Are you not terribly interested in spending endless hours in a gym? Or missing out on your favorite foods? In her new book, “How to Never Look Fat Again,” Charla Krupp explains how women of all ages and sizes can use smart styling tricks to drop a dress size or cover up any unflattering flab. An excerpt:
Raise your hand if you think you look fat. YOU’RE NOT ALONE. Almost every woman I know thinks she looks fat — even women who exercise every day, eat nothing but salads and salmon, and wear a size 6 or less!
The truth is, I think I’m fat, too. I can’t stand that I’ve gained weight. In this past year, I have weighed many more pounds than I’d like to. As women, I think that we all carry three different weight numbers around in our head: the number of pounds we would love to weigh (in our dreams), the number we can live with comfortably, and then the number that makes us feel like we are fat. I’m sure you know what I mean. I know my numbers; you know yours. And even though the number that makes me feel fat is still within the normal healthy range for a person of my height (five feet), those extra pounds make a huge difference in how I feel, how I approach the world, and I how I dress that day.
What’s worse — it’s getting harder and harder for me to keep my weight down than it was a few years ago. I’m trying — really, I am — because this creeping poundage cannot continue with every passing year. At least that’s what I tell myself.
The good news is that even though I think I’m fat, most other people don’t. They don’t see the way my middle now divides into three sections. They would never know that my favorite jeans hardly zip up anymore — or that when I do try to zip them, a bulge squeezes out over the waistband. They don’t know that I’ve had to increase my cup size; or that my upper arms, when not under wraps, jiggle; or that cellulite lurks beneath that high-waist, long-legged piece of shapewear.
If you don’t see all that, it’s because I’ve become an expert at hiding the fat. Not by dieting and exercise — though I’m a fervent believer in both — but by wearing the right clothes in flattering fabrics, colors, and shapes and styling them with distracting accessories; by having the best supportive bra that lifts me up and gives me a couple extra inches of torso; by wearing the highest heels I can comfortably stand in; and by holding my head high, my shoulders back, and being aware of my posture. I’ve gathered more than a thousand tips like these that go way beyond curating a closetful of black — which is not only depressing but fools no one.
I knew some of this from thirty-plus years of editing fashion magazines (Glamour, InStyle, People: StyleWatch, Shop Etc.), directing the beauty coverage for Glamour, and running the beauty Web site eve.com; writing about style for publications like the New York Times, Time, and More magazine; and serving as a TV style expert for Today, Oprah, CBS Early Show, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, and others. But I wanted to take this book beyond my own experience, so I went out and interviewed every expert I knew — fashion stylists, beauty talents, shoe designers, bra specialists, retailers, cosmetic dentists, dermatologists, podiatrists, plastic surgeons, wardrobe advisers, eyewear pros, nutritionists, fitness gurus, etc. — to help me put together the ultimate master class on Hiding the Fat. Because we all need to have an easy-to-reference book on this subject sitting on our nightstands, right now.
Just as my first book, How Not to Look Old, helped women around the world learn fast and effortless ways not to look old, this is the essential book that pulls together all the latest information on what you need to do not to look fat.
The question that every woman I know asks herself before she walks out of the house is not, “Do I look chic?” or even, “Do I look good?” but rather, “Do I look fat?” Don’t blame yourself for not knowing the answer. Obviously, a lot of us don’t, because if we did, we wouldn’t be walking around in the clothes we’re currently walking around in. No woman wants to look fat or has said to herself at the time of purchase: “I realize that this dress will actually make me look ten pounds heavier, but I’m good with that.” Every woman believes that she’s making a wise buy. So how come we often get it so wrong?
The body-shape approach toward what to wear — forever discussed in style books, fashion magazines, and on TV style segments — isn’t working. Many women are still baffled by those body-shape paradigms — pear shape, apple shape, etc. — and have difficulty identifying with the model they’re supposed to resemble because of all the variables: height, frame, muscle tone, age, where you live, what kind of work you do, and where you shop.
Nor am I a fan of those style books that try to reduce looking good to mathematical equations. Personally, I don’t enjoy doing math. So please don’t ask me to get out a tape measure and take my own measurements, then whip out a calculator and do a series of calculations to match them with a chart that determines my shape and fashion category.
And what about those style guides that ask us to identify with a celebrity and take her fashion cues? Oh, please! I’m not interested in channeling my inner Audrey or Jackie. Grown-up women don’t feel the need to copy anyone else, be it a dead style icon or current Hollywood star. For me, the problem with so many of these style guides for women is that they’re written by men. What I don’t think many male style gurus realize is that most of us are proud of the women we have become. We are comfortable with who we are and what we have achieved; we love and appreciate our bodies for what they have done for us. It’s just that our bodies sometimes don’t reflect the real woman inside, for a whole host of reasons, some of which are beyond our control! We have strong opinions about fashion and know how we want to look. Maybe it’s romantic one day, classic the next, boho the day after that. This is why I also don’t go for style manuals that insist that we categorize our style personalities — sexy, preppie, ladylike — and stick with it; they don’t allow us the freedom to be whoever we want to be on any given day.
As for books and magazines and TV shows predicated on looking good naked — they’re unrealistic. While it would be a dream to look good without clothes, I think that’s raising the bar too high. At this stage, I will happily settle for looking good dressed — the way I look in my normal everyday life. Are you with me?
That’s why I’ve come up with a fast and simple way to determine whether a piece of clothing is going to pack on the pounds. It’s the “No Fat Clothes” Diet. All you have to do is think about each piece of clothing in terms of how fattening it is for you. Assess whether a particular item is high fat or no fat. Simply steer clear of high-fat clothes, those guaranteed to make you look fatter than you are. Wear no fat as often as you can. How easy is that?
For speed, the first part of How to Never Look Fat Again is organized by body parts. You know what your personal issues are better than anyone else, so if you’re time crunched, you can read about just that specific part. Or, if you only want to focus on how you look when you’re at the gym or on special occasions, go to the chapters that zero in on tricky purchases such as swimwear, workout gear, and evening dresses.
My message in How Not to Look Old, where I talked about all the tricks I’ve learned to help you hide your age, was that it’s not just a matter of vanity. Looking young is essential today to your personal survival in a competitive work world and a youth-obsessed culture. I feel exactly the same way about not looking fat. Just as looking old is a stigma in the workplace, so is showing the extra pounds. Even if we don’t like it, that’s the way it is.
It’s not news that being overweight is a stumbling block to success in America and that overweight people are often subjected to discrimination at work. Ten years ago, Mark Roehling, then a professor of management in the business school at Western Michigan University, analyzed twenty-nine weight-loss studies in addition to his own and concluded that weight discrimination in the workplace is worse for women than men. “Women who are even slightly overweight suffer a wage penalty,” Roehling said. “In contrast, men who are slightly overweight experience a wage bonus. They actually earn a little bit more.” Weight discrimination, he concluded, is an acceptable bias in America, because people he spoke with didn’t feel the need to hold back their anti-fat prejudices. (“Weight-Based Discrimination in Employment: Psychological and Legal Aspects,” Personnel Psychology, 1999).
Employers can get away with such prejudices because, unlike other minority groups, overweight people aren’t protected by anti-discrimination laws. “If you have three people applying for two jobs and they all have the same objective qualifications, but one is an ex-felon, one is an ex-mental patient, and one is overweight, the one person who won’t get a job is the overweight person,” Roehling said. Shocking, isn’t it?
According to the Obesity Society, inequities for the overweight in “employment settings, health care facilities and educational institutions” were due to “widespread negative stereotypes that overweight and obese people are lazy, unmotivated, lacking in self-discipline, less competent, noncompliant and sloppy.” In fact, weight discrimination was actually found to be more prevalent than race discrimination; it ranked third in discrimination, behind gender and age. (“Perceptions of Weight Discrimination: Prevalence and Comparison to Race and Gender Discrimination in America.” International Journal of Obesity, 2008).
In another study, participants were asked to rate normal-weight and obese job candidates on leadership potential, predicted success, likelihood of selection and starting salary. Normal-weight candidates scored 16 percent higher on the starting salary ranking, and were 14.7 percent more likely to be chosen as the right person for the job (“Do Antifat Attitudes Predict Antifat Behaviors?” Obesity, 2008).
You’d think that with all the attention on weight in our culture, people would stop ordering those cheeseburgers with a side of fries, a milkshake, and apple pie. But the latest statistics show that the number of overweight Americans is growing — and the number of those actually obese is growing even faster. If you fall in that obese group — defined as people who are more than a hundred pounds overweight — you really need to do something about it before you can get the full benefit of my book. Dr. Pamela Peeke — the fitness and nutri-shrink guru who tells it like it is in such books as Fight Fat After Forty, Body for Life for Women, Fit to Live — says that women who are more than fifty pounds overweight are especially in need of addressing the psychological issues underlying their excess weight. “At fifty pounds overweight, there are neon signs flashing,” she explains.
But there’s a big difference between being obese and simply being overweight — the category that most of us fall into. Although the slimming strategies in this book can be useful to everyone, they will have the most dramatic effect on women who are in the healthy weight range but still have a bit more they’d like to lose.
There was a time in my life when I was as much as thirty pounds overweight (you’ll hear more about that on page 71). But even the extra pounds that I’m currently carrying around are getting harder and harder to take off. It’s difficult to believe now, but I used to brag about my ability to lose weight fast. I would pop into a Weight Watchers meeting, have a quick weigh-in, limit myself to 18 points a day, work out a couple of times a week, and — voila! — the weight would always fall off. I felt very confident and in control knowing that I had this fail-safe method that I could always turn to whenever I went off-track. That plan now falls into the category of things I used to believe in that I can no longer rely on — like the stock market and my 401(k). The old tricks for shedding pounds just aren’t working anymore. I’m sure I’m not the only woman who feels this way.
Over the past year, in my effort to lose those extra pounds, I tried the South Beach Diet. I re-upped at Weight Watchers, even registered for weightwatchers.com. I boosted my spinning classes from three days a week to six. I invested in a personal trainer for weight lifting. I bought all the hot new diet books. And as Oprah suggested on her show, I even had my thyroid checked. (Too much information, I’m sure, but yes, I did have an underactive thyroid. Unfortunately, taking medication to keep it in check did not help move the needle on my scale.) Nothing seemed to work.
Finally, my doctor told me that with menopause, women gain an average of six pounds. (I wish that was all that I gained!) Six pounds is perfectly normal; the weight just doesn’t come off so easily anymore, and that’s why women keep putting on pounds as they age. I don’t know how I missed the e-mail about the need to cut back your calories and ramp up your exercise after menopause, but it probably went to spam along with the messages for acai berry cleanse, amazing diet tea, and lose weight with PomClear!
So I decided that I couldn’t do this on my own any longer. I needed professional help. I went to see a nutritionist upon the urging of my friend Andrea Sachs, who was also an experienced Weight Watcher. Dietician and nutritionist Jennifer Andrus was the first to tell me that 18 points a day on Weight Watchers (my old benchmark) was too much food for me. Jen calculated the amount of calories I should consume per day to lose weight; I found out that I was taking in hundreds more calories a day than she figured I should be. What I’ve discovered is that I can’t eat the same as I did ten years ago. No woman can.
The other thing I’ve learned in the past few months is ... I don’t have time for all this! At this particular moment in my crazy-busy life, with the reality of my schedule, my deadlines, my travel, and my priorities, I simply can’t indulge in an all-out, all-consuming body and weight-loss obsession. It would be nice to work out seven times a week, but these days I can barely manage three. I wish I could make healthy nutritious meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but it’s hard to find time to food shop, let alone cook. And I don’t even have kids!
As I’m writing this, I’m reading in W magazine about the Tracy Anderson gym that is opening up in New York City’s Tribeca. Tracy (who you’ll be hearing from later, in chapter 14) is offering up the workout plan of her famous clients like Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow to mere mortals like us. First, you have to get to her studio, then it’s 90 minutes of a grueling workout a day, six days a week. The cost: about a thousand dollar initiation fee plus nine hundred dollar a month dues. She warned W editor Jamie Rosen that if you stop her program, your rear end (never mind your investment) will fall flat and back to its original position after two weeks. Plus there’s a strict dietary component: gallons of green veggie juice, no dairy, no oil, brown rice is the devil, etc. Tracy says she’s almost fully booked, but how many busy women in the real world can not only afford, but realistically commit to this? And for the rest of their lives?
Even if we had the time, money, and discipline of celebrities who make their living on the red carpet and whose cellulite is regularly hunted down by paparazzi to be front and center on magazine covers, is this what we really want to spend our time and our money doing? As evolved as women are right now, isn’t it a throwback to be slaves to an unattainable, unsustainable, unrealistic body image? There is so much important work to be done on a global level and a personal level, isn’t it just a little ridiculous to let the pursuit of the perfect body consume our lives?
Do we really need to have the thighs of Gwyneth? The arms of Madonna or Kelly Ripa? Jessica Simpson gained a few pounds, wore the wrong belt, and suddenly — hello! — she looked like every other American woman at Costco. But her weight gain was national news — the lead story on the entertainment shows, the cover of celebrity magazines, the front page of newspapers across the country. And Valerie Bertinelli? No one had seen her in years, but she became a hot commodity again by revealing her body on national TV (her bikini photos were one of People magazine’s best-selling covers of the year) and was rewarded with her own syndicated TV show — all because she lost fifty pounds! Kirstie Alley, on the other hand, gained back all the weight she once so proudly lost — and her Fat Actress reality show is no longer a reality. Meanwhile, turn on the TV right now and you’ll find at least ten shows about weight loss, from The Biggest Loser to Ruby.
With this book, I’m asking you to give yourself a break! Yes, you should diet. Yes, you should exercise. But you should also realize that even if you dedicated your days to making those few pounds go away, you probably still won’t look as thin as the twentysomething super-skinny celebs who appear in the weekly tabloids and the sixteen-year-old models you see in fashion magazines. (For one thing, no one is airbrushing your rear end and thighs for any dimples of cellulite!) More important, you wouldn’t necessarily be any healthier, either. I know what weight I can go up to and still, according to the physicians’ charts, be considered healthy. I’m not going to go there, partly because I would have a closetful of clothes that I wouldn’t be able to wear. But aside from that, I would just feel fat, not fit. For me to feel confident, happy, and well, I need to look and feel fit, not fat. That’s the goal here.
My point is that if those few extra pounds aren’t unhealthy but simply a matter of looking good — to yourself and to others — why beat yourself up over them? Throughout history, women have manipulated their bodies to conform to the fashionable shape of the time. Only in the last century has the ideal figure become, as Joan Rivers so aptly describes it, an ironing board with big boobs. Why spend all that time and money going overboard to try to replicate the body of Malibu Fitness Barbie? There are so many other things you can do to shed those pounds — or to make it appear that you’ve shed them. And now you have the book that tells you exactly what you need to do.
The bottom line? I don’t have time for a body and weight-loss obsession. And probably, neither do you. Six pounds overweight? Twelve pounds overweight? I say, big deal. I’m not going to kill myself to get rid of them. I’m going to take the easy way out, and I’m inviting you to join me. Now, turn the page, and let’s get you looking thinner by tonight!
From “How to Never Look Fat Again: Over 1,000 Ways to Dress Thinner — Without Dieting!” by Charla Krupp. Copyright © 2010 by Charla Krupp. Used by permission of Grand Central Publishing.