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It's A Guy Thing: The Corduroy Chronicles
Posted by Toni in Loving Our Bodies
He wasn't kidding about '70s fashion for boys

We're excited to announce the debut of "It's a Guy Thing," featuring our new columnist, Charlie O'Hay. Each month, Charlie will address everything from how guys perceive the feminine form to the weight-related struggles many men face to raising confident daughters. Please give him a warm welcome!

Until I was 10 years old, words like “diet” or “calorie” were rarely if ever heard in our house. Then my dad had a heart attack. At the age of 39. And everything changed. There were strict rules and forbidden foods, plus calorie-wheels, and bookmarked low-cal recipes everywhere. It was the 1970s, so there was no shortage of self-help or health-guru books. And my parents used them, liberally.

I watched as my dad struggled, truly struggled, to drop the weight. After all, he was a man for whom food was his only excess. He worked at a bank, didn’t drink, didn’t gamble, and he and my mom had slept separately since I could remember. Yes, he smoked. But it was the 1970s. Even the cat smoked. But food was his pleasure, his refuge, his sex, his toy, his love.

My dad and I were a lot alike. Looking back at the curled, sepia-toned photos of his teen years, it was easy to see myself in him. I was chubby, what they then called “husky” (a term that still brings a twinge of shame and a sprinkling of rage when I see it in the context of body size). I was also hopelessly un-athletic, owing in part to a severe birth injury to my right arm, suffered when my mom’s obstetrician attempted to deliver me using hot dog tongs. Being both un-athletic and unpopular at school, the focus of pleasure for me was food. The after-school box of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups was something of a standard. Back in the day (mid-1970s), Reese's Peanut Butter Cups came 24 to a box, 12 to a layer, and separated by a sheet of brown cardboard. Making it to level 2 meant I'd eaten over a dozen. If I stopped halfway through the box, my mom thought I was coming down with the flu.

So while my dad shrank, I grew. And for those of you who may not remember the fashions of the 1970s, it was NOT a good decade to be either a teenager or chubby. Someone decided that loud plaids, corduroy pants, and broad collars were the epitome of beauty. Going to a department store was an exercise in hopelessness. The clerk would grin, and gently nudge me toward the “Husky” section where the loudest plaids and most deeply ridged corduroys awaited. Someone clearly thought that nobody would notice I was fat if they were blinded by an orange and yellow plaid shirt hovering ominously above brown cords.

So somewhere between the pages of Dad’s diet books, the “Husky” department at Wanamaker’s, and the Hall of Shame that was phys-ed class, my body image was forged.  In 1979, my dad had another heart attack and died. That same year, I sprouted and discovered I liked whiskey better than food. In my adult life, despite a bit of middle-aged dough around the middle, I’ve been what some would even call thin. I’ve been blessed to have loved (and been loved by) some exceptional women in my life, each of whom in her own way assured me that the lions and tigers they’ve faced in the arena of body self-image would make my demons look like the Easter Bunny.

I’m honored that Tee and Toni have asked me to write a regular column for TFGGL and hope it will be a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

Charlie O'Hay is a published poet whose work has appeared in over 100 literary magazines, including Gargoyle, The New York Quarterly, and West Branch. He was awarded a fellowship in poetry and literature from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts in 1995. He currently works as a freelance advertising copywriter and manuscript editor. He is married to Cecily Kellogg of Uppercasewoman.com and they are parents to a dynamic and beautiful daughter.