I'm here at a diet clinic in beautiful Cannes, France, trying to lose the latest round of pounds that I've gained since my last diet. It is the kind of program which the French health system provides for its obese citizens and long term residents. Fat people used to be a rare sight in France, but we are now multiplying fast thanks to globalization, fast food, and sedentary lifestyles.
Beyond superficial differences and the initial awkwardness caused by the weight of racism which is still very palpable here in France, there is an esprit du corps at this clinic. After all is said and done, we are all fat and suffer from our unmanageable weight and bad lifestyle habits. There is in this world a United Nations of Sedentary Lifestyle Victims! We don't like to acknowledge belonging to the group but when trapped together in one place we eventually bond. Nothing brings people together like shared pain.
The diet clinic has a life of its own, its own hierarchy. People of all ages come here from different ethnic, cultural, and financial backgrounds, to lose weight. But all prejudice and previous differences fade in the face of the glaring reality of the scale. Science, numbers, facts unite us. There is nothing more universal than a number. A kilo is a kilo is a kilo. To paraphrase my first fat feminist role model.
And here, the hour of truth is the time when we all huddle in one room and wait our turn to be weighed. Everyone chats exchanging notes on what they ate or didn't. There is a nervousness in the air. One by one, my diet companions go into the room to be weighed and come back out with varying widths of smile on their faces, declaring their weight losses: "sept cents grams," "un kilo," "500 grams" and so on.
The all-important weekly weighing day is normally on Wednesdays but has fallen on a Monday this week because Wednesday is some sort of holiday, and no one, not even the lady who records the weights in a log, works on holidays here. I love the French respect for leisure time. It makes it difficult to find a shop open on Sundays but forces you to slow down and enjoy yourself. Collective laziness has its benefits.
So I had to be weighed in just four days after my arrival. I was a little nervous. Everyone seemed to have lost very little, if I go 500 grams at a time in the beginning when weight loss is rather rapid I'm going to be here for another 10 years! I kept wondering if that pasta they gave us last night with a slice of baguette was going to hamper the weight loss I was hoping for in these four days of relative hunger. Before I went in, I told the girl sitting next to me that I was afraid. The young are so much easier to talk to, they are free of the arrogance and intolerance that comes with age. She smiled and said not to worry, she had lost one kilo seven, her first week.
It was finally my turn, I went into the room and smiled at the nurse like a good student who has done her homework, and again expressed my nervousness. She said something she probably says 15 times a day, to the effect that if you follow the plan it will happen. I was wearing the same gown as the first day, took off everything else I possibly could, even my watch! I stepped on the scale and looked down, but I really couldn't see because of my protruding stomach. I tucked in my gown so that I could see, and lo and behold there seemed to be couple of kilos lost! I wasn't sure so I looked at the nurse waiting for her assessment. She looked and repeated the lovely number that I had seen, 2.7 kilos! I jumped up and hugged her tiny body. She said something encouraging, like, well done, I don't remember well.
I walked out of the weighing room into the waiting one, slowest I could, and declared, in clear and steady French: 2.7 kilos! There were gasps and the gay guy named Nestor, whom I loved like a brother at that moment, hugged me and told me that I have to treat everyone to a glass of Champagne on the weekend. Forget Gertrude Stein, I came out of that room feeling like an emperor, like Cyrus the Great, proud that I had beaten everyone at this game. Like a boss. Like a Persian Boss! Are all of us this competitive?