Administrators at Bryn Mawr, an exclusive women’s college in Pennsylvania, recently sent an email to students with “elevated BMIs” (for the uninformed, that’s body mass index) — inviting them to join a free weight-loss program.

Oops. The recipients promptly labeled the action “fat shaming,” which reminded me of my teenage stint as clerk in the Men and Boys section of Grant’s department store. In those days (the 1970s), heavyset young men bought clothes labeled “husky,” while their female counterparts shopped for “chubby” sizes. Talk about fat shaming.

But I wonder if it worked? My husky classmates were mortified when they came in, invariably accompanied by their mothers. I imagined them thinking, “The diet starts tomorrow.”

A cultural norm to be relatively thin may help people stay that way. Back then, women wore girdles routinely, not just when they developed the 1960s version of a muffin top (remember, portion sizes were smaller back then). Now, some women think nothing of squeezing themselves into skinny jeans when they are far from being skinny.

I blame it on the self-esteem movement.

Fat shaming is wrong, but there’s also something wrong with our current lifestyles. The obesity rate for men has tripled since 1960, and more than doubled for women. The childhood obesity rate, meanwhile, went from 4.5 percent in 1963 to 19 percent in 2008.

What is obese? It’s a woman who is 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 200 pounds. Yes, that’s a lot of weight to carry around.

What has happened to us? Portion size has certainly, um, expanded. Does anyone drink coffee out of a real coffee cup any more? Back then a cup was about six ounces, not a 24-ounce Double Chocolaty Chip Creme Frappuccino.

Yeah, I love them, too.

We’re eating more and walking less. When I was a kid, most families had only one car. My mother took me downtown on the bus, which meant we walked from store to store. We burned off more calories than walking from your kitchen into the attached garage and opening the door by remote control. Shopping online was not an option.

Back in the day, people rarely “cocooned” at home. They went dancing (that’s how my parents met) or bowling, or visited friends and family.

Housework was strenuous. Women (that’s just the way it was) used wringer washers, and hung the clothes out to dry. Few people had dishwashers, and the refrigerator had to be defrosted periodically. The lawn mower ran on human power, not gas.

The lady of the house cooked real meals. The family sat around the table and ate together. People did not eat out as often as they do now, or bring home takeout, unless it was Chinese. There were fewer fast-food chains. There were no drive-throughs. People didn’t eat while driving.

I don’t think it was possible. The steering wheels were huge in the 1950s and early 1960s. There was no power steering. Driving actually improved upper body strength.

Children often played outside. My elementary school had two recesses. When I got home, I rode my bike. It was the baby boom era, so there were always other kids around. We had the run of the neighborhood, including the variety store across Route 138, where we could buy penny candy.

Indoors was not as entertaining as it is today. Our house was filled with books, but we got only three TV channels. And no remotes — you had to get up to change the channel and answer the phone. We had no computers, video games, tablets or smart phones.

It wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns back then. My mother remembered her wringer-washer era with horror for the rest of her life. An elderly neighbor liked to tell me about bringing in laundry that had frozen on the line. Women who were stuck home all day in suburbia became anxious and depressed.

But we definitely sit around more. I’m as bad as the next person, but do have a firm rule about using drive-throughs. I don’t.

Alas, my husband, Paul, and I rarely go out at night. I haven’t bowled in years. Frequently, I walk to do errands, but the supermarket, drug store and post office aren’t very far away.

I used to be thinner. I also used to take a bus to Boston from southeastern Massachusetts, walk six blocks to work and, eight hours later, do the same thing in reverse. Those were the days, my friend, those were the days.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


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