Chubby for Life
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t chubby. Like being Indian,
being chubby feels like it is just part of my permanent deal. I remember
being in first grade, in Mrs. Gilmore’s class at Fiske Elementary
School, and seeing that Ashley Kemp, the most popular girl in our class,
weighed only thirty-seven pounds. We knew this because we weighed her on
the industrial postal scale they kept in the teacher’s supply closet.
I was so envious. I snuck into the supply closet later that same day to
weigh myself. I was a whopping sixty-eight pounds.
Some of the first math I understood was that I was closer to twice
Ashley’s weight than to her weight.
“Don’t be closer to twice a friend’s weight than to her actual
weight,” I told myself. This little mantra has helped me stave off
obesity for more than two decades.
My mom’s a doctor, but because she came from India and then Africa,
where childhood obesity was not a problem, she put no premium on having
skinny kids. In fact, she and my dad didn’t mind having a chubby
daughter. Part of me wonders if it even made them feel a little
prosperous, like Have you seen our overweight Indian child? Do you know
how statistically rare this is? It will then not come as a surprise to
you that I’ve never been thin in my life—except the day I was born,
when I was six pounds.
It’s a small point of pride that I was a six-pound baby, because from
my limited understanding of baby weights, that’s on the skinnier side.
I flaunt my low baby weight the way really obese people must flaunt
their dainty, small feet. It’s my sole claim to skinny fame.
As you can see, from then on, however, it was full-speed-ahead food
paradise! In grade school, I would vacillate along the spectrum from
chubby to full-on fat until I was about fourteen. Being overweight is so
common in America and comes in so many forms that you can’t just call
someone “fat” and have the reasonable expectation anyone will
understand you. Here’s the breakdown:
Chubby: A regular-size person who could lose a few, for whom you feel
Chubster: An overweight, adorable child. That kid from Two and a Half
Men for the first couple of years.
Fatso: An antiquated term, really. In the 1970s, mean sorority girls
would call a pledge this. Probably most often used on people who
aren’t even really fat, but who fear being fat.
Fatass: Not usually used to describe weight, actually. This deceptive
term is more a reflection of one’s laziness. In the writers’ room of
The Office, an upper-level writer might get impatient and yell, “Eric,
take your fat ass and those six fatasses and go write this B-story! I
don’t want to hear any more excuses why the plot doesn’t make
Jabba the Hutt: Star Wars villain. Also, something you can call yourself
after a particularly filling Thanksgiving dinner that your aunts and
uncles will all laugh really hard at.
Obese: A serious, nonpejorative way to describe someone who is
Obeseotron: A nickname you give to someone you adore who has just
stepped on your foot accidentally, and it hurts. Alternatively, a fat
Overweight: When someone is roughly thirty pounds too heavy for his or
Pudgy: See “Chubby.”
Pudgo: See “Chubster.”
Tub o’ Lard: A huge compliment given by Depression-era people to
other, less skinny people.
Whale: A really, really mean way that teen boys target teen girls. See
the following anecdote.
There have been two times in my life—ages fourteen and nineteen—when
I lost a ton of weight over a short period of time. At fourteen, I lost
the weight because of Duante Diallo.
In ninth grade, my class was made up mostly of the same kids with whom I
had gone to middle school, with the exception of about twenty splashy
new students. One of those students was Duante.
Duante Diallo was a handsome kid from Senegal who’d moved to Boston to
play basketball for our school. He was immediately the star forward of
our varsity basketball team. We had a not-great artsy-private-school
basketball team, the kind made up of slender boys whose primary goal was
to seem well-rounded for college applications. But you could tell Duante
would’ve been the star of even a really good team. He was beloved by
teachers because he was a brave kid for being so far away from his
parents, and beloved by students because he was good-looking, a jock,
and had an interesting African accent. Also, people couldn’t believe
the stuff he had done in Senegal, like smoke, drive a car, have sex,
live in a village, and hold a gun. When he was introduced at a student
assembly, he chose to give a short speech where he taught us a sports
cheer in Senegalese. In the hallways, small crowds would form around
Duante as he shared stories from his past. Once he shot a cow with an
AK-47. He was so popular you could barely look at him without being
blinded by cool.
Duante was also, unfortunately, a tyrannical asshole. Maybe I should
have gleaned this from the joy with which he told the story about
murdering a cow with a massive gun. He fixated on me early in the year
as being overweight and was open with his observations. At first it had
the veneer of niceness. For example, once I was getting a drink of water
in the hallway where he and his friends were standing.
Duante: You would actually be really pretty if you lost weight.
His face was gentle and earnest, as though what he had really said was,
“You remind me of a sunset in my native Senegal.” It was confusing.
All I could muster as a reply to this insulting comment was “thank
you.” I was hurt, but I rationalized that maybe Duante had been around
only extremely thin African girls his whole third-world life and
didn’t know American girls had access to refrigeration, and that we
didn’t have to divide up UN food parcels with our neighbors. (This may
have been a tad racist an assumption on my part. Look, we were both in
By winter, I had not lost any weight, and in fact had gained about ten
more pounds. This really bothered Duante. I think he felt he had gone
out of his way to give me some valuable advice and I had chosen not to
follow it, therefore insulting him. One day in February, I walked into
the freshmen center, he stopped mid-conversation with his friends and
gestured to me.
Duante: Speaking of whales . . .
I don’t even think they’d been talking about whales. The guys all
laughed, but even I could tell some felt guilty doing it. I had been
friends with most of them since we were kids. Danny Feinstein, who was
my Latin study buddy, came up to me later that afternoon and told me
that “What Duante said wasn’t cool.” He had a stoic look of noble
do-gooder, although he had said nothing at the time of the insult.
Again, I was forced to say thank you. How I continually found myself in
situations where I felt I had to say thank you to mean guys, I’m not
It was a tough winter. I had gone from competitive, bookish nerd to
nervous target. If this was Heathers, I was Martha Dumptruck and this
mean African kid was all three Heathers. I turned my obsessive teenage
energy away from reading Mad magazine and focused on my diet. I didn’t
have access to a lot of weight-loss resources, because this was
pre-Internet. There was one Weight Watchers near us, but it shared a
mini-mall parking lot with a sketchy Salvation Army, and my parents
didn’t like the idea of taking me there for meetings. So I invented a
makeshift diet formula: I would eat exactly half of what was put in
front of me, and no dessert. Without exercising, I lost thirty pounds in
about two months. A janitor at school whom I liked, Mrs. Carrington,
would see me and say, “Damn, you’ve got a metabolism on you, don’t
you girl?” The janitors were always in my corner.
I remember waking up in the morning and looking down at my fingers and
seeing they had shrunk overnight. Suddenly I was freezing all the time,
like those skinny girls in movie theaters are always complaining about,
and needed to sleep with an extra wool blanket. My face thinned out, and
my belly went away. I stopped wearing oversize college sweatshirts and
corduroy pants with elastic waists. Light brown lines appeared on my
upper inner arms that looked like little rivers headed to my shoulder
blades. I actually thought they looked pretty, until my mom told me they
were stretch marks from losing so much weight so fast. It was like a
Disney sci-fi movie. Mom was impressed but didn’t want me to go
overboard, which was impossible, because I was still eating a lot. I
just had taken a break from eating like a professional football player.
I loved all the side effects of losing the weight, but the reason I did
it was so that Duante would stop making fun of me, so I could hang out
in the freshmen center again, and not where I had been: across the
street in the Fairy Woods.
I thought Duante would finally leave me alone, but he didn’t. One day
I was walking down the hallway to class and passed Duante and his group
Duante: Remember when Mindy was like (blowing out his cheeks to make a
fat face) a whale?
They all laughed. Come on, dude. Remember when? I’m getting made fun
of because I used to be fat? The laws of bullying allow you to be cruel
even when the victim had made strides for improvement? This is when I
realized that bullies have no code of conduct.
Lucky for me, Duante was a bad student. English was his second language
and that made everything harder for him. I delighted in the fact that he
had to go to the middle school to take some of his classes. Sophomore
year he broke his leg when he slipped during practice and collided with
another student. For a short time he was even more popular, as sports
injuries tend to make people, but then soon enough his crutches were
tedious to people when he was slow-moving and hard to get around in the
hallway. He didn’t play that season, and was never as good at
basketball after the injury. He dropped out junior year, and I heard he
got a girl pregnant. Part of me now feels a little bad for Duante
Diallo, but not at the time. I was so happy. That fucking mean
I stayed at a pretty normal weight until college, when I put on the
freshman thirty-five in the first six months. What’s that? You’ve
never heard of the freshman thirty-five? That’s funny, because neither
had my parents, who welcomed me home on spring vacation with mild
horror. I was a vaguely familiar food monster who had eaten their
When I lost weight at nineteen, it was significant because that is when
I first started exercising. I had always successfully avoided exercise
as a kid, by being an extra in school plays, or signing up for fake-y
sports like Tai Chi, or manipulating gym teachers into letting me read
books in the bleachers. So it was at Dartmouth College, in 1999, that I
discovered exercise when my best friend, Brenda, taught me how to run. I
was a sloth upon whom Brenda took pity, and she saved me from
near-obesity with the patience and tenacity of Annie Sullivan, the
Our workout routine was simple and mind-numbingly repetitive, an
atmosphere in which I flourished, oddly. I started out walking for
twenty minutes, and then Bren would make me do little spurts of running
between lampposts or street signs. (For the record, Bren, a natural
athlete, runs, like, a six-minute mile. This was an absolute waste of
time for her. She was just doing this out of her well-brought-up
Catholic kindness.) Then we’d come back to our apartment and do Abs of
Steel together. Even though we mercilessly made fun of the video, which
was from the deep eighties and included Tamilee Webb wearing aqua bike
shorts and a pink thong leotard, we did it religiously. Tamilee had a
rock-hard butt, and there was nothing ironic about it. The whole
experience was surprisingly fun and cemented a friendship between Brenda
and me for life. How can you not make a best friend out of a girl who
has seen the sweat-soaked pelvis area of your gym pants, daily, and who
still chooses to spend time with you? In this safe and friendly setting,
I lost thirty pounds in a semester.
I Love Diets
I wish I could just be one of those French women you read about who
stays thin by eating only the most gourmet foods in tiny, ascetic
proportions, but I could never do that. First of all, I largely don’t
like gourmet food. I like frozen yogurt. I think it tastes better than
ice cream. I love diet soda; when I drink juice or regular soda it makes
my blood sugar spike and I act like a cracked out Rachael Ray, but
without the helpful household tips. I even like margarine, though
everyone tells me it’s basically poison or whatever. So, that’s one
thing I have going against me. Another obstacle is that my pattern is to
eat exactly as much as whoever is hanging out with me, and between
boyfriends and my tall athletic friends, we’re a bunch of huge eaters.
I really do have a remarkable appetite. I remember when the news reports
came out about Michael Phelps’s ten-thousand-calorie-a-day diet, and
everyone was so shocked. But I just thought, yep, I could do that, no
Ultimately, the main reasons why I will be chubby for life are (1) I
have virtually no hobbies except dieting. I can’t speak any
non-English languages, knit, ski, scrapbook, or cook. I have no pets. I
don’t know how to do drugs. I lost my passport three years ago when I
moved into my house and never got it renewed. Video games scare me
because they all seem to simulate situations I’d hate to be in, like
war or stealing cars. So if I ever lost weight I would also lose my only
hobby; (2) I have no discipline; I’m like if Private Benjamin had
never toughened up but, in fact, got worse; (3) Guys I’ve dated have
been into me the way I am; and (4) I’m pretty happy with the way I
look, so long as I don’t break a beach chair.
My love for dieting is a recent realization. It turns out I have a
passion for trying out new eating plans and exercises. Dukan, South
Beach, French Women Don’t Get Fat, Cavemen Don’t Get Fat,
Single-Celled Organisms Don’t Get Fat, Skinny Bitch, Skinny
Wretch—after a while on one regimen, I get bored and want to try a new
one. It’s actually fun for me to read all the material and
testimonials of the tan, shammy doctors who stand by the diets
medically. It’s only a matter of time before the Jane Austen Diet
comes out, and I’m really looking forward to spending a spring
adhering to that one.
Excerpted from "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)" by Mindy Kaling. Copyright © 0 by Mindy Kaling. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.