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My Life as a Thin Person


Photo Caption: Gloria Cahill (Photo Credit: Danielle Levitt)

“Men notice me more now,” admits Cahill. “But the thing is, when you’re obese and relationships don’t go well, you could blame it on, Well, nobody loves a fat girl. If you’re thin and can’t find a boyfriend, what do you blame it on? A friend of mine set me up on a date with a terrific man recently. We got along wonderfully . . . and yet I never heard back from him.” She gives a bewildered shrug. “Before, I was never any good at recognizing men who were interested. But now, when I think I recognize men who are interested in me, I’m completely flummoxed, because they don’t do anything.”

Today, Cahill often views the positive attention of strangers with wariness rather than unalloyed delight. “There’s a part of me,” she says, “that thinks, One hundred pounds ago, if I’d sat next to you on this bus, you wouldn’t have been this nice.”

You can hear it in her voice—how strange, and not a little bittersweet, it is to discover that the basic decency of strangers is a conditional thing. She takes a sip of coffee. We’re in a café in the Village, where more than a few male patrons have admired her, dressed as she is in a green V-neck sweater and plaid skirt that shows off her legs. Cahill seems not to notice. “This is profoundly difficult for me to talk about,” she confesses. “I was amazed . . . I’m still amazed.” She stops, puts down her cup. “It just amazes me to see how much power comes with prettiness.”

Ask Cahill what she misses most about being fat, and she’ll launch into a thoughtful riff about knowing who her friends were, about depths meaning more than surfaces. Ask Sohr, 35, and her answer’s much more straightforward: “My boobs.”

The bright, sunny day Sohr picks me up at the Baldwin train station, her cat-green eyes are concealed by giant sunglasses and her new frame is swaddled in a coat of brown mink. She’s tough. Frank. Sublime, in her way. Her observations are unvarnished, and her accent is pure Fran Drescher, a merry substitution of aws for every or (gawgeous, New Yawk).

Sohr has always lived in her body, which may, in part, explain her uncomplicated feelings of elation now. As a child, she was a tomboy, climbing trees and chopping wood; in the late eighties, when she was still thin, she was a promotional model for Bloomingdale’s, sporting more tube tops and acid-washed casualwear than a girl could dare to dream. At her heaviest, she still had boyfriends (“I probably dated, like, 200 guys”), participating in medieval fairs so that she could still wear elaborate, corseted costumes that made her feel sexy.

Even her first significant weight gain, she says, started as a conscious decision, inspired by the shame of letting a perp slip away during her first year on the NYPD—when she threw herself on top of him, he tossed her off like a horse shaking loose a fly. “I thought I was gonna be this tank and take him down,” she says. “But I wasn’t heavy enough. I got teased mercilessly by all the cops because I got my ass handed to me on account of being so small . . . ” She trails off. “Now, I have a big ego, and I’m a second-generation cop. There was no way anybody was going to get away from me again. And nobody did. I used to run up behind ’em, put my wrist up against their Adam’s apple, lift my feet up off the ground . . . ” She beams, remembering. “Try holding 190 pounds up in the air on your throat and see how fast you go—right down to the floor! I choked off their oxygen supply!”

Of course, Sohr didn’t intend to reach 190 when she set out to gain weight. The tendency toward obesity ran in the family—her father died at 51, morbidly obese, and her mother, 57, is awaiting approval for the same surgery her daughter had. Ultimately, the pounds turned out to be a problem for Sohr. Her knees, weak before she joined the force, got even weaker, and tussling with criminals made them weaker still. “I was always getting hurt,” she says. “I had to be the moron who was first through the door.”

Then, on patrol at a traffic accident, Sohr was hit by a woman in a Jaguar. The event left little mobility in Sohr’s right hand and wrist, forcing her into early retirement. Then she had knee surgery. Then she got into a car accident. With each successive injury, Sohr spent more and more time on the couch, staying up all night watching the SciFi Channel and drinking two-liter bottles of soda. Her weight soared to 236.

But even before reaching her peak, Sohr says it was distressing going through so many weight fluctuations as a female cop. “When you first join the Police Department and you’re skinny, you’re like the lamb chop,” she says. “When you start getting heavier, they’ll flirt occasionally, but they kind of stop. But when you’re really heavy, you start to hear whispers behind your back.”

“And there was this girl,” she adds, “who came into the precinct when I was heavy. Gave me this attitude like she was Miss Thing. Before I retired, I said to her, ‘Sweetheart, everybody has their day in the sun. Everybody gets older; everybody’s figure changes. So don’t be mean to the people who are here for a while, because when you turn into this, you’re not going to have any friends.’ ” Recently, Sohr went to a function thrown by her old Brooklyn precinct and ran into this woman. “I see this girl in the bathroom, and she’s like this.” Sohr expands her arms. “At least six sizes bigger than me now. I just looked at her and said, Nice dress.”

She pumps her fist.

In the final chapter of Fat Boys: A Slim Book, the historian Sander Gilman gives a startling time line of the various attempts to do away with fat via the knife: Pliny the Elder described a “heroic cure for obesity” that involved surgical intervention in the first century; in the twelfth century, a surgeon sliced open Count Dedo II of Groig to reduce his gut. In the twentieth century, the first attempts at stomach stapling were first done on animals, then on people (in the late sixties). Surgeons today rely primarily on three methods: gastric bypass, in which a small pouch is created out of the top of the stomach and reconnected to the small intestine; the duodenal switch, in which two-thirds of the stomach is removed and two-thirds of the intestine is bypassed; and gastric banding, in which an adjustable silicone ring is looped around the stomach, then attached to a port sewn directly into the abdominal muscles. To tighten it, the doctor injects saline directly into the port, constricting the ring like a blood-pressure cuff.

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