Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change

Archive for April 2010

CHAPTER 46: HOW A SMILE A DAY HELPS

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I’m taking the advice of two “experts” on happiness: Gretchen Rubin and Edward de Bono.

Rubin’s year-long experiment in testing all the theories of happiness resulted in her 2009 best-seller, The Happiness Project. The much more famous Dr. de Bono, who created the theory of lateral thinking, published The Happiness Purpose in 1977. His is the intellectual yin to Rubin’s populist yang.

Both regard happiness as a reasonable outcome of anyone’s life. De Bono writes: “The foundation of happiness is recognized as the importance of self and the achievement of dignity.” He wanted a new religion, one that was not based on suffering, but “based on the belief that the legitimate purpose of life is happiness.”

Rubin is more prosaic, albeit much more attuned to the sound-bite nature of our current world. She advises, among other aphorisms: “Lighten up. Let it go. Do it now. There is only love.”

Why contemplate happiness? Simple.

Everyone who launches a self-improvement campaign comes to a low spot in her journey. Diet gurus call it a “plateau” — day after day, the same number on the same scale, seemingly regardless of what’s been eaten, what’s been drunk, what’s been tried. Depression sets in: Not, I hasten to add, the clinical variety, but just the blah feeling one gets when impatient for amazing results pronto.

That’s the kind of thinking that makes diet and exercise programs and plans a multi-billion-dollar industry. I know better. I know that nothing permanent comes without hard work and persistence. After all, I’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, too. Given his notion that one needs 10,000 hours of practice in order to become proficient at something, at my age, I’ve had nearly a half-million hours of “practicing” weight control, since I turned 10 years old and some doctor told my mother to put me on a diet.

But, of course, gravity and age are working against me. Certainly, I could hire a personal trainer, as some of my friends have done. Of course I could write down every single bit of food and drink that passes my lips, as Weight Watchers advises — the reason their programs are so successful. But, I have to live like this for, oh I’d say about another 30-odd years and I have no intention of obsessing that long. Of course, I have all of those 30-odd years to be successful, but I’ve already set a time limit of one year for this “challenge for change.”

So, being blue that I don’t look younger and my body is not responding faster, I do what all intelligent people do — seek advice from reputable sources. Not for nothing do I have books in nearly every room in the house and hundreds of reference books in the downstairs office. They are, to me, a source of inspiration and delight. When my husband bought me the complete Oxford English Dictionary — all 20 volumes (it arrived in five separate boxes) — friends questioned why, in the age of the Internet and Google, he would waste money buying a dictionary, albeit the world’s foremost authority on words and their origins. But Ted knows his wife better than anyone, and the sheer idea of owning these books is a source of constant enjoyment for me.

Books also provide what my friend from the University of Calgary, Dr. David Taras, refers to as “unexpected consequences.” If you ask a specific question on a computer, you will likely get a specific answer. The beauty of the written word, in a book, is that unexpected consequence of flipping through the pages. One never knows what will catch one’s eye.

The other problem with computers isn’t the speed with which they deliver information to you, it’s the constant question of whether what the search engine is delivering is actually the truth. If it’s in the Oxford English Dictionary, I know it’s true. As eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the editor of the New York Sun in 1897, asking if there really was a Santa Claus, because her father had told her “if you see it in The Sun, it’s so,” thereby evoking the world’s most famous and lasting newspaper editorial, some references are more believable than others

Especially in this age where anyone with a computer, a modem and an opinion — no matter how ill-formed, ill-informed or ignorant — can broadcast such to the world, those of us of a certain age are more likely to turn to sources other than the World Wide Web.

I turn to books, to music (Chopin’s sprightly polonaises), occasionally to a stiff shot of Scotch or two, although I bet any doctor reading this would be quick to point out to me that liquor is a depressant in and of itself. My reply to that pious and know-it-all advice isn’t printable, as it would include some of the English language’s more notable and sadly, most publicly abused, words.

Dodie Smith, the English writer most famous for her children’s classic, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, prescribes: “noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.” As is, I might add, the advent of spring, although the last (fingers crossed) winter storm is, at the moment, pelting us with snow, ice and winds. Somewhere out there tulips and daffodils are blooming.

Women of my age are the in-between generation — straddling the 1950s world of our housebound mothers and the unfettered world of our daughters and granddaughters. My mother had few if any choices of the role she would play; her granddaughters have all the choices in the world.

They can, in a sense, have it all. Maybe not all at the same time, but Peggy Ford’s four granddaughters can choose to get married, have babies, have a career or stay at home, or, indeed, do both either laterally or simultaneously.

For my mother, once she became pregnant with me, she had to quit work, even though as a nurse in London during the war, her skills were valuable. But not so valuable to allow a visibly pregnant women to continue to work. I don’t know if she wanted to quit or not, all I know is that she never complained to me.

So I was raised as a product of the white-bread 1950s and somewhere in the middle of my 20s, feminism happened and that comfortable but stifling world changed, mostly for the better.

Calgarian Verna Reid, after a career as a teacher, completed her doctoral thesis at age 75 in 2003. She writes eloquently in that work, entitled Women Between. While her thesis concerns four women artists who came to prominence in middle age, Reid also has words for all of us. She writes about the artists’ successes as being “achieved by coming to terms with the life processes of aging and with mortality.”

Art acts, writes Reid, both to “consolidate the sense of self and to bring into being new aspects of self. Old age, on the other hand attended as it is by the gradual deterioration of the body, brings with it a diminishing sense of self. One feels betrayed by one’s body and one’s world becomes smaller as one’s range of activity becomes more limited. The resultant loss of the sense of self is exacerbated by the rampant ageism in our society, an ageism that is especially virulent in the case of aging females.”

Reid quotes York University’s professor emerita, Shelagh Wilkinson, long an activist for women: “Old women who use their age to tap into sources of their own creativity remain vital and visible. They are like beacons showing us all new stories and new symbols to live by.”

Indeed, if anyone wants to know why I write this, the answer is contained in those sentences. Remaining vital and visible should be a goal for every woman, regardless of her age.

And helping me on that path (and Ted, too) is the amazing Helen Mikuska whose core fitness classes at the Yoga and Meditation Centre in Marda Loop are the perfect antidote for self-pity. The spring sessions started a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve signed up for the season. No one could possibly remain blue in one of her weekly classes, to which she brings enthusiasm, laughter and determination. It’s little wonder the same students return session after session.

And it’s little wonder that a session with Helen serves to banish anyone’s lingering case of “the blues.”

So despite being slow to make change a reality, every day I remind myself that just the act of smiling, of moving my lips upward serves to create an uplift of the soul.

NEXT: Banishing the “frailty myth.”

Written by Catherine Ford

April 29, 2010 at 3:25 pm

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CHAPTER 45: CHOCOLATE, CHOCOLATE EVERYWHERE, BUT NOT A CRUMB TO EAT

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Obviously, there are apologies to be made to the fans of Samuel Taylor Coleridge who will recognize in the title of this chapter, a paraphrase of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner in which appears the phrase: “Water, water every where/ Nor any drop to drink.”

That sort of explains both the state of my refrigerators (doesn’t every modern house have at least two?) and the state of my mood at the moment.

The “grey-beard loon” of the poem, who recounts his dreadful days on the ocean — “Alone, alone, all, all alone/ Alone on a wide, wide sea!” — has no resemblance to my own greybeard, who has managed to stash 14 chocolate bars in the upstairs refrigerator and 14 in the downstairs one. The reason the 28 bars are split between the two fridges is because each of them is 400 grams in weight and won’t fit all together. (And yes, there are more in the cabin.)

There wasn’t always such a cornucopia of chocolate in the house, but when Ted thought maybe Wal-Mart was getting out of the business of dealing in Belgian chocolate he panicked and started to buy whatever he could find.

“Hoarder” is the word that comes to mind. I suggested once that perhaps in a previous life, Ted was Mormon and is still compelled to keep a year’s worth of food stashed in the room we refer to as “basement storage.”

(Explanations here must include the fact we live in an inner-city bungalow first built in 1921 on the original Canadian Pacific Railway lands and subsequently renovated into a back-split. This means there is an original basement, now is part of the office/laundry room level and an additional crawl space half a level below, just tall enough for one of us to crab-walk through to check the furnace and big enough for all the stuff people normally store in their basements.

Therefore — by way of a long explanation — the original basement only contains stuff we use occasionally, like suitcases, the Christmas decorations and Ted’s horde of foodstuffs.)

The thinking in the family is that “come the revolution,” they’re all heading over here to be assured of having enough food to eat. Except they really haven’t itemized the horde, as I have. At the moment, it includes 14 one-kilogram cans of vacuum-packed coffee bought at fire-sale prices; 25 cans of salmon (ditto the sale price); assorted cases of pop; three jars of tomato sauce, the last case of Stretch and Seal (out of about seven 12-roll cases bought at liquidation prices); the last three-kilogram box of Sunlight dishwasher detergent; three boxes of brown Sugar Twin sugar substitute; assorted cans of fruit, smoked oysters, a single large jar of sauerkraut (yuk), three different sizes of tomato juice in tins, a few cans of diced tomatoes and half a dozen cans of beef consommé.

There are also various other “essentials” — stuff we couldn’t find in Calgary when we were looking for them, such as two large cans of Old Bay seasoning brought by a friend from Arizona; four jars of colossal queen olives (for Ted’s martinis) from Edmonton, and three jars of special bourguignon sauce brought from Montreal. Oh, and a case of beer, four cases of wine — three from the Opimian Society; one the leftovers of various purchases (who buys one bottle of wine at a time) — and a case of bottled water.

The water was purchased after Toronto had a black-out that cut power to the city for days. Our friends were prepared with an emergency box (actually labeled by Marie as “for emergencies.”) Her family scoffed at her until the power went our and stayed out. The story caused me to buy the water, check to make sure the house had non-electric equipment (like a can opener) and stock up on batteries for the radio and flashlights.

So, yes, we are prepared for emergencies. You’ll notice I did not mention the chocolate in that list. That’s because chocolate doesn’t keep well in the heat, as Ted learned the only year he decided to buy me a chocolate Easter bunny and stored it in his car trunk, so it wouldn’t melt in that year’s unexpected April touch of summer. Apparently he did not understand the physics involved in tin cans and heat from the sun. When he retrieved it, the bunny had melted down into something that resembled a solid chocolate turtle and was about the same texture.

Ergo, the chocolate bars are stored in the refrigerator. (I suggested the freezer, but Ted pooh-poohed the idea.)

All of this may explain why Ted is moved to buy in bulk and why I prefer not to go grocery shopping with him.

On a trip to Wal-Mart on Macleod Trail, he rounded a corner of the aisle where I was looking for something or other, brandishing an entire 12-bar case and a cheek-wide grin. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said, when I started to laugh at his “find.” Naturally, I told everyone.

He returned from a weekend visit to the grandchildren on Denman Island, off the coast of Victoria with a suspiciously heavy overnight bag. Heavy, because while on the island with his younger daughter, Laura and her family, he had paid a visit to the Wal-Mart in Comox and took the opportunity to stock up.

These aren’t just any chocolate bars, but extra dark Belgian chocolate, each weighing nearly a pound. None of them are mine. They constitute my husband’s love of extra dark chocolate and surely must be among the best bargains available at just over $4 each. (Although I noticed the price has increased recently from $3.79. Still, they are a bargain.)

One would think all of this chocolate in the refrigerator would pose a too-close-for-comfort temptation for someone on a campaign like mine. Not a bit of it, which may explain my sour mood — a houseful of chocolate and nothing I like to eat. Alas, I don’t like dark chocolate, even when its health benefits are explained.

So Ted contents himself with a midnight snack of dark chocolate, getting all the benefits and not gaining any weight. Combine the chocolate with the red wine he loves, and Ted’s “bad” habits turn out to be good ones, at least according to my friends and colleagues at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta, NWT and Nunavut. I say “colleagues” because for some bizarre reason, they’ve invited me to be on one of their boards. They talk about “flavonoids” and “good” cholesterol as opposed to “bad” cholesterol and all the health benefits of eating dark chocolate.

Mention Ted’s chocolate bars and whammo, information up the yin-yang. Flavonoids, in red wine and dark chocolate, are not a strong breath mints, but antioxidants which “protect the body from free radicals which can cause damage leading to heart disease.” (I didn’t want to ask about free radicals in case I was buried under another flurry of paper.)

And red wine? Talk about the “French paradox,” according to researchers who noted “there was a 40 percent lower mortality from ischemic heart disease among people in France despite the high amount of saturated fats in their diet.”

Here comes the best part: Moderate consumption of red wine and dark chocolate increases good cholesterol and blood flow, lowers blood pressure and reduces the effect of bad cholesterol.

I’m in, I nod my head enthusiastically. I should have stopped reading right at that point, before I got to the sentence that announced that such benefits were not found from white chocolate, milk chocolate or dark chocolate consumed with milk. And then I read that the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends a maximum of one to two servings of alcohol per day. I guess drinking half a bottle of red wine (Ted drinking the other half) is not considered copacetic.

The bars Ted buys are, I discovered through a blog called Filberts and Chocolates: “artisan chocolate from Belgium. They are made in the small Belgian town of Aarschot, made exclusively for WaterBridge. It can be debated, and is, that Belgian chocolate is among the best in the world, but the proof is in the tasting. With their large size comes a small price, surprisingly, about $4.”

Another Web site talks about dark chocolate and how one’s palate has be matured to come to appreciate dark chocolate. “You will soon realize that it is full of subtle distinctions similar to wine . . . Cocoa is harvested, fermented and blended, just as grapes are. Like fine wine, good chocolate has terroir . . . Give it a try; chances are you actually never tasted real chocolate before.”

Maybe I need to take another taste of Ted’s chocolate. (When he isn’t looking, of course.) Maybe I have an adolescent’s palate, unused to the fine taste of extra-dark chocolate. And just to be really helpful, the writers also include some hints on how to “work off” the 180 calories in three pieces or 100 grams of the chocolate.

Here are some of the more amusing ones: To burn off 180 calories: Sit quietly in church, meditate or watch a movie for 165 minutes. Take a shower, be an usher in church, or sew by hand, for 83 minutes. Scrub the floor on your hands and knees for 44 minutes. Try lawn bowling or being a stagehand in a theatre for 55 minutes. If time is a concern, you’ll burn off the chocolate calories by skiing downhill for 28 minutes, belly dancing for 37 minutes or playing handball for 14 minutes.

No calories burned for looking at the treadmill on which I should be walking at the moment.

NEXT: Back to reality with Helen and her fiendish lunges.

Written by Catherine Ford

April 22, 2010 at 3:26 pm

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CHAPTER 44: STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES

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Exactly how stupid do the people who make and market Diesel jeans think young women are?

The simple answer is real stupid and real gullible if Diesel, an Italian fashion company, believes its advertising campaign — Be Stupid — will attract female buyers who use their brains to think with when they’re buying clothes.

This is not idle indulgence. Young women willing to spend upwards of $200 for a pair of jeans aren’t a target market any company can ignore.

The company’s attempt at cutting-edge advertising appears in Lou Lou, a six-year-old Canadian shopping/ fashion magazine. The ad posits that: “Smart may have the brains, but stupid has the balls. Be Stupid.”

There may be enough young women without any brains at all who think this ad — accompanied by a grainy black-and-white picture of a woman in jeans standing on a ladder, flashing her bare breasts at a security camera — says something to them, enough for them to buy Diesel jeans. The company is right on one level — if you buy these jeans you are, indeed, stupid. Worse than that, you are telling anyone who has seen the ad that you wish to be seen as stupid.

Where’s the attraction in that? Being stupid is not a route to achievement, satisfaction or happiness. It’s just a route to being, well, stupid. Hello, stupid! Want that posted on your Facebook page? Do you really want employers to think you’re stupid, or are you among the legion of young women who refuse to believe there are consequences to their actions?

No one is suggesting that buying a pair of jeans will turn you into fodder for a Girls Gone Wild episode, but by the same token, the company isn’t suggesting keeping your top on in public is a smart move. Which it is. Who knows these days where the cameras are? (They’re everywhere, as anyone with a cellphone can attest.)

Marketing campaigns aren’t designed to protect the consumer, but to attract her. Dove’s so-called Campaign For Real Beauty is designed to attract the ordinary woman into buying the company’s products through using “ordinary” women in their advertising. What, then, does the Diesel ad say to young women? Something along the lines of “hey, stupid, buy our jeans and flash your tits at the world.”

Why am I so angered by such an appeal? Because being stupid is nothing to be proud of.

Forrest Gump — a paean to stupidity — was a movie I loathed. It was based on a giant falsehood — that regardless of one’s abilities, anything is possible. It was the big-screen version of Robert Fulghum’s best-selling book of aphorisms, All I Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.

The movie’s premise is based on a lie. Not just any kind of lie, but the sort that makes people believe that equality of opportunity is the same as equality of ability; that form and substance are identical.

Tom Hanks deserved the Oscar for his portrayal of the naïve simpleton who became a hero, but despite the 1994 movie’s multiple Academy Awards — Oscars for actor, picture and director — its premise was one of those core American values that lull ordinary people into believing that all they have to do is work hard, pray and believe and they can accomplish anything.

I don’t know how the so-called “disabled community” regarded the movie and the notion there is nothing that can’t be achieved if you believe in yourself hard enough. It’s a positive message, but there are limits to what an intellectually challenged person can accomplish, regardless of how much he wants something. Frankly, I’d like a rocket scientist to actually design the machines that take people into space.

But that’s not the point. When Forrest Gump’s mother tells him that stupid is as stupid does, it resonates for everyone. The most brilliant person is capable of stupid actions.

Therefore, I’d like to know what imbecile designed the magazine ads for Diesel jeans, what simpleton approved them and what nincompoop actually printed them. Because they — there’s more than one — are offensive, sexist, ignorant and just plain wrong.

They tell young women their bodies are nothing more than fodder for Peeping Toms, their selves little more than currency on the flesh marketplace and something not worth protecting.

Cornell University professor Joan Jacobs Brumberg writes in her introduction to her 1997 study of American girls and their relationship with their own bodies, entitled The Body Project: “The female body poses an enormous problem for American girls and it does so because of the culture in which we live. . . . Although girls now mature sexually earlier than ever before, contemporary American society provides fewer social protections for them, a situation that leaves them unsupported in their development and extremely vulnerable to the excesses of public culture and to pressure from peer groups.”

One of the sons of friends who has grown up to become a husband, lawyer and the father of a six-year-old daughter ranted on the phone to me when he saw the ad. He ripped it from his wife’s copy of Lou Lou so his daughter wouldn’t see it.

The reason he would do so, is that as an adult he can recognize the dangers that lurk later in life for young girls who are growing up in a society in which privacy is a forgotten concept and exhibitionism is considered part of being “free.” Brumberg writes about the “projects” on which young girls embark to remake their bodies into whatever form society demands of them.

And why I would be so interested is that in trying to get fit and get healthy, there is also an underlying thread of social pressure to not look old, flabby and unattractive. None of us, at any age, are unaffected by such social pressures. At least when you’re my age you can recognize them for what they are.

As society demands more exhibition of the body, more internal control and self-discipline becomes necessary. Writes Brumberg: “By the 1920s, both fashion and film had encouraged a massive ‘unveiling’ of the female body, which meant that certain body parts — such as arms and legs — were bared and displayed in ways they had never been before.” It doesn’t take much to chart the path in less than a hundred years from bare arms and legs to bare breasts, to the piercing of nipples and genitals in an effort to keep some part of the self private.

Even as the narcissists and self-absorbed exhibitionists flash their breasts, the argument is made that it is their choice to do so and the act is a form of liberation.

Okay, honey, but don’t come crying to me in ten years when you don’t get the job you wanted as a teacher or a lawyer or in any other profession where a modicum of discretion and some smidge of self-respect is demanded.

Those of us who are offended are not just old fogies trying to clamp down on your self-expression. We are the employers and investigators who are now using social media to check up on what an applicant has posted on his or her site. Bare breasts don’t get you into the boardroom except as a paid companion, and unless that’s your goal in life, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.

What seems fun and daring now, as the Diesel ad is trying to promote, won’t seem so much fun when your application for employment is tossed out because you’re not “suitable.”

As Jeremy Phan writes on his Sync blog: “As someone with a widespread online presence, I’m always very careful to control what I post. It’s a delicate balancing act between living in a connected, online world and maintaining personal privacy.”

Megan Griffith-Greene, writing in last October’s This Magazine: “Never before has so little been kept private; now everything is published, and every inch of women’s bodies scrutinized.”

Even as I spend this year writing about myself and my personal campaign, about my family and some of the influences that have marked my life, there is much I choose to keep private.

Privacy, like virginity, can only be squandered once.

NEXT: Red wine and chocolate a recipe for healthy living.

Written by Catherine Ford

April 12, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

CHAPTER 43: THE COMPLEX ROAD TO SIMPLICITY

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Life shouldn’t be simple. That statement flies in the face of the relentless marketing of simplicity as a lifestyle. Its head cheerleader? The magazine Real Simple. This year it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary of virtuously telling women how to make their lives simpler and marketing all the stuff to do so. (In one of its first issues, it told grown-ups how to do laundry. That was the last issue I bought.)

Life shouldn’t be simple. Regardless of Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie’s four-year reality television escapades, The Simple Life isn’t. And despite the attitudes of a couple of simpering kids of wealth and privilege, jobs such as waiting tables, mucking out barns and other menial work are honourable labour, not a cause for snide remarks.

Such work may not be intellectually challenging — forgive me if I snicker very loudly here at including two spoiled and pampered American princesses in the same breath as words that indicate brain power and endurance —but such jobs are worthy of respect.

I learned my lesson while attending the University of Alberta working at Canada Packers in Edmonton for two summers.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that working alongside the advantaged sons and daughters of means and choice — we were going to university which bespoke a certain status — might not be the most welcome thing for full-time employees. The men and women we worked with did the various factory jobs because that was what they could do, not necessarily what they wanted to do. We students were there to earn money knowing full well this was not our future. But something told me from day one that swanning about telling experienced workers how to do their job better — as did one summer employee — was no avenue to a comfortable and rewarding job for the next four months.

The snot-nosed kid (as one beefy guy in the bacon department called him) was lucky to get through the summer without losing any fingers, the revenge being meted out to him for his know-it-all attitude ranging from simple shunning to dangerous ostracism, not the best atmosphere when working with sharp objects.

But, I learned the lesson quickly and well and my summers passed without incident, other than being a magnet for the neighbourhood cats. Why? Working with sausage meat and casing at a time before such chores were automated inevitably meant something would always stick to your person. The first summer, working as a wiener packer (insert brand of stupid, sexist joke here) my father would threaten to hose me down in the backyard before letting me in the house. The reason was simple: the ripe smells of the kill floor and the rendering floor which, regardless of how far away you were working in the plant, clung inexorably to one’s clothes. The next summer, as a wiener hanger, when the casings would break, some of the mixture would end up splattered on you and thus, the attraction for the neighbourhood cats.

They were simple jobs, indeed, but they came with a complex social structure.

Life shouldn’t be simple. It should be satisfyingly complex, so that when we fail, we can blame it on the difficulty of negotiating life’s treacherous paths.

That’s a good metaphor for those of us who struggle with our health and our weight. And the collection of “wisdom” I’ve accumulated in the past six months would lead one to believe all of this is frustratingly complex. I’ve amassed an amazing pile of research — dozens of newspaper clippings, myriad of magazine articles, reams of print-outs from Google searches and at least a couple of dozen books, from Fat is a Feminist Issue to In Defense of Food all piled around my desk. Magazines from The New York Times food issue to Women’s Health have joined the books.

All of this advice from others has been consulted and quoted from in the past six months. Some has been useful, some has been insightful. All have made promises.

When I was a teenager, it was fashionable to blame one’s excess weight on “glands.” I can clearly remember my mother snorting whenever she heard this, not because there wasn’t a single case of “glandular” disorders, but because most of the women spouting this nonsense refused to learn a simple truth: if the calories ingested are more than the calories expended, weight gain is the obvious outcome.

Perhaps my mother was somewhat less kind than other kids’ mothers, but blame that on her no-nonsense practicality. She knew the difference between the fat that comes from overeating and the fat that comes from cortisone or steroid treatments.

Margaret Ford wasn’t much on self-reflection or analysis nor one to dwell on the past, preferring to ignore what couldn’t be changed. But she wasn’t prepared to lie to herself or let others do so. So, whenever the subject of being overweight came up, she always had a simple answer: Eat less. Move more.

After our brother was born in 1957, Mother decided she needed to lose weight, so she went to work. Not paid work, there was no question about that at the time, but physical work. Mother was the kind of person who believed logic would solve every problem, so she assumed, logically, that the combination of our house in Edmonton lacking a patio and her needing to lose weight offered an opportunity not to be missed.

The fact that a 1950’-era housewife would not think it unusual to buy bags of cement, find a hand-operated machine to rent and to mix the ingredients for concrete and then lay a patio by herself explains a lot about Peggy Ford. (She once told her husband she had bought a piano as it was being delivered to the house. She also spent most of her life trying to get people to call her Margaret, but was saddled with Maggie and Peggy all of her life except for the final two years when, having to move into a new place where no one knew her, she succeeded in her quest.)

I don’t think any of us children ever thought our mother was different than anyone else’s, except for the fact she did stuff other mothers didn’t and our father couldn’t. She was completely unafraid to tackle any job from knocking down a concrete block wall in the basement to teaching her eldest child — me — to drive. (This came after my nerves and Dad’s impatience reached an impasse and Mother took over.)

Because she was willing to attack any job, regardless of whether she had previously learned how to wire a lamp or fix a toilet, Clint, Susan and I never thought it strange that Mother always had a project on the go, whether it was making clothes for her daughters or, one year when Clint was in high school, making him the pigskin jacket he wanted.

I came home from school one day to discover her with a saw in her bedroom, dismantling what had been her bedroom vanity before remaking it into two night tables. She had previously destroyed the ugly breakfast nook because she kept bruising herself on the immovable table. In a fit of pique she took an axe to it and the benches, tossing the detritus into the back lawn and setting up the card table and chairs in its place until they could buy a kitchen table and chairs.

As a result, nothing Mother said or tried surprised us. So, if she didn’t believe that some glandular disorder was the cause of one’s obesity, she communicated that fact in her inimitable fashion — she dismissed it as a pathetic excuse. Maybe that’s the reason I’ve never tried to blame forces beyond my control on my life-long struggle with my weight — even when I wasn’t, in any rational opinion, overweight.

So obviously, when tackling what is essentially a problem of logic — less and better food combined with more and better exercise should, by logic, lead to a leaner, fitter life.

And it all boils down to two simple statements: If you eat too much, you’ll get fat. If you don’t move enough, you’ll get flabby. Combine the two and you have the perfect recipe for a sickly old age.

I guess much of life really is simple.

NEXT: Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty notwithstanding, advertisers still think we’re so much packaged meat on two legs.

Written by Catherine Ford

April 6, 2010 at 10:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized