This is not a funny story. I think it says something about human nature, but it doesn’t say anything particularly nice about human nature.

Once when Jake was young and we were still into traveling a lot by car, we were driving down the 101 to visit Karen’s parents, and we stopped for dinner at a hotel restaurant. It was someplace between Garberville and Santa Rosa . . . Ukiah perhaps. We were one of about six families there. The place had a window-wall overlooking the pool, and it was early enough and warm enough for there to be people at the pool.

The odd thing is, we — all of us, all six tables at the restaurant — noticed at the same time a woman wearing a bikini who really should not have worn a bikini. You know those tiny rubber bands we use to put jaw fracture patients into elastics? Well, maybe you don’t know. So imagine a rubber band, the loop of which has perhaps a 1 centimeter diameter. Now imagine a few of those rubber bands stretched around a marshmallow. Not an ordinary marshmallow, either, but one of those new and improved humongous marshmallows that comes eight to a package.

Every time she got up out of her lounge chair, there would be a collective over-dramatic gasp followed by laughter. We couldn’t have coordinated it better if there had been one of those live studio audience prompters telling us to LAUGH or GASP. It was really uncanny and really mean but many people there were near tears and it just kept going on and on, maybe for twenty minutes or longer before she finally went back to her hotel room.

We weren’t the only young family in that restaurant. We weren’t the only ones who had apparently forgotten our responsibility as example-setters. I’m quite sure that if you cornered any one of us and asked him if it was okay to laugh at a fat person, he would disagree strenuously. And yet there we were, laughing.

I think about this scene every now and then, and I still don’t quite understand it. I’m guessing that if we had seen this in a movie, very few of us would have laughed. If we had been out there past the window-wall, sitting pool-side with her, no closer nor farther than we were in that restaurant, we definitely would not have laughed. Something about the fact that it was real and we had that wall of glass between us. Something.

I’d compare it to the sleazy feeling you might get laughing along with an audience for a racist or misogynistic comedian, except I know (from experience) that I don’t laugh in such circumstances. Do we have a less well developed sense of political correctness regarding obesity? Or is obesity not the issue here — were we merely laughing at someone with poor taste in swimwear?

I like that last possibility, of course. But it seems overly generous.



  1. Sharon says:

    I want to say it was safe to laugh because of the glass, but with other people in the room, laughing simultaneously, and not one person saying something about political correctness regarding obesity? Wow.Perhaps everyone being “in on” this made it safe for the laughter to go on. Kinda like a private joke.
    I think it’s a distinct possibility the laughter was triggered by someone with poor taste in swimwear. Who hasn’t seen a person wearing something they shouldn’t and think to himself: “wow, did that person look in a mirror before leaving the house?” We don’t say it out loud because that would be rude.

  2. KGK says:

    As a woman of substance – OK, just substantial – I try hard to avoid “scaring the horses”. This goal is more challenging in the summer, since our building isn’t air conditioned and I give in to comfort over charity and thus terrorize my colleagues and passers-by with the sight of my humongeous arms with their droopy batwings swinging with every movement.

    I support the right of people to express themselves through what they wear and in a weird way admire the large ladies who seem to have no body image problems whatsoever and thus wear clothese that are very revealing (and I’m not using this word as a code word for slutty, but literally as showing lots of flesh). I also hold that people wearing outfits that are outside a standard deviation or two from the norm should expect, and not object to, reactions from viewers.

    My thought is that in the situation you describe above it wasn’t just that people were laughing because she was fat or imappropriately dressed, but there was probably a large dose of relief everytime she avoided a wardrobe malfunction. Sounds rather like all those hidden camera shows, where people act weird due to some set-up that they don’t know about, although she created the set-up with the outfit.

  3. Lucie says:

    Sometimes your mind tells you that you look fabulous while others, especially cameras, may see things differently. I thought I looked ravishing when posing for this photo, but the picture me looks like a plastic surgery/photoshop combined disaster. In reality, my husband’s ample belly is obscuring half of my body, and the camera must be a wide angle lens because last time I checked, I was not so curvy. Don’t laugh too hard. http://susanadcock.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/G0000aN5f5vltH8w/I0000QTQCunQG0i4/10

  4. Walnut says:

    Ooh, you DO look curvy! Speaking clinically, the problem (I think) has to do with the way the shadows make your neck look too skinny and your head too big for your body. But don’t worry. All us guys are looking at are your boobs.

  5. Lucie says:

    The Picture of Dorian Gray