Opera singer Deborah Voigt may have charmed audiences with her beautiful voice, but those in charge of directing her performances felt that firing her was in everyone's best interest. Why would this successful American soprano with a voice described as having "penetrating power" and "gleaming richness" be dismissed?
Quite simply, she was fat.
At over 300 pounds, the size 26 professional was fired in 2003 by a director who felt that she didn't have the right body type for the costume he envisioned. The director imagined its star singing while wearing a tiny black dress, something he felt was necessary to convey a modern twist on "Ariadne auf Naxos." Her figure, it was determined, wasn't suitable for the costume. As such the songbird was let go in exhange for someone with a more acceptable body type.
Voigt has something to say about the firing that, while true, sadly still affects many women. In a world where large-bodied men such as Luciano Pavarotti have been embraced, rather than fired, for their loveable roundness, Voigt is at a loss. "Why is it okay for the male opera stars to be big and not the women?" she writes in her book, "Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva." In her book, which is due out on January 27 (Harper Collins), she also says that "The double standard is alive and well in the opera world when it comes to men’s and women’s bodies."(1)
While never fired for being fat, I understand her feelings.
Dealing with Double Standards, Psychological Weight Loss Challenges
Losing 70 pounds, as I did several years ago, offers a real-life glimpse about the ways the very overweight and very slender are judged and treated. Those before and after images? They aren't just about pictures that reveal dramatic changes in the body. Trust me, there are deeper changes - highly psychological ones - that take place as one is thrust into an "after," post-fat girl world. There aren't any (that I'm aware of, anyway) "Life after Weight Loss 101" classes that talk about the psychological changes that may come with weight loss. Nothing prepares a person for the thoughts in their head that linger long after the thrill good workouts, a nice compliment or even 15 minutes of fame.
Mine are often steeped in thoughts that yes, a double standard exists every time we turn our heads. We see commercials with women donning angel wings, but there's a big "was it or wasn't it retouched" to-do when Justin Bieber puts on his Calvins, as he recently did.
Beiber aside, the bigger issue is that we're a society that seems to be obessed with thiness and beauty, even in ways that transcend weight. Seriously, would a woman with Andy Rooney's once wirey eyebrows last longer than a commercial break on a news show today? So it goes.
Yes, I know plenty of shows, stories and social media sites exist that are focused on men's "hotness" (the popular word I'm seeing in headlines these days is "thirsty," as in "These hollywood men with beards will make any woman thisty") but still, we're wearing blinders if we think that the double standards don't predominately hone in on females in our society.
First, Gastric Bypass Surgery . . . Next, Alcohol-Fueled Experiences
For Voigt, her world changed dramatically after getting fired. It wasn't that she moped, a fat-sized woman stereotypically crying in a pint of ice-cream either. Rather, she took the money from the failed "little black dress" role and had gastric bypass surgery. She lost 100 pounds, dropped to a size 14 and unfortunately, turned to alcohol to replace her desire for food. In her book, she expresses joy at the ability to be able to cross her once-heavier legs, yet speaks of alcohol-fueled affairs with men in between her performances.(1,2)
Ultimately, she ended up in rehab where she came to terms with her past and changed her ways for the better.
Indeed, weight loss is a joyous experience, but it's often not without deeply-rooted, confusing thoughts that have the potential to lead to depression and detrimental behaviors. While I didn't indulge in the bottle, my taste for thinness became extreme. My blog, "My not-so Glamorous Story of Dieting After the Diet was Over & How I Got Back on Track," talks about this, of teetering dangerously close to a diagnosable eating disorder, one that left me hungry, moody and eventually filled with a nutritionally-deprived foggy-brain (so much so that at times I was spewing forth babbling nonsense at random times and convinced by my own self-created nonsensical thoughts).
Yes, weight loss can change you, but as Voigt learned, it's not always for the better. Becoming thinner (whether by dietary changes or weight loss surgery, or both) may come with serious challenges.
Don't Lose Yourself During Weight Loss Journey
No matter where you are on your weight loss journey, always remember that you're doing this for your health and that you're still the same you, only physically different. I highly doubt that your political stance, sense of humor or work ethic has changed, right? Sure, you may have more energy and a renewed confidence, but at the core of it all, you're still you. I lost a lot of weight and still have a penchant for 80s music, kayaking, corny puns, animal kindness and photography -- just as I did when I was shopping in the plus-size departments.
In the end, it's never about trying to beat double standards or fitting in a certain-sized black dress, but rather, to improve physical health. It's up to us to take control about our mental health, not allowing ourselves to get caught up in expectations (self-imposed or otherwise) and to be remain the beautiful person we have been all along.
Several fast food chains have jumped on the "healthy" bandwagon, which to me, is akin to tobacco companies saying they've created healthier, safer cigarettes. Of course, neither of them have stumbled upon a healthier solution; we all know in our heart of French fry-craving heart of hearts (or nicotine-needing habits, if that's your thing) that what they've created is nothing other than a marketing strategy.
Sell the latest health craze, sell patriotism, sell people who have lost weight (Jared, anyone?), show us cute puppies and mighty horses, and we're suddenly supposed to be A-Okay eating, say, veggie sliders from White Castle.
Indeed, that's just what is happening. The fast food chain, known for their hamburger sliders, desserts on a stick and the movie, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, has recently announced the addition of veggie sliders to their menu.
Their web site attempts to lure the health-conscious, by asking the question, "Have you eaten your veggies today?" It's one part reminiscent of the first half of the 1990s McDonald's slogan, "Have you (had your break today?)," and one part causing childhood memories of my mother to surface, inquiring about my veggie intake with her one eyebrow raised, as if to imply no dessert will be had if those string beans remained on my plate. I'm already turned off. Still, it's only fair to dig deeper.
I clicked on the image and was taken to a larger picture, this time a close-up of the veggie slider. Phrases such as "grilled to perfection" and "chock full of..." rested next to the slider, along a call-out with the name, "Dr. Praeger's." Hmmmm. Just who is this Dr. Praeger and what's the relevancy to White Castle? More digging was in order.
Who was Dr. Praeger?
A bit more detective work led me to a PDF file (also on the White Castle site) that talked all about Dr. Praeger. There, it explained that "Dr. Praeger was a successful cardiothoracic surgeon in New Jersey who, with his medical partner Dr. Eric Somberg, made it their mission to introduce people to nutritious food that actually tasted great. They produce a wide range of products including veggie cakes, breaded fish items, Kid's Little, and now our tasty Veggie Slider!"(1)
More research led me to discover that Dr. Peter Praeger, who passed away from unknown causes in 2012 and had been undergoing prostate cancer treatment, was the co-chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. He was also president and chief executive of Dr. Praeger's Sensible Foods, a maker of frozen natural foods ("frozen" and "natural" just don't go together if you ask me), including veggie burgers and meatless chicken (ditto), sold in supermarkets and health-food stores in the United States and overseas. Ultimately, Dr. Praeger's Sensible Foods grew to become a multimillion dollar venture, providing the likes of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods with items such as sweet potato pancakes and Tex-Mex veggie burgers.(2)
Veggie slider has MORE calories than original plain slider
Interestingly, for those curious about calories, an original slider has 140 calories, while the veggie slider has MORE, coming in at 150 for a plain one and 270 if you add Ranch dressing. Additionally, an original plain burger slider has 13 total carbohydrates while a plain veggie slider comes in at 20 carbs. There are some positives, however. A plain veggie slider does have lower sodium levels and trans fat than the original burger.(3)
Still, I'm not convinced.
Trying to pull the wool over our eyes
On one hand, I applaud the effort, but on the other hand I realize that it's nothing more than a marketing strategy aimed to tug on the heartstrings of those trying to get healthier or stay that way. But there's no pulling the wool over my eyes. I've worked in the advertising and public relations industry for several years (no longer, by choice). I'm familiar with all the psychology that goes on about "creating the need," of linking popular names with new products to help the baby brand piggyback on the shoulders of the more famous one ("oh, so the product MUST be wonderful"), and of capitalizing on life goals as well as life fears. Sigh.
So you see, I'm not fooled by fast food chains that display nutrition facts from behind faux oak picture frames near the registers. Not fooled by Jared. Definitely not fooled by White Castle's veggie slider no matter how many veggie bits it contains.
Meal names that attempt to resonate with healthy lifestyles, nope, they're not going to perk up the ears of smoothie-making, fresh-food eating, elliptical-using folks like me. Besides, making my own recipes with fresh, whole foods is not only healthy, but allows me to be creative in the kitchen.
Tomato and peach salsa, anyone?
Jennifer Lea Reynolds
Jennifer Lea Reynolds is a weight loss success story who enjoys living a healthy lifestyle. A fan of the elliptical, roasted asparagus and remembering to put the lid on the blender, she’s appeared in many national and local print publications. She lives in New England where she writes professionally about health and wellness in online publications including U.S. News & World Report, Reader's Digest, Woman's Day, The Huffington Post, and more.