Weight Room Title Bar

By MaxOut

The following are excerpts from an interview done by me, Ashley Donavan, with the founder and spokesperson for S.O.F.T., Miss Candy Loving.

AD: I was anxious to speak with such an icon. Miss Loving seems to have caught lightning in a bottle, hitting the public consciousness with a new idea just when it appeared ready for it.

(She entered the sitting area wearing a pair of black stirrup pants, rhinestone slingbacks and a short red crewneck, sleeveless top. Her dark hair was pulled back by a rhinestone clip and overall she appeared somewhat larger than her publicity pictures. I wondered if that was just my perception, or if indeed Candy had gained weight since those pictures were taken.

(She sat down beside me at the table, the red top riding up and exposing a thick role of belly as she bent to pour herself a glass of white wine. She trained her thousand-watt smile on me as she sat back, relaxed and gestured for me to begin.)

AD: What gave you the idea to start S.O.F.T.?

Candy: Well, I'd have to give you a little background first, so you can understand how it happened. These kinds of things don't just hatch fully formed; they germinate in the back of your mind until some spark ignites the fire. To be truthful I really should have done this sooner, but perhaps people weren't ready for it; so I guess I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time with the right idea.

First off, before I get started, I want to give Pasha Dynares my fellow charter member equal time. Much of this was her impetus, as the story will bear out.

AD: Pasha, yes, isn't she…

Candy: Yes, originally from a small town in India. She came to the United States as an exchange student. She was living with my family and that's how I met her. But that is getting ahead of myself. Mind if I digress?

AD: Go ahead, tell the story.

Candy: Thank you.

O.K. It was at the semester break of my junior year of high school when Pasha came to live with us. My life was the usual high school stuff, wishing I were more popular and ogling young boys in between attempts at higher learning. I was just like so many other high school girls, bright but no genius, pretty but not gorgeous, of average height and like so many others considered to be that cursed fifteen to twenty pounds overweight. I stood five foot six and believe that my weight fluctuated from 140 to 150. Not really fat, but surely not swimsuit model thin.

Now at our school, and I surmise most schools, to be truly considered en vogue you had to have that super model look. Sure, it was ok to be a cheerleader and even be a little chesty; it seemed that the boys liked that. But to truly be the envy of your peers you had to have the clothes, and to have the clothes you had to have the look to go with it; which of course meant having that perfect waifish body. This is something that I struggled with, combating my love for sweets with my desire to be in that upper crust of coolness. And, like nearly everyone else, I lacked the utter dedication and discipline to take that final step.

I don't know if it was a lack of conviction on my part or some part of my rebellious nature that stopped me. It just seemed that the whole thing was too arbitrary and unfair. Somebody somewhere, the great and all powerful Oz for all I know, decided on this icon of femininity that really has nothing to do with being feminine. I mean, aren't women supposed to have hips, for God's sake? Sure, maybe some clothes don't hang right if yours are a tad too large, but to my way of thinking, if these clothes designers are really so brilliant, then why not make the clothes fit the real body instead of demanding that we all change our bodies to fit the clothes? To quote Dennis Miller, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but this is where I was coming from. Still, to act on my convictions, that is another story.

So I went moping around high school, looking just like all the other beautiful girls who are cursed with normalcy. Hiding my heavy thighs with longer skirts and camouflaging my baby pot belly with overlarge sweaters and the like. Feeling somewhat sorry for myself and envious of those twiggy girls who had no body fat and seemed to have no desire to eat anything, let alone anything with a high calorie content.

AD: So you seemed to have this feeling of resentment over the status quo. But you seemed resigned to it. Now you attack it head on. What caused the change?

Candy: Pasha. Definitely Pasha. OK, I've set the scene pre Pasha; now let me tell you of how things developed once she arrived.

I was anxious to meet someone from so far away and from a world so different from ours. I had a million questions for her before she even arrived. I wondered if things were the same in India as here. Were the wants and desires the same, were the dating and mating rituals similar? I wanted to know all about life over there, and in thinking these things over I decided that she would probably want the same answers from me. This led to a lot of thinking about just what American culture was all about. I came up with a lot of images but no concrete explanations for why things are the way they are. The media? Certainly a player, but are we that brainwashed that we follow their dogma like lemmings?

And why the media? Who decides policy for them? Is it all about money and advertising dollars? Who decided that Julia Roberts should be the highest paid movie star? It sure couldn't be based on box office returns. No, and it's not her meager acting talent either. And then somewhere, somehow someone had the audacity to deem her as sexy. Come on now, people. I've asked hundreds of men that question and found not a single one who thought her even slightly above lukewarm.

So why is it? Why do we think and do the things we do? Is it all about conditioning and not questioning "authority"? Is Julia hot just because "authority" said so? How is it that someone who is not that good looking, has meager acting ability and stage presence, has been in one mega hit movie and a bunch of turkeys; has destroyed several good scripts and relied on her co-stars to carry her, become such a star? Is there some great and powerful Oz who deemed it so and then whispered in the ear of all the media executives that they should fall in line or else? Did the whole media machine create her out of the ether just as the music industry did for Madonna? Can't act, can't sing, yet she has the media machine oiled to perfection. These are important questions as they are at the core of how we all look at ourselves.

I was just beginning to ask myself why it had to be this way, and then Pasha filled in the blanks and gave me the courage to wave my middle finger at the whole circus.

AD: It seems you have some latent hostility towards the media. But aren't they helping you now?

Candy: Sure they are, and I really have no deep-seated hostility towards the media. It's just a process, and they're just giving the people what they perceive the people want. (Laughs.) Yes, and that's the problem. They are self-fulfilling prophecies. By some backwards sense they think that they sense the mood of the country and then force feed us that mood while explaining to us that we had better cow tow to it if we know what's good for us. Then they sit back with satisfied smiles and say "see, our numbers prove that we were right all along." Some experiment in sociology they're doing. Where's the control group? We should all realize that more than half of what they are telling us is blatantly false, and that they are the creators and purveyors of their own mythology.

It's funny that they are embracing my message now, jumping on the popularity bandwagon only after the groundswell made it impossible for the media to ignore. And just as funny is that since we are a free people and our socio-economic structure is capitalistic we are starting to see new trends towards fulfilling our message. There are those out there who have sensed the trend and are riding the wave of this backlash by catering to the new market we are creating. And if you think about it, those entrepreneurs are acting as catalysts in strengthening and solidifying this wave. In a way they are creating a new set of icons and are actively tearing down the old ones that they so lovingly held dear.

AD: So by doing this interview with you I am contributing to a whole new set of rules?

Candy: In a sense, yes. In getting the message out, that it's ok to be who you are, and having the message read by the masses, you are making fundamental changes in the rules of empowerment. Of course, we could also argue that I am just selling the people a bill of goods and by empowering them the people can just as easily disregard my message and think for themselves. And I hope that comes to pass actually. For I believe that what I'm saying about how we look at our bodies and ourselves is more fundamental than just self determination. We can objectively look at all the aspects of our day to day lives, pick and chose what works for us, and still S.O.F.T. will flourish, because at the core of it S.O.F.T. is a logical conclusion to make.

AD: And that conclusion is?

Candy: That there is no true ideal at all. The message of S.O.F.T. is two fold. They are related but not mutually dependent on each other. The first is the empowerment issue. To be able to discern what you want to be and how you want to live by not letting others dictate how you should feel or act. The second has to deal with the feminine ideal. S.O.F.T. feels that a woman was created to be different from a man. We should accept and even accentuate those differences. Now this is not some kind of super feminist manifesto. While I think that there should be no glass ceiling and such I am much more interested in women just feeling comfortable in the fact that they are women. We are not trying to fit into some marketing executive's wet dream. We are women, with all the wonderful things a woman is capable of, and we should never feel trapped into being anything that someone else tells us we should be.

AD: So you're saying that this Indian woman Pasha helped you to cement this ideology?

Candy: Right. You see, as I said, I was just a normal teenager trapped in this media induced prison; feeling unfulfilled and down on myself for not being able to live up to the supermodel ideal. Then Pasha arrived and we started exchanging ideas. You mind if I expand on this for a bit?

AD: Not at all, I'm sure it's fascinating.

Candy: Well I certainly think so. What Pasha had to say really opened my eyes.

As I said, she arrived, and she was beautiful in that foreign mysterious way. Her skin so brown and smooth, like whipped mocha. Her face round and full and her dark eyes seemed so ancient and wise. She stands five foot six, the same as me, yet I could tell that even under her traditional robed garments that she was probably a good ten to fifteen pounds heavier. The wrap around caftans they wear show off just a bit of their backsides and you could see the ribbon of excess flesh there, something that we westerners would have gone out of our way to hide.

In the first few weeks Pasha and I spent long hours getting to know one another, asking questions about all the things that were foreign to us. She seemed aware of much of the western fashions, saying that while most western garb was still foreign to her country, the women there enjoyed seeing all the high fashion shows being piped in from Milan and Paris. I told her that very few Americans dressed like that and that for the most part those designer clothes were for parties and special occasions. She nodded knowingly, and we moved on to other subjects.

I found out that Pasha was going to the University on an engineering scholarship. She informed me that while this was still somewhat rare in her country, for a woman to be going to university, let alone studying engineering, that slowly India was exchanging traditions for modernization, trying hard to become the industrialized nation that its leaders believed it must become in order to survive in the 21st century.

We spent a good deal of time looking through magazines. Not only Vogue and Harper's, but Victoria's Secret and all the department store ads, so that Pasha could get a feel for not only what was chic, but also what the everyday American girl was wearing.

Over the first few months she managed to collect a fair amount of western gear. Jeans and tops mostly and managed to transform herself from a foreign exchange student to just another issue from the melting pot of the good old U.S. of A. I watched her transformation and just shrugged "when in Rome."

What I found interesting was that while Pasha was attempting to look western in her apparel she hadn't had the indoctrination into the thin police. If anything, she appeared to be gaining weight. She often commented to me that she thought America was amazing. We had this fantastic variety of food to choose from, things she had never tasted before, and she was quite astounded that we could get it all at virtually any hour of the day or night.

As the school year ended and summer vacation began, it became apparent to me that Pasha had been sampling a great deal of all of our western cuisine. The clothes that she had purchased three months before were all getting quite tight on her, and I noticed she was developing quite a belly. Still, she seemed to have no problem at all with her weight, traipsing around the family pool in a skimpy bikini, her recent excesses exposed for all to see. She probably outweighed me by 25 or 30 pounds at this point, and yet it was I who wore the control paneled one piece and usually kept a long tee shirt over my pudgy frame.

I had to admit, though, that even with her extra weight Pasha was lovely. The fact that she seemed to not care about her extra poundage made her seem all the more regal and mysteriously eastern. The frankness in which she displayed her body made me somewhat jealous as I wished that I could get that sense of self-esteem that she seemed to possess in abundance. I stood in front of my mirror looking at my pudgy potbelly and told myself no way. I could not let myself walk around with my huge belly exposed like that. It would be tantamount to putting up a hundred-foot billboard on Times Square saying "see, I'm a failure, I have no willpower."

Aside from the bikinis in the back yard Pasha had gone and purchased some larger jeans and, following the current trend, bought some short tops that exposed her flabby tummy. I caught one look of her belly rolls exposed atop her still too tight jeans and decided that I had to say something so she wouldn't totally embarrass herself once school started again.

One day I walked into the kitchen to see Pasha digging into a large bowl of chocolate pudding. She closed her eyes and sighed with each bite, savoring the rich velvety goodness. "Ah Candy, such wonders your country has to offer. We have nothing so wonderful back in India."

I shrugged off her comment and put some tater tots in the oven, trying to figure out how I was going to breach the subject. Luckily Pasha did it for me, commenting on my totally covered body when it had to be ninety-five in the shade. I noticed for the record that she was just wearing her bikini bottoms and a short v-necked shirt, letting me get a good look at her spreading hips and her thick rolling belly.

"Can I ask you a question?" I began.

"Surely, anything you need to know,” Pasha replied with a tilt of her head.

"OK then," I began. "You see, it's different here. I mean, if you don't look a certain way you're just supposed to cover yourself."

"Ah,” Pasha nodded. "But I thought that the Westerners were more open about sex. Even in my country the old ways are ending. Surely, for I have seen all the fashions, it is not expected for the woman to cover all her skin?"

"Oh, gee no,” I gushed. "It's just that here, you only show off your body if you have something to show."

"And all women don't have something to show,” Pasha grinned.

"Well, some more than others, and that's the point,” I argued. "You see, here you're only supposed to show that you're buff and in super shape."

"Like those body builders?" she asked.

"Well, you don't have to go that far, but here it's all about being svelte and looking like the models."

Pasha laughed at me and shook her head. "But how can you say that? Not all women were meant to be that way. Some women are built differently."

"But we are told that the models are so glamorous and that we should all strive to make ourselves in their likeness," I countered.

Pasha looked momentarily confused, her brow knitting as she tried to comprehend our crazy culture. "Excuse me for saying this, Candy, but there is no way to be other than what we are. To strive to be otherwise is vain and ultimately self-defeating. We can never measure up to someone else's ideals. Besides, this is all perception, anyway. True beauty comes from inside, not what someone else may think of the way you look. I am appalled at your people's seeming lack of insight."

As the timer chimed letting me know that the tater tots were ready I sighed and removed them from the oven, placing them into a bowl between us and then fetching a keg of ketchup. "I know what you're saying Pasha, 'don't judge a book by it's cover,' but I have to admit, with the fast pace of things over here, first impressions are really important."

She blew on a tot, dipped it into the ketchup and popped it into her mouth, frowning. "So you will discard a person just because they don't measure up to some self imposed standard? You might then just well miss finding your soul mate. This is not something that you should want to chance."

"Oh come on Pash,” I exclaimed. "Nobody has time to sit down and have a long conversation with everyone they meet. People make snap judgements all the time."

"Oh yes certainly they do. But for what reason? Yes, we all find certain people instantly attractive to us. At the same time, others will only reveal their true selves to us over time. I'm not saying that either is more correct, but we should simply make sure that what we are excluding comes from our hearts and is not dictated by what is fashionable or - how do you people say it - politically correct. Some people are born to have big noses, others small feet. These things are what they are. They are our coding, what defines us. To let anyone else decide these things for us is lunacy."

"I guess that's easy to say, but harder to live by,” I countered. "I can't help it if the only way to be accepted and admired in our culture is by looking a certain way. I wish it wasn't so, but I don't make the rules; I just have to live by them."

"Do you?" Pasha asked with a raise of the eyebrows. "I really don't understand your country at all. You have everything in abundance, and yet you seem to spend all your time convincing yourselves that you aren't to have it. It's as if you are ashamed of your bounty and starve yourselves in trying to deny that you have it. How can happiness be found in such a situation? The people in my village would be dancing in the streets to have one tenth of the cornucopia you turn your collective noses at every day. It seems to me to be a sin to push away in disgust all the gifts you've been granted. Especially over an ideology. Don't you understand that everything is changeable? What people believe and what we strive for can all change on a whim. May I tell you how things are in my country?"

I bit into another tater and nodded.

"You understand that things in my country are changing. The old ways were too backwards, and we as a country needed to move forward. This has had much social upheaval. I'm sure you have seen the pictures of the veiled women, but do you understand the significance? You see, for centuries the veiling has been practiced, not only to keep wanton eyes away from the female, but in a larger sense to insure that the woman knew her place.

"She has always been the property of the man, and what the veil was tacitly signifying was that as the woman is the possession of her husband, no other man may look upon her. This was not only sexual repression, but in deeming us their property the men were equating us as equal to any other farm animal in their possession.

"Now, as the government has decided that it had need of its entire work force to be able to modernize itself, they formed policies that made women equal to the man. As you can imagine this has had serious repercussions. A man working alongside a woman was bad enough, but to have a man being told what to do by a woman supervisor; well, that is just unacceptable.

"So a compromise level has been reached, the glass ceiling that you in the west speak about. But that is all right for most women as we just want to contribute, not lead. But our problems did not end with this social upheaval. Moreover, there is the backlash, especially in the cities over the traditional wear. It's hard to work on a modern production line wearing a sarong and a veil, and dangerous besides. So, the modern Indian woman has shed the veil, more from expediency then any sense of rebellion, and yet she is ostracized in some quarters for being too forward or deemed wanton by the older, more traditional women.

"You see, in India as it is here, it is all about perception. Are these woman who are helping bring India out of the 18th century wrong and wanton, or are they to be cheered and made into heroes for choosing country over self? We all have choices to make and those should not be decided by whether some old crone thinks that we are committing a blasphemy by showing our faces. Do you see what I am saying, Candy?"

I shook my head, mulling over the wisdom she was imparting, amazed at the courage all these Indian woman possessed in overcoming centuries of strict moral taboos. It made the little injustices I was crying over seem so insignificant. If they could do it, why couldn't I look my demons in the face and get on with the pursuit of true happiness?

Pasha gazed at me, bemused by my look of concentration, watching all the gears turning inside my head. "Mind if I enlighten you with another story,” she smiled.

I gestured for her to please continue.

"We are talking about perceptions,” she began. "I have told you of the old beliefs and the old ways, but there is another of the old beliefs that actually makes sense to the grand scheme of things. It will show you how your values are hollow. "Now imagine yourself in a small rural village, say like the one I hailed from. Life is hard there. It has always been so. Many die at a young age, from disease and from the harshness of the life itself. So what becomes important: health and healthy children. The children so that the family may have enough hands to tend to the fields." She stopped as if seeing her village from this distance. She shook her head and then gave me a warm smile.

"Sorry. Let me continue. The hierarchy goes something like this: what is most important, land. Then come the hands to work the land, in other words family. Both of those are paramount to insuring your own survival and health. That is the way of it. And as the laws were written so many years ago and echo the sentiment that the woman was the property of the man, the land can only be passed on to a male heir. Therefore, a woman offspring had much less value, except as a breeder.

"The more likely a woman was to bear good strong boys the higher her estimated value. It stands to reason that a girl with wide hips to more easily facilitate child bearing would be more valuable than some slim hipped slip of a girl. Also, it was a sign of good health if the girl was well fed and not undernourished.”

Pasha paused for a moment and then gave out a short laugh. "So you see. If you were to take one of your revered supermodels and placed her in the home of one of my village families she would have little to no value. The patriarch would probably have to pay to have her removed from his house, while a plump wide hipped girl would probably receive a considerable sum from her perspective suitors. Where is the ideal? What body is the one to be cherished and strove for? All a matter of where we are in the world. And if this ideal is so arbitrary as that, then we should pay no attention to it and search inside ourselves to discover who we are and find contentment in that knowledge."

AD: Wow, I had no idea. I had never thought of body types in that way.

Candy: I hadn't either, to tell you the truth. But what she was telling me sure hit home. It showed me the way to freedom. If I wasn't meant to be one of those skin and bones models - and, believe me, with my bone structure and hearty appetite, you can be sure that I could never play the waif, then that was just fine. I was free to be me, and let me tell you, this was some kind of revelation.

AD: So this is when you started S.O.F.T.?

Candy: No, that came a bit later. For now the story was just about personal freedom. I decided to stop hiding my body in large unattractive clothing and to stop having regrets over how I looked. I started believing that I was a person of value and that I could lure a man just as well as anybody.

So when my senior year began and while the weather was still good, I started imitating Pasha and wearing tight jeans and short tops. I'll tell you, though; I heard plenty of comments whispered behind my ample behind. Most of the girls couldn't believe that I was actually showing off my doughy body. I heard all the catty remarks about my spare tire and my jelly belly, and I admit that sometimes they got to me. Fortunately, I had Pasha to reassure me that these girls were ignorant and that it was ok for me to dress any way I pleased.

My attitude was so positive that I must have been radiating some kind of aura. I gained popularity despite the remarks from the higher echelons. Soon other girls were seeking me out and asking advice about being more outgoing. Most were impressed by my daring, for to them the idea of facing ridicule by wearing such revealing clothing was kin to committing social suicide. 'How do you do it?' they all wanted to know, so I began imparting some of the knowledge that Pasha had told me.

Soon my spiel became like a rote mantra, and as more and more girls were seeking my advice, I came to realize that there were some basic tenants to the message, so I composed my first draft of a doctrine. I shared my school goings on with Pasha, and together we decided that there was a definite need for the information I was providing.

It was amazing to watch it happening. First, there were one or two girls, and then a few more would come by and hang with me during lunch. From there, each would bring a friend or two, and then they would bring their friends until we were just about filling the amphitheater with like-minded sisters. You didn't notice the difference as much during the winter, but as spring break approached it was obvious that there were a whole lot more flabby bellies being exposed on campus.

During that spring semester Pasha's class load allowed her to spend lunch with me on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When word got out that this charismatic foreigner was walking amongst us and speaking words of wisdom, the crowds became even larger. Pasha and I noticed the ground swell and decided we needed a way to crystallize the message and make these impromptu meetings a more regular event. So we decided to form a club, and that club has grown into the hugely successful non-profit organization that it is today.

AD: And you decided to name the club S.O.F.T.

Candy: Yes, the acronym was kind of a joke, but in retrospect I think that it kind of states our mission statement. Show Our Fat Tummies means that we don't have to be afraid. The plump have always outnumbered the thin, and since it's far easier for a skinny girl to gain weight, either by padding or actual gain, then it is for a chubby girl to look thin, we've decided that it is those skinny girls who should be pressured to conform, not the other way around.

AD: You've said that you formed S.O.F.T. as a club. Was it your intention for it to become this whole media conscious organization?

Candy: (Laughing.) No way. The original intention was to form a club so that people knew who and where we were. We established a pipeline so that everyone knew when Pasha would be available to speak. That it grew to such immense proportions and so quickly was a complete surprise to us.

As the school year ended, we were assaulted with questions. How could the girls get hold of us during the summer? What was going to happen at college? We received so many requests not to let the club fade away that we decided to formalize the club a step further. We went to the community center and made a formal request for a meeting room two nights a month. In order to do so, we had to file a charter and establish ourselves as an official non-profit organization, with a board of directors and the whole deal. This forced us to really focus on what we were doing so we established memberships and became an official organization.

AD: Just becoming an official organization doesn't explain your phenomenal success.

Candy: No, but it helped. As the summer progressed, it seemed that we were getting more and more guests coming to our meetings. Most of those guests later became members, and from those membership roles we found out that we were reaching not only my high school but also the neighboring high schools and even the junior highs and community college students. Soon we were garnering the university students as well, and our meetings became standing room only. Our hot line was almost constantly filled with messages, and it seemed that Pasha and I were spending all of our time just listening and responding to them. We felt that our message was important but were getting burnt out at the amount of time and effort it was taking to keep things organized, so we had to make a decision. Either let it go and regain control of our lives or become the managers and spokespersons of an even larger organization.

We opted for the latter, establishing franchises in different cities to help control the overcrowding, and then created our little red book to facilitate our teaching of branch managers. Once this was established, Pasha and I would travel around as guest speakers at the different chapters. We could then see firsthand the growth of the organization. We were amazed. It was like watching dominos fall. The word of mouth alone was creating such a buzz that our ranks continued to swell. It was almost like an infection. We would create a chapter in one city, and soon the word would get out to neighboring cities, and those would infect the next city and the next; and this was even before we started getting media exposure.

AD: And by the media's reporting your mercurial rise, we helped perpetuate that rise.

Candy: Exactly. When we started receiving requests for interviews from local newspapers and television stations we understood that we had the opportunity to whisper into the ear of the public and maybe change the accepted perception once and for all. We embraced the publicity wholeheartedly, put college on hold and worked on managing all the aspects of mainstream media. Our monthly magazine now boasts a subscriber list of over a quarter of a million readers, and we have seen a dramatic increase in advertising as manufacturers realize that there is this huge market that has been barely touched upon. Every month we witness a new company entering our ranks, advertising that they are prepared to offer highly fashionable apparel for the zaftig figure. It's amazing. The market was always there, the largest block of humanity out there, and yet it seems that only now, now that we seem to have brought the fat front to national attention, have the manufacturers figured it out.

Of course, we have gone into partnership with a group of clothing designers and have put our label on a whole line of apparel, but I am much happier with the success of the organization and the magazine.

AD: And you wouldn't mind being on the cover of People?

Candy: You know, as a sign that our message has gone mainstream, no, I wouldn't mind it, but I never dreamed about personal fame. I am willing to be a spokesperson, and if the movement requires my fame to achieve national acceptance, then I suppose I'm ok with it.

AD: Don't you think that by preaching fat acceptance you are not just exchanging one set of problems for another? That you are creating a whole generation of fat people?

Candy: And what's so wrong with that? Look, this is about acceptance, period. About feeling good about yourself as a person and saying that looks have nothing to do with personality. If we can get past stereotyping and prejudging, then we'll all be better off. My message is simple. Just be happy with who you are.

AD: And I surmise that you are happy?

Candy: You bet. I think that even without the success I would be happy with myself. Once I attained the freedom from regimentation and realized that my self-esteem didn't have to be tied into being skinny, I became content with myself, and I think that as long as you like yourself your chances on being truly happy increase ten fold.

AD: The press has noted that you have appeared to have gained weight since the media first put its spotlight on you. Does this bother you?

Candy: Why should it? It's the truth, not that I care. I'm not trying to gain or lose weight. I'm just enjoying life that's all. If that means I overindulge from time to time and my waistline suffers for it, I don't care. I'm healthy, and that's all that matters. That I've just crested the 200-pound mark is of no relevance to me. I love my body and feel just as sexy now as I ever have. I guess that there is a message in that too.

AD: In a nutshell, what is your advice to all of us?

Candy: Accept yourself; love yourself; enjoy yourself. If you can do that, you will get a lot more enjoyment out of life. Secondly, be accepting of others. Just say no to all forms of prejudice, be it race, color or size. It's just as acceptable to be fat as it is to be thin, and we should preach acceptance either way.

AD: Don't you think that there might be a backlash to your message and that there could be a potential for thin people to be ostracized?

Candy: Well, it would serve them right, but no, that is not what I want at all. There is room for all shapes and sizes. I just don't believe that there should be any sense of exclusivity one way or the other. I mean it's all so arbitrary, anyway. To claim superiority one way or the other would be like saying that only those with outie belly buttons can be truly chic. Sounds absurd, doesn't it? But that's exactly the prevalent feeling that we're combating; that by being overweight we are to be found somehow lacking in the social graces. We're treated like the hick cousins who just don't know any better. As if we could magically become thin if we just received enough of a social education. That is so wrong and so utterly preposterous. It has been proven that obesity is at least in part genetic, so condemning people for being fat is just as politically incorrect as condemning someone for being white or black, male or female.

What I am saying really is this: I would much rather see an entire nation of happy fat people than unhappy thin ones. Unhappy because they are in truth betraying themselves in attempting to conform to an ideal that is arbitrary and mean spirited to begin with. To deny yourself the simple pleasures of a well cooked meal in order to satisfy a sense of correctness that is an illusion anyway is so sad. Life is way too short as it is; we might as well get our pleasures when and while we can. Speaking of which, are you up for lunch? I'm famished.

AD: You don't have to twist my arm. Let's go.