BOILER ROOM – #1
The year is 2200. Nearly 85% of the US population is morbidly obese. Write about the following individuals living in such a culture:
- A slender young woman
- A plastic surgeon who injects fat into thin patients so they can fit the new “ideal”
- A child who sees photographs of his great-grandparents when they were young and thin.
* * *
Talia stormed into her apartment and slammed the door loudly behind her. Visit with Mom gone wrong. Horribly wrong.
She went to her bedroom and stood in front of her full-length mirror. She frowned at the reflection staring back at her. Bony arms, skinny legs, flat stomach….absolutely nothing for a man to be attracted to these days.
“You could use some meat on your bones!”
That was the first thing she remembered other children saying to her when she started school.
That was what her last blind date said, just before paying for dinner and waddling out of the restaurant after she’d refused to eat the three courses he had ordered for her.
And that was what her mother had said in their umpty-fifth “conversation” about why Talia was still not “seeing anyone” at twenty-two.
Why can’t you be more like Carmen? Mom had said, indicating Talia’s rotund, chubby-cheeked younger sister—not even a teenager yet and she tipped the scales at over 200 pounds.
Maybe you should consider expansion surgery. Or injections? You’d be so pretty!
That was usually when Talia had to get out of there. Out of the room, out of the house, and just plain away. Nobody ever asked Talia if meat on her bones was what she wanted. If they’d bothered to ask, she would have told them that despite everything she tried, she could never seem to gain weight.
She wasn’t skinny because she wanted to be.
Why do people think that they have a right to make someone uncomfortable in her own skin? How would Talia ever be able to finally get them off her back?
* * *
Twelve year old Carmen took a deep breath and plopped down on a box of old clothes, sinking the box in further. When Talia came to visit Mommy, it was only a matter of time before she had to get away from both of them. Mommy always started it, going in on Talia for not giving her grandchildren, not being married, and not being pretty enough to get a man from date to boyfriend. When Mommy complemented Carmen about how boys were flocking around her every day, Talia glared laser beams in her sister’s direction. And Carmen had to get out of there.
Without moving too much, she rifled through piles and stacks of stuff that the family hated to look at but could not bring themselves to throw away. Barely within her reach underneath an old blanket was a cardboard box labeled “Photos”. Inside were fistfuls of hard-copy pictures that Carmen had never seen before, ones that Mommy had not scanned and uploaded to the House Album.
A snapshot of Gram as a toddler holding a plastic pail and shovel and being hugged by a muscled man in swim trunks.
An action shot of a teenaged girl slam-dunking a basketball.
A wedding reception picture where the groom had his giggling bride hoisted effortlessly over his shoulder.
Not a single picture of food or someone eating food.
Why were these pictures not in the House Album? It couldn’t be that they were old; there were hundreds of recent shots of Gram cooking, or eating, or just sitting around the house in her favorite muumuu. What was different about these people?
They were outside.
They were moving.
They were skinny—like Talia.
And they were smiling. Laughing. Happy.
That’s what happy looked like back then? People getting out of the house. Nobody arguing. Nobody picking on another person for how they looked (or didn’t look).
Carmen didn’t quite know how to feel about that, but she had a sudden urge to show these pictures to Mommy, just to see what she would do.
* * *
Talia was almost comfortable in the exam room by the time Dr. Mitz came in. She exhaled out of habit. It helped that Dr. Mitz was a woman; Talia would never have been able to have this conversation with a male plastic surgeon.
“How are you feeling today, Ms. Hill?” For a woman, Dr. Mitz had a rough handshake.
“Like I might want a change.” Talia cleared the catch from her throat.
“Well, you’re in the right place, so let’s talk. What would you like to change about yourself?”
Talia’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. Wordlessly, she gestured around her mid-section.
“I guess I want to be bigger,” she said, after another exhale. “Meat on my bones, you know? Can you do that for me?”
“Ms. Hill, I’m Board-certified. Third generation. I’ve been doing these procedures for twenty years. Before that, my mother and my grandfather did them for about thirty years apiece. Taught me everything they knew. Trust me, you’re in capable hands. Now, were you thinking of a more natural weight gain, like steroid injections, or did you want a quicker result, like tissue implants?”
“Um…I really don’t know. I’ve always had trouble with my weight. I’ve done high carbs, high protein, and high fat. Sometimes all at once. Nothing.”
“Hmm…” Dr. Mitz sat at her desk and tapped out notes on her computer. “High Metabolism. That might work against you in terms of retaining the weight post-procedure, but it’s an easy fix. I can prescribe supplements to help slow down your metabolism. And you’ll find that gaining weight is a lot easier when you’ve already got some pounds on you. Any questions so far?”
Talia had a bunch.
“Well, I know that the cheaper injections are silicone, like breast implants for the whole body?”
“Silicone doesn’t give you a natural shape. I only recommend it if you can’t afford natural tissue injections. Definitely a better bounce and wiggle when it’s natural.”
“Where does the natural tissue come from? Is it like organ donation?”
“I’m sure you’ve heard things. The Black Market has no shortage of scary stories. I’m going to be candid, Ms. Hill. Because of the high demand, natural tissue is recycled from cadavers. Despite what you may have heard, it doesn’t go straight from slab to syringe. The harvesting process has become much more hygienic than in my grandfather’s day. When he was still practicing, the fat-phobes picketed the hospital every week. Called him “Dr. Frankenstein”. I’m glad that we don’t have to deal with that anymore.”
“But don’t the fat-phobes–” Talia cringed, “the anti-implanters–have a point? Deliberately putting that much weight on your body—no matter how you do it–does seem unhealthy. My mother’s been force-feeding my sister since she was a year old. Carmen’s asthma may kill her before she reaches my age, but all that my mother sees is someone who’s going to give her grandchildren one day. I refuse to believe that that’s a good thing.”
“If that’s how you feel, Ms. Hill, then what are you doing here?”
“Because nobody thinks that I’m beautiful!” It came out of Talia’s mouth before she could stop it. “I hate the blind-dates that go wrong and the side-eyes that I get at every buffet table. I flunked my last job interview because the guy looked like he couldn’t stand the sight of me. I can outrun my mother and my sister, but they feel sorry for me! Doctor, what in the world is so wrong with me? I don’t want to be perfect, but why can’t I be like everybody else?”
Doctor Mitz pressed her lips together for a moment, wanting to answer but weighing her words carefully.
“Two hundred years ago in this country,” she said, “women were starving themselves on purpose, because skeletal figures were the social standard of beauty at that time. Six hundred years before that, artists like Ruben and Botticelli painted goddesses with round hips and FUPAs, because fat was considered a sign of prosperity. In both time periods, society considered that perfection. Let me tell you something about perfection, Ms. Hill; it’s subjective. Fickle as a well-fed cat. The search for perfection has bankrolled my family for three generations, but ten years from now, I might have to research how to do liposuctions.”
“Nothing for you to worry about. My point is that social beauty changes too much for you to bank on it. If you’re basing your self-esteem on how other people look at you, then there is nothing that I can do to your body that will ever make you happy with it. Forget the dates, and the family, and even the schmuck who interviewed you. Just between us, how do you feel about your body?”
Talia did not see that coming. She had to think about it.
“It may not be what people like looking at, but this is the only body I’ve got. I can breathe, move, walk, run, and do everything that I want to do. It would be nice to have a boyfriend or get married, but I’m good if I don’t.”
Dr. Mitz sat back in her chair. Talia could not read the look on her face, but it made her curious to know what she was thinking.
“Ms. Hill, I say this with all due respect.” She leaned forward. “Get out of my office. You do not belong here.”
They exchanged smiles and a handshake. She cleared another catch in her throat, wordlessly thankful that this cry would have been entirely different.
* * *