Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Economy of Weight

As I walk around New York, something I have been more and more inclined to do of late being that the weather (I am told anyway) is unseasonably warm for this time of year, I notice that there is a remarkable paucity of overweight people in a city so highly touted for its culinary wealth. I mean, just the amount of incredible pizza alone would argue for a larger than average waistline, and we have not even gotten into the variety of other fabulous, fatty foods that haunt the streets and subway terminals.

Now this is not to say that there are not fat people in New York, there most certainly are, and since I have been here I have to guess that I have witnessed some of the largest walking individuals on the planet. But there are not that many of them. I mean, New York is an incredibly densely populated place, with pretty much more of everything that anywhere else. There are more Jews, more malaysians, more incredibly beautiful women, more people with six fingers ... well, maybe there are still more polydactyl folks out in Amish country, you know, founder effect ( and all ... but the point is, there are just more of everyone because in New York there is more.

But not more overweight people. Some may argue that the people here may have a little extra around the midsection due to the winter and the inability to run/walk/bike outside, but that's what the human sized hamster wheels that are constantly in use in the windows of gyms all over the city are for. Honestly, New York may have the highest density of gyms, particularly look in the window and see all the people more in shape than you gyms (you know, the ones with all the bench presses and treadmills right by the window on the 1st floor) in the world. And people in this city walk everywhere, all the time, even when its cold, I don't buy that we should, on average, be bigger here. But I am still surprised at the fact that the number of very overweight to obese people in the city, rather than being on par with much of the rest of the country, seems to be well below average.

But then, thinking about it, you can kind of see the reasons. Now I am not talking about the typical costs associated with obesity, those silly things like massive medical bills or greater chance of a number of diseases that can kill you prematurely, nor am I talking about the presumed psychological cost of being heavy in a country that seems to idolize and cherish the obscenely thin. No, I think that New Yorkers, the economically minded folks that they are, realize that in New York, being overweight is very expensive.

I mean, the city is a tightly packed place full of smaller places. If you are really overweight, you would not have been able to eat at the diner I ate at last night, a great place called Googies on the upper East side. I met my gorgeous friend Shauna, whose hair is an always changing cascade of red, by her place on 82nd and we walked down to the diner on 78th. The diner was pretty large for a restaurant here, but even so, the entrance was a rather tight passage way and the tables were rather small. Still, if you were a big guy and you got through the door, you might have had a booth and been alright. But then, if you had needed the bathroom, you would have been out of luck, as the entire bathroom might have fit in my closet. It was like sitting on one of those toilet/shower/sink in the hallway bathrooms in a Hong Kong hi-rise, with a toilet stall so small you could not close the door without standing between the wall and the toilet.

And this got me to thinking, if you are very large and overweight, you can't fit into most of the tiny, shishi restaurants in the city. I went to a Thai place two weeks ago where the restaurant was so skinny it felt like it was inside a lava tube. Great place, very affordable ... completely inaccessible to the obese. For people who are truly large to go out to a nice dinner, they have to pay the extra money to go to a truly fancy place with big doorways, big tables, and big bathrooms, and in New York, the only places like that are really pricey.

Similarly, public transit, as great as it is, would be difficult. You might not be able to fit through the turnstyles at many of the subway stations, although most of them do have an emergency door at one of the entrances. And you might not even take the subway or the bus because walking 6-10 blocks might be difficult. Therefore you might take cabs, but cabs are expensive in New York, as is the other option, having your own car. In most other places in the US, owning a car makes being large very easy, as you can simply drive yourself around.

Carrying things might be more difficult, thus you migh need to pay more for items you get closer to your home or you might have to pay for more deliveries. And of course you will probably need specially tailored clothes, that will be more expensive because city is full of tiny people and no one makes clothes for much larger sizes because none are around.

So while being obese is bad for your health and your life, whats more, in New York, the city of tiny and crammed and space-saving construction, its also bad for your wallet.

On a side note, this aspect of our culture, the emphasis on thin, is ridiculous and has gotten entirely out of hand. Its on thing to not want to be obese and to keep yourself healthy, but another to obsess about small amounts of weight that are irrelevant to your health or the functionality of your body and are only noticeable because we practically deify the living stick figures we call super models. There is nothing super about them except how much of them is not there and how much effort goes into making us think that they look like we think they look ( These days, one of the most common things I hear from my female friends is, I am watching my figure or I'm a little heavy or some other ridiculous variation on this theme. People in general look good when they feel good. Its not your body that makes you beautiful, its your person that makes your body beautiful, and you should keep your body healthy and functional for your life rather than some misbegotten societal ideal.

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