I'm not sure exactly what made me finally do it, only that I'd been contemplating it a long, long time. I wanted back into the secret society.
It's the greatest secret society in the United States, if not the world. It's not made up of extraordinarily smart people or wealthy people but the most enviable people on the planet.
I began my re-entry to the secret society last April. By August I was getting appreciative glances from those on the membership committee -- the uber-toned, the super svelte. People I longed to look like. People I once looked like. And by October I had been welcomed back into the ranks of the most entitled, smuggest, contemptuous and least compassionate of human beings.
The few, the proud -- now they're admiring me. What started as a mission to be able to wear my watch again has thrust me back into a world I gave up any chance of rejoining. A world where you never say, "I can't wear that," an always-shiny, happy world, like a Mentos commercial or "Will & Grace." A world that exiled me when I broke its No. 1 rule -- my God, whatever you do, don't gain weight.
And while thin doesn't just happen -- it did take some personal effort -- I found myself taken aback by what happened next. The world reacted, and that reaction seemed way out of my control. The secret society whisks you in so completely you can hardly remember a time when you weren't in its warm bosom. The picture is anything but pretty. All the arguments about superficiality and emphasizing the wrong values are right on. If the world seems superficial when you're fat, it's even more evident when you're not.
But don't blame me and don't give me too much credit. Right now, I'm only along for the ride.
Like it or not, there are two different worlds out there, one for the thin and the other for everyone else. Most people see only one of those worlds. Most have never been a member of both. I have. Think of me as a tour guide who knows what both worlds are like.
* * *
It's a secret society, as opposed to a more casual organization like a club. Club status gets you flat beer from a keg at a frat party. But a secret society doles out extraordinary benefits. And while it doesn't seem like much of a secret -- it's pretty easy to tell who's in and who's not, after all -- the perks of membership aren't advertised. You just find them coming your way in strange and subtle ways, delivered with only a knowing smile by those, you know, as privileged as you.
It's not much of a secret, either, that it's cold on the outside. Those not on the list are there by their own choices, members insist. Laziness, sloth and indifference. Nonmembers come to believe it as much as members do. If not more.
Being on the outside becomes a way of life. Until you get a few glimpses of what being in the secret society means, and one day it hits: I want that, too. Say what you will about health and nutrition and wellness. It's about getting back into the world of the haves -- or, more accurately, the have-nots. Have no extra pounds. But have all the advantages.
As your membership card becomes more and more outdated -- that is, as you spiral further and further from the ideal body image -- you notice the contemptuous stares, the dismissive comments. You tell yourself the woman behind the makeup counter is too busy to be more solicitous. The sales clerk figures you can browse just fine on your own. And you've got a wedding ring on, right? So of course co-workers and strangers don't flirt.
You don't let it in completely. The shell you walk around in keeps you nicely insulated from the cruelty. You're able to ignore it for awhile.
But your guard can't be up all the time. Inevitably, you catch the members' snotty looks. Or you intercept a catty e-mail. All the time you've spent glancing in mirrors, but not really seeing what's there -- that only works for so long. You're fat, a member has announced. And for that I deserved their scorn.
I thought I had far less attractive traits. I can be sarcastic. I chronically keep videos late. I've lied, stolen, had adulterous thoughts and wished bad things for friends and family. Apparently, that's nothing. The biggest sin is being big.
* * *
So imagine your surprise, only a few months after your decision to rejoin that secret society, just how sunny and inviting the world seems. Remember when you were left in Bloomingdale's, with an American Express gold card in your hand, to figure out all alone which shade of Bobbi Brown foundation was right for your skin tone? Five months later a makeup artist at Saks ignored three frumpy clients and did a full face on you, cooing over your smooth skin and shiny hair (the same skin and hair that got barely a notice mere months before).
It was only the beginning.
Your hair stylist seems to take more time and care now. She seems to be actually listening when you describe what it is you want. A friend once told me she always dressed well and went in full makeup to get her hair cut; that raised the bar. Becoming a member again puts all sorts of beauty professionals on heightened alert -- Make sure you give her the best. She's one of us.
It didn't stop there. I've shopped at Ann Taylor for years; now they know my name. After ordering the same latte forever (extra shot, nonfat milk), now I get my extra shots free. It's not quite like that "Saturday Night Live" skit where a Caucasian Eddie Murphy goes into stores, businesses and banks, and gets stuff for free. It's much more subtle but infinitely more gratifying. It's smiles and gestures and niceties. No more "what is she doing here?" looks.
Sure, being a member theoretically can get you beauty pageant crowns, modeling contracts and leads in motion pictures. But after years on the outside, it's the quality-of-life aspects you really appreciate. That's what membership gets you -- that fuzzy feeling of inclusion. And not just any inclusion but a sense of belonging to the best of groups: thin, fun and superior.
It's not all sweetness and light with the thin crowd. The discipline, or just plain luck, that granted us entry into a world of privilege and entitlement ferments to create a noxious aura of snobbery. We've traded pizza for trips to the gym. Why haven't you? We deny ourselves treats we really want. Why don't you? We get more pleasure out of abstaining than indulging. Why can't you? In short, what's wrong with you?
First you were a not-thin outsider, somebody who easily recognized the superficial nature of this two-tiered caste system. Now you are a smug insider. See how easily the transformation can happen? Where once I railed against the skin-deep values of those with Christina Aguilera thighs and Britney bellies and the cruel and shallow ways of some of the chosen, now I'm starting to see their point. I mean, not only do thin people look better, they're healthier too, right? This, then, is the right way to be. What could be wrong with a little preoccupation with body parts? I have to admit, I've been infected. I'm having a good time.
Again, don't blame me. I'm the visitor from both sides, here to tell you what it's like. And here's the truth: Being kicked out of the secret society would seem to me the biggest failure of my life. I remember what it was like to be constantly ashamed, and I keep telling myself that there is more to people than the amount of space they take up.
I know it's wrong. Just don't make me go back.