign of health, no criticism remotely meant, in fact the opposite, etc, etc. There was no reply, though I didn't really expect one. For the moment she had her mother in tow. Her hands were full.
We ran into each other maybe three weeks later. I could tell from her face that she had lost weight. Some diet had obviously been instituted. We talked about what had happened, not wholly openly, but we talked. I reiterated what I'd said in the letter. She said she'd had "issues" about putting on weight, but she was over it now. We would phone each other. The glitch in our friendship appeared resolved.
A year or so later, the friendship faded and died. Christie had had a fatal blow-up with Ellen, who was the kind of person who invited blow-ups, about one a month. I was still Ellen's friend, a very close friend. So things with Christie became awkward. There was less and less contact, and then there was none. I changed jobs, and had less occasion to run into her by chance.
Now, several years further on, I have no way of knowing if she ever got back the weight she lost, let alone added any more pounds. But whatever her weight, I hope she is healthy and happy, and confident with herself. She deserves to be.
Sometimes I torture myself with the thought that I alone was responsible for pricking the bubble of her virgin weight gain with my ambiguous words on the phone -- "I've noticed." Now, if the same conversation came up, I hope I would be more emboldened, trust myself more, and give her positive encouragement to proceed further down the path she had tentatively taken. Who knows, she might now be beautifully rounded, and we might still be friends.
But let's not end this on a sad note. There is always the consolation of dreams. I imagine myself, a year or so later, calling Christie up. She's pleased to talk; we arrange to meet. A coffee shop. I see her walking towards me now.
But is it her? For again the filing cabinet's photo doesn't match. This new Christie couldn't be considered fat, but she's clearly released any break on her appetite. This is a weight gain everyone would notice. She's wearing a brown leather jacket, a pink t-shirt, and black denim jeans. All the clothes look fully occupied with her body. The face is round, with just enough cheek flesh to generate a quiver whenever she's in motion. The hips are well padded, the breasts full. Belly and thighs curve out of jeans that don't have any room to spare; the waist now carries a visible midriff roll looming out under the bottom of the t-shirt. I notice the belly-button, spread wide and deep, sunk maybe an inch in. The waif is no more; Christie is now officially chubby.
"You look terrific!" I tell her.
She smiles, little creases appearing in her cheeks. She slips off the jacket, revealing in the process more of her midriff fat and the love handles at her sides. Her upper arms are pleasantly rounded, almost plump, the skin soft as velvet.
She radiates good health. She looks slightly tanned. She tells me she's just come back from a terrific holiday on -- she giggles slightly -- the island of Lesbos. She has a steady girlfriend now. Things are great, she says; she's finally stood up to her parents and told them that she's gay. "And as you've probably noticed," she says with just the slightest hesitation, "I've put on some weight". She looks more beautiful than ever as she says those words.
"I have noticed," I say -- I can't avoid those words, somehow -- "and it really suits you."
Looking across the table I see her new belly roll sticking out, wedged in tight in the space between her breasts and the start of her jeans. If it weren't so intrusive a gesture, I would ask to prod it with a finger and dive into the soft sweet flesh as far as I could go. Instead, amazingly, she touches it herself, patting her midriff with her hand.
"I don't know. Maybe I've put on too much. I'm getting a spare tyre!" There's no regret, no guilt, in her voice; just benign acceptance, tinged with wonder. "But I'm much more relaxed about it now," she continues. "It's such a relief to stop counting calories. We only have one life to live, after all. Why screw it up with stupid neuroses?"
She smiles again. I smile back, and try to find in her rounded, glowing features the old image of Christie from the back of the filing cabinet. I estimate she must now be well over twenty pounds heavier, probably thirty.
"That's a great attitude," I say. "I think this deserves a celebration!"
"Why not?" beautiful Christie says, soft jawline breaking into a jowl as she leans back in her chair. She reaches for the menu. "So," she says, "what's the dessert special?"
Copyright, Swordfish, 2002 (Swordfish2454531@aol.com)