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January 09, 2007

My Big Fat Outrage

By Sarah

Shortly after we were married and, worse, following  a round of marital lovemaking, I was slippingFat_chicks  out of bed when my new husband casually observed that I could afford to lose a few. Pounds that is. Looking back, I forgive him for being a newlywed unaccustomed to the powerful punch sex, body image and weight can pack for women. If he wasn't aware of his folly then, he certainly was aware of it after my tears and questions, the cries and recriminations that I unleashed.

Hell hath no fury like a woman called fat.

Wrestler With the privilege of seventeen years of hindsight (not to pun), I understand where he was coming from. Charlie's fit. Always has been, always will be. For him weight loss is a simple game he learned to play as a championship wrestler sweating out pounds in the sauna, starving for two days before hopping on the scale and qualifying for a lower weight class. I can distinctly recall his confusion at my outrage. So, I needed to drop a few pounds. What was the big deal?

Men deal with their weight without emotion, why can't women? Why was I so upset?

For that answer, one need look no further than yesterday's New York Times and the article on BMI (body mass index) "report cards" dozens of schools across the country are sending home to parents. Go. Read the piece. I'll wait until you come back.

Back yet? Okay. Here's the question: What is the notable thread that runs through this article on how kids and their parents have reacted to the BMI report cards?

Answer: The only students interviewed or profiled are - girls.

That's right. Not one boy in the article. So striking was the absence of how boys felt about being labeled overweight that I had to reread the clip to see if only all girls schools were sending home BMI report cards. Nope. Public schools. Boys and girls. Ha, ha. I guess there were no overweight boys. Right? Right?

Of course there were overweight boys. Probably tons of them. I know because I am embarrassed toVideo_games  say that when I'm burnt out on writing, I like to hang out at EB Games trying the latest version of Guitar Hero. There I've met my share of fluffy adolescent males (and their fathers). Trust me, we do not have a shortage of pudgy boys.

Now, I happen to be from Pennsylvania where most of the reporting for this article was done. Yes, parts of Pennsylvania have lousy, and I mean lousy, eating habits. Funnel cake (as mentioned in the article), smorgasbords, fries, pretzels with cheese - this is the food I grew up with. So when the reporter Jodi Kantor noted that 60 percent of the 8th grade class in a Central Pennsylvania town scored in the 85th percentile or higher for weight (including a fully quarter in the 95th) I know she wasn't talking only girls.

Yet, one paragraph later and the reference is to the "size 20" homecoming queen. Skip down some more to a nearby town and:  "On a recent school trip to New York, the girls felt like visitors from a different, chubbier planet, they said."

Really? How did the boys feel? Did anyone even think to ask?

They were fine, I assume. I imagine that after their New York trip they returned home to their PS2s, helped themselves to Candyanother fistful of Doritos giving nary a thought to their hipper, thinner more urban counterparts.

This reminds me of television shows and movies where the dorky fat guy with LOTS of personality (Jack Black, Jim Belushi, John Belushi, John Candy) somehow ends up with the lithe gorgeous girl. Yet play it in reverse? Nope. Not gonna happen.

I see this male I'm-fat-so-what mindset everywhere, especially the mall. Overweight guy adopts the uniform - loose T-shirt, baggy shorts - shaves his head, grows a goatee or a soul patch, slips on some shades and suddenly he's supposed to be ---- hot?

When is this going to end? When are we going to stop assuming that overweight = overweight girls, that it's more of an attractiveness issue than a health issue?

If we could subtract the emotionally laden subtext embedded in our culture that overweight women are unattractive, unsexy, unstylish possibly under educated and just plain stupid, we might be able to get a handle on this obesity epidemic without bringing women to tears.

When I wrote The Cinderella Pact, my best selling book to date, about women coming to terms with weight loss, the letters I received by the truckload were mostly variations of the same point - thanksCp  for pointing out that weight is just that, weight. Extra pounds. Unburned stored fuel. It has nothing to do with who we are as people. We women need to accept this simple mathematical fact and move on to our goals.

Not so easy to do when the New York Times implies to millions of readers that, really, it's just a girl thing.

Sarah - trying to cool off!


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We were discussing weight loss at lunch a couple of weeks ago, and the women I was with were lamenting how much harder it is for women, especially of a certain age, to lose weight than for men to lose weight. I distilled it down to its essence, which ended up coming out of my mouth as "God loves men better."

And that's that.

Any a fat guy can sing this song by Willie Dixon, arranged by Chester Burnett a.k.a. Howlin' Wolf recording of 1969 from
The Howlin' Wolf Album (Chess 4543)

All you girls think the days are gone
You don't have to worry, you can have your fun
Take me, baby, for your little boy
Three hundred pounds of heavenly joy
This is it
This is it
Look what you get
You been creeping and hiding behind his back
'Cause you got you a man that you don't like
Throw that Jack, baby, outta your mind
Follow me, baby, have a real good time
This is it
This is it
Look what you get
Hoy! Hoy! I'm the boy
Three hundred pounds of heavenly joy
I'm so glad that you understand
Three hundred pounds of muscle and man
This is it
This is it
Look what you get
If the men's all mad then the women's glad
If the little kids' happy then the old folk's mad
I'm so glad that you understand
Three hundred pounds of muscle and man
This is it
This is it
Look what you get

Is there a female counterpart to this kind of song?

You know, I think I married my husband because when we were flipping channels one night we came across "Crossing Jordan." I said that I thought the woman in that show was beautiful and he said....

"Nah, she lost too much weight after she stopped being in Law and Order. She looks like a skeleton."

That was it. The day I decided to say "yes." :D

And Dave...Blues singers, men and women, never worry about weight. For pop music, this whole post has made me remember a song from the 80's by The Rainmakers called "Big, Fat Blonde." The chorus went something like:

"Mama mama mama keep your skinny girls at home,
'Cause this skinny boy wants a big, fat blonde."

I've said this before, so forgive the repetition, but it shocks me that all of the women in the early James Bond films, the ones I grew up with thinking were the very definition of "sexy", would be considered "fat" by today's standards. Barbara Eden, Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, would ALL be considered "overweight" today.

Think about it. Marilyn Monroe. Too heavy to be attractive.

That frightens me. Truly.

I'm afraid I haven't done a very good job of hammering home my point, which is that the New York Times - a mainstream media - did a story about overweight children and decided to focus only on girls. There's another 50 percent we're missing here.

I think Cinema Dave got it best with the Howlin Wolf song. We accept fat boys. We embrace them, if we can get our arms around them. If you're talking an overweight "problem," you're automatically talking girls.

That's the assumption that drives me nuts!

I just finished the Cinderella Pact--required reading IMO if you have a teenage daughter (and your point is well-taken about boys too!)

I'm one of those folks who was skinny throughout high school, but gained (a lot) of weight after my second child was born. Why didn't it just come off like after my first? I don't know.

Anyway, I learned as an adult how cruel the world can be to overweight women. Fortunatey, I was an ADULT at the time and had a lot more coping skills than I would have had as a teen.

Which puts me in awe of larger women who've always been that way and yet somehow manage to love, accept and value themselves even as the world and often their own families send the message that they aren't okay.

Great book Sarah!

Mary Walker

I NEVER said that!!! I've been maligned. Impugned. Defamed. Ill-used.

And I dare not try to make a joke out of this issue because -- brutal experience teaches me -- no matter how innocently one tries, it is an unjokeable issue. Remember how our homophobic society used to call homosexuality "the love that cannot be named?" Well, this is the joke that cannot be made. I have the scars to prove it. (Not that I ever tried, mind you....really. I'm not a total cad.... oh dear.)

I agree with you whole-heartedly, Charlie, although I believe Sarah when she says that you said it, since you were naive in the moods of, well, her. How would you to have known that such a little comment ("Hon, it looks like you're gaining a little cellulite on your tush and thighs") would have caused an entry in the Book of Time?

This morning, I read a quote by my cinematic sister, Rosie O'Donnell, about Trump's calling her "fat." She said, basically, that it's the first thing people call you, and that lots of women came up to her over the past few weeks and empathized with her putting up with his meanness. This doesn't happen to men. Who cares that Orson Welles was fat?

I agree that our society is much more concerned with girls' weight than boys', and Sarah makes a terrific observation about the slant in the NYT article. (Somebody oughta forward this blog to that reporter!).

But I'm the mom of two boys, and I have to say the disparity cuts both ways. Because so much of the desire to be fit is around appearance, boys who don't really care how they look (and really, how many boys care how they look?) think it's okay to ignore weight issues. I have one who'll never have a weight problem (loves sports, loves to move, loves to eat fruit and vegetables!)but another who will always struggle with it (loves to read, loves to eat fattening stuff). How do I motivate that one to control what he eats and get more exercise? Talking to kids about health is sorta meaningless. I just don't think they understand consequences at this age (he's 10). I don't want to give him a complex, and yet it's almost like having the appearance card to play would help!

I know that was politically incorrect.

We just don't talk about it.

Thank you, Josh. You got it. Orson Welles is a perfect example. (Though, talentwise, I'm not sure Rosie gets to be in his universe.)

As for this Book of Time, what, exactly, does Charlie have to do to get his name purged. Does this require fasting?

Thank you, Mary, and welcome! This is a rowdy bunch here.

Michele - I've seen plenty of sedentary 10 year old boys shoot up into athletic young men, though I understand your concern. Maybe a good camp (not a fat camp!) where it's all outside, yet none of the "traditional" sports - i.e. soccer, tennis....And I agree that talking is sort of meaningless. On the other hand, you're such a great role model what with your workout fanaticism that maybe you don't need to talk.

And then there's the issue of a brother's need to distinguish himself from the other.

Good point about parents being concerned about their sons weight.

I believe you, Charlie. I also believe you, Sarah. Because, at the risk of batting for the other team, when it comes to image issues, I think women hear more than is actually said sometimes. Call it insecurity, paranoia, conditioning, whatever. Ask my husband. Not that he'd answer. He learned that lesson long ago.

I see what you are doing, Josh, and I now realize why Sarah appreciates you as a Force of Evil. You are attempting to get me into even hotter water with your spurious speculation about what I might have said. Not that I said anything. Because I didn't. And I can prove it. Sarah claims I said something after lovemaking. What do men do after said act? They fall asleep. Now, unless I was talking in my sleep, it seems to me that you -- the jury -- must find Sarah's memory unreliable and further find me innocent of all charges. I rest.

Sure, Charlie. Whatever, hon.

I forgot to mention BIG NEWS that must be heralded. Michele's upcoming book, The Cover Up, just got a STARRED REVIEW in PW. That's is such a huge deal. It must mean the book is really, really good.

Congratulations, Michele!

Great news, Michele! Sarah, is there a link to this review, so we can all enjoy??

Just read the article. The interesting thing I noticed (besides that apparently only the girls need to be concerned about weight) is that the size 20 beauty queen who is proud of who she is has her body covered up in the picture with a shoulder bag, which is loaded to with additional clothing that covers her hips. You think that was her idea or the newspaper?


We've never met, but you have to trust me on this. Having dealt with the Court of Wifely Order myself a time or two, I can tell you right now your civil liberties and constitutional rights don't mean squat.

1) BIG box of Godiva...I'm talking KILOS of the stuff.

2) Use the words "I'm sorry" freely, even if you're genuinely innocent of all charges.

3) Tell her you love her. A lot. Tell her a lot that you love her a lot.

I've been fortunate in that the above measures have granted me a Stay of Execution upon occasion.

Congratulations, Michele!

As rigid as our culture seems to be about the acceptable range of bodies for women, the same seems to apply to men. Women are expected to be dainty and men need some bulk.

My husband grew up very skinny, his mother spent his childhood trying to fatten him up, by the end of high school he was 6'5" and all of 165 lbs. Ichabod Crane, anyone? Well, metabolism and age caught up with him and he is over his healthy bmi range. Much to my chagrin, he likes the bulk because he felt spindly for so long.

Also, did anyone see Frontier Family on PBS a few years ago? One of the men called in the doctor because he thought he was starving and underweight. The doc told him that he was actually just right, we just have a distorted view of how big men should be.

I did know that he was a keeper when he told me that the dimple on my thigh was cute. Boy, have I gotten cuter!

I saw that too, Cyndi. Frankly, the pictures of all three girls broke my heart. As a mother, I saw three hurting birds. As a woman I saw - this will come across as way too dramatic, but...- individual spirits being tramped down..

Sarah, we live in a state that sends letters to families if the child is obese or borderline. We get one every year. Our beautiful daughter plays sports year round. BMI does not take MUSCLES into account. So we get the letter, which we destroy the minute it arrives, for fear she should see it. I mentioned it to our doctor, and he said our daughter was just fine. So THERE, BMI'ers!

Charlaine Harris

I for one have never heard a single male lament not looking like the Calvin Klein underwear guy. Part of the problem may be that only the female is bombarded with pictures of ultra-thin 'successful' models and the so stereotypical Barbie from little girlhood on. Being a size 0 is good; anything over a 4 is 'fat'. Both genders are consoled (or were in my day) by 'have another cookie', you'll feel better. Food=feeling good. Even the chocolate makers (yes, even Godiva) tell you their product is almost sensual. Food doesn't judge you either as your peers might.
And, you know, I've seen defensive backs in pro football who have such guts on them that it can't be muscle, and yet they're 'athletes'. If a woman looked like that, she'd be pitied and looked down on as obese. Maybe men gauge other men differently than they do women when it comes to poundage.
Can you tell this is a sensitive subject with me? :o) Oh...and my Chuck suggested a little slimming early in our marriage. Once. Only once.

Hey, Charlaine!!

My daughter reminded me yesterday that we get this BMI thing, too. I automatically trash it. (Ever since my Dumpster blog, I save NOTHING!)

William - I have to say that, on paper, you keep getting better and better. First there was that what-do-I-have-to-do-to-get-you-into-my-life line to your wife (sigh) and now Godiva. (Double sigh.)

Though you do know, don't you, that the Godiva's not gonna help those thighs of mine.

Shoot! I got revisions to do!

Sarah, I'm still gasping at the boy-less NY Times article. This kind of thing makes me hopping mad. Not that the hopping is sufficient to burn any significant calories.

Michele, yippie!

CHarlaine, yes. That BMI thing is completely meaningless. Just another height-weight chart, only in this case you need a calculator to tell you you're fat.

Sarah, you were so sweet to mention my review. I'm pretty jazzed. Can't link to it b/c PW is a subscription service but they called it "stellar." I'll shut up about it now.

I think what really need to happen is untangling weight from appearances issues and making it more about health. Then the whole discussion would be more gender neutral.

Great blog, Sarah - and if any of you out there have not read The Cinderella Pact, do it now while you can still buy it in hardcover. This book is a keeper - and don't just take my word for it - at my Book Club's Best We Read of 2006, THREE of us chose it. That has never happened before.

Now, back to today's topic. I am fat and happy. I didn't get fat until I was well into my 30s (the second pregnancy weight just stuck) so I didn't have the high school crap to deal with, and I acknowledge that is a significant difference. The other difference is that I'm not looking for a mate or a date. I'm married. So basically, I don't really give a damn what anyone else thinks.

However - this issue of blatant discrimination is real. Our young women are held to a different standard - not just from our young men, but from the rest of the population. Every image they see - in magazines, in movies, on TV - is of thin women. Sub-zero sizes? How screwed up is that?

Like Charlie, several of my high school boyfriends were wrestlers. I thought it was barbaric and sick - what they went through to 'make weight' before matches. Then it would be really freaky when they'd have a major growth spurt right after the season ended. That's some bad stuff, man. Now those practices are not only acceptable, but recommended for our young women to stay thin. Fasting? Over-exercising? Diuretics?

We are now looking at the second full generation of women with significant hormonal issues as a direct result of some of these things - when a woman's body fat decreases to a certain level, her body no longer produces healthy levels of the hormones she needs to mature and be fertile.

Sorry about the extended comment - but this is a topic that just sets me off.

My son received a BMI report card. It was mailed home to me, though, not given to him. I applaud the school for this: I can deal with the issue with him in a way that won't make him feel bad or embarrass him, rather than him being handed a "you're fat" letter in front of his peers.

When I read the letter... my reaction... first, panic. What do I do? What do I DO? What am I doing WRONG? How do I fix this? Do they think I'm a bad mother? Am I a bad mother? Why is he getting heavy and the girls are staying so thin?

We launched a plan of attack. As a family. We all jump in the car and go to the Y together at night. We work out... together. Talking. Laughing. Sweating. iPods in hand. The BMI report card was a great motivator for us, one we all needed, because despite their slender figures, my girls aren't in shape. Well, maybe the four year old is, but not the 13 year old. And I've been wanting to go FOREVER and had every excuse why I couldn't.

We did go on to discover that my son's weight gain was related to the medication he takes daily for headaches, which made me feel like less of a bad mother and more like one tryinig to conquer a nasty side-effect.

He still doesn't know about the report card. It's irrelevent in the daily scheme of things. We have things to work on, and as a family, we'll do it together.

I am concerned, however, about who is going to have to finance the new wardrobes for the fit, thin us.

Holy crap, Lauren. If that isn't positive testimony to the benefit of BMI report cards!

You should send that in to the NYT!

Good for you.

Hi Kathy: I agree with you. I also think the weight obsession is just one manifestation of perversity in our culture. There are plenty of others.

It seems to me -- thinking of our daughter Anna -- that it is wise to turn one's back on popular culture. Cosmo, People's, Teen Tiger, etc. do the same sort of damage to one's mental image that MacDonald's does to one's physical image. Perhaps that's too obvious to mention. I am happy Anna is a bit of a hippy chick and eschews these publications. (Now, if I could only get her hooked on Mother Jones :))

My second grader got her BMI report last week sent home by the school nurse (we live in western PA). It was a format document with her stats filled in. Now, my daughter is solid muscle and has no weight issues (God's joke on her mother!), but she asked me if the paper said she's fat! Is it just me who's beginning to find this whole obsession with weight and obesity in children, specifically girls, to reek of Big Brotherism? Obviously, obesity is a growing public health concern which needs to be addressed. However, the schools require physical exams by doctors for the kids every few years (and provide them for those who financially can't afford them privately). Isn't it the doctors' job to discuss health and weight issues, if pertinent, with parents and families? I think there is negative fallout for children, particularly girls as pointed out by Sarah, from so much emphasis on weight and diet at a young age. It's one thing to educate the parents - another to have 7 year old girls worrying about their body image...

This is such an interesting topic.

Michele has a good point about getting the issue to be about health. I find it really strange that I can walk by a magazine headline that reads "curves are in", as if many members of society walk around being "out". We as a culture have to do better about celebrating a range of healthy body types.

My 4 year-olds school is trying to get the message out about exercise and health, but their good intentions don't always hit the mark. My daughter talked about her "fat belly" being the reason she could not do a good somersault. This kid is falling out of slim pants and can't wear skirts because she has nothing to keep them up. So like the 7 year-old child in the article that is not eating, the broad brush approach is not the best idea.

Once again, society is trying to force children into a specific mold, and yes, it does appear that they are targeting the females more than the males.

I do understand that they want to try to help with weight issues before it is an issues, but I feel that in the long run that there could be more emotional damage done due to the lack of consideration given to a specific situation. How many children, and specifically young girls, are going to develope anorexia or bulemia due to their fear of being overweight?

Eating healthy is great, but what if you have a higher muscle mass? I have two nieces who are two years apart in age. The elder is a stringbean who stuffs her little face, and the younger is taller and heavier but is a picky eater. Since they also live in PA, I might have to pound on anybody who dares to criticize their BMI.

I remember a few years ago, during physical therapy for my knee, that the therapist poked my belly and told me that I was fat. I sent him a letter from my doctor later advising him that the fat belly was due to fibroids...huge ones...not fat. Jerk.

And specific to the article, Sarah, you are quite correct in that they did point fingers at only the girls. Why? Is it a case of once again depicting one gender as better or worse off than the other?

Great blog, Sarah! And I hate to say it, but I think gossip mags (like the one I work at) are a big part of the problem. We tend to hold a microscope up to women's bodies, whether we're calling them "scary-skinny," or erroneously pointing out an actress's "telltale bump." (Imagine: You gain a teeny, tiny bit of water-weight, and a magazine draws a big red circle around your slightly protruding belly, and asks, "Is she pregnant?" Pretty freaking humiliating.)Meanwhile, Tom Cruise or Ben Affleck can pork out, and if we say anything, it's a good-natured quip about their wives' great cooking. On a different topic, congratulations, Michele!! I can't wait to read the book!

So just a little fact-checking. According to the CDC, the prevalence of overweight/obesity is higher in adolescent white/non-hispanic and Mexican boys than girls, but higher in black, non-hispanic girls than boys (http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/childhood/prevalence.htm). The NYT reporter(s) should be ashamed.

Childhood overweight/obesity is a serious health issue; again according to the CDC, it affects about 16% of 6-19-year-olds and its prevalence has doubled for 2-5 year-olds and tripled for 6-19 year-olds since the 1970's. In contrast, according to the NIMH (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/numbers.cfm#Eating), somewhere between about 1.5-8.9% of all women will exhibit anorexia or bulimia in their lifetimes (men make up only 5-15% of people with those disorders). I was also interested to read (from the Cleveland Clinic website -- lost the URL) that, although we don't completely understand the causes of eating disorders by a long shot, there's a lot more to them than only wanting to be thin because of cultural prejudice.

Based on the numbers, I'm generally less concerned that talking to my daughter about her weight will lead to eating disorders than I am that not talking to her will lead to long-term health problems such as diabetes. And I try very hard to convince myself that what's really motivating me to revamp my own eating and exercise habits is not my appearance, but my own desire to maintain good long-term health.

Sometimes it even works.

Ohmigod. This is a first. Research, real, bonafide research on the blog. Congratulations, Kerry, you've done a bang up job. I'm ashamed myself for not checking with the good ole CDC.

Which just goes to show, the Lipstick Chronicles are not only fun - they're educational. You can tell the boss.

Thanks, Kerry.

I have nothing to add, but just wanted to say this is a great topic.

Oh, and congratulations Michele!

Thanks, everybody!

I agree this is a great topic. Kudos to Sarah. Lauren, I am so impressed with your family exercise plan. I'd started working out with my son, too, and it was being great bonding time, but it fell by the wayside over the holidays. You've inspired me to get back into it.

I've always been overweight, but healthy. I don't like how articles of this type are actually judgements passed down to our children, where's this reporters medical degree?

As a woman who did not have weight issues until my late thirties, I have been astonished how quickly I went from sexy, worth noticing to fat and invisible. Our society is so hypocritical. My sons are both thin and fit as was I in high school. We don't get BMI reports here but I notice my 15yo is quick to judge any female who is not his ideal(his ideal is flat chested and skinny???) My McHubby is also overweight but he'd never admit it. It's kinda like getting him to doctor~just won't happen. I agree the emphasis is on females and that isn't fair.

Geez, people worry about their kids being over weight, underweight, image is the thing thing thing!!! I would like their manners to be big a deal as their body image seems to be! I would like parents to teach them caring, and empathy, and that learning is a greater thing then having the best most up to date clothes! Opps guess I am having a serious kind of day. Michele I knew you were great when I saw you prosecute Lee Childs in Phoenix, this just proves it.

I'm so glad that you understand
Three hundred pounds of muscle and man
This is it
This is it
Look what you get

The fun continues at http://www.browardlibrary.org/resources/onlinestorytime/blues.htm

Another great lyric by Howlin' Wolf:

Some folk built like this, some folk built like that
But the way I'm built, you shouldn't call me fat
Because I'm built for comfort, I ain't built for speed
But I got everything all the good girls need
I don't have no diamond, and I don't have no gold
But I've got a lot of lovin' and I want you to know
That I'm built for comfort, I ain't built for speed
But I got everything all the good girls need
Some folk built like this, some folk built like that
But the way I'm built, you shouldn't call me fat
Because I'm built for comfort, I ain't built for speed
But I got everything all the good girls need
Some folk rip and roar, some folk b'lieve in signs
But if you want me, you got to take your time
Because I'm built for comfort, I ain't built for speed
But I got everything all the good girls need
But I got everything all the good girls need
I, I love you baby
I, I love you baby
But I got everything all of the good girls need
And I don't got no diamonds, don't have no gold
Got a lot of lovin' to satisfy your soul
I'm built for comfort, I ain't built for speed
But I got everything all the good girls need

JD, very nice lyrics. I have never heard of Howlin Wolf?
SusanCo~exactly. My boys were raised to the best of my ability(tho as they are teens some days I think I haven't done the best job.:wink:)and they do have compassion, are polite when I'm not around and are all around good guys. What's more important....the person outside or the person inside. These letters home make it hard to tell.

"I may not run the hundred yard dash, darlin', but I'm still a sixty minute man...."

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