Saturday, March 4, 2023

It’s in to be thin, out to be stout–or not...

Oliver Hardy, 1938–Wikipedia
Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/03-04-23

Talk about politically incorrect: Sportscaster Terry Bradshaw summoned Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid on the victory stand after the Super Bowl by telling Reid to “waddle over” to the mic.


Whew. Bradshaw has been excoriated on social media for this insult to the winning coach, who, if you take a good look at him, is pretty husky. Husky is a long-standing euphemism for “fat.” Few use “fat” anymore, not even when describing aging former football great Bradshaw himself, whose corpulence (another useful euphemism for “fat”) is quite obvious in his multifarious TV appearances analyzing pro football.


Got all that? It’s a pretty fat paragraph.


Why all this now, after the 2023 Super Bowl way back in February is largely forgotten, even if Fat Tuesday kicking off Lent isn't? It got me thinking about my days as a chubby — call me fat if you must — kid, a long, long time ago when peanut butter reigned supreme in my life.


Yup. I could wolf down three or four slices of folded toast slathered with peanut butter and dunked in milk for breakfast — every day. Then came a hearty lunch, followed by a meat-and-potatoes supper, gravy galore. Can’t ignore dessert — banana cream pie anyone? How about those after-school and before-bedtime snacks? Never missed them, chased with whole milk.


You pay a price for that, and my price was getting too weighty as I approached puberty. It showed up in my athletic abilities. When we had to run the 50-yard dash in seventh grade I clocked the second worst time in the whole class.


Also, in junior high gym class I couldn’t make it to the top of the climbing rope. I struggled to pull myself about half way up and had to slide back down, eliciting a disgusted look from the whistle-packing gym teacher.


I was humiliated. It lasted a couple of years, and then it pretty much ended by the time I got to high school when I shot up to just over six feet tall. But if you have ever been what the world sees as fat, you always feel kind of fat, no matter how you might slim down over the years.


So, I am sensitive about fatness, even if Terry Bradshaw apparently is not.


Fatness has a proud history in the United States, though. There was a time when it was openly acknowledged, and might be coming back. (To wit: Popular singer Lizzo, who put on a lot of her weight in the Twin Cities.)


Many show business luminaries of the past didn’t seem to mind being fat. There were the musicians Fats Waller, Fats Domino and Chubby Checker. Going way, way back a hundred years, one of the biggest male movie stars was a guy named Fatty Arbuckle. The villain in “From Here to Eternity” was Fatso Judson.


William Howard Taft is acknowledged to be our fattest U.S. president. Jiggle the letters in his last name around, and it even spells FATT. Then there was that popular radio and TV detective “The Fat Man,” who “tipped the scales” at 200 and some lbs. while solving crimes. 


Gee, I wonder how many of the rotund folks I’ve cited here are even recognized by most readers today.  Do many of our fellow Gopher State denizens remember Minnesota Fats? He was played by stout Jackie Gleason in a movie. Then there was lovable Oliver Hardy who won laurels as a fat movie comedian.


I also wonder if polka dancing fans still hop to the “Too Fat Polka” that was popular in the ‘50s. Those were harsh times. How about, “Fatty-fatty two-by-four, can’t get through the kitchen door.” Dreaded words by anyone carrying extra pounds, and so insensitive.


I think things are better now for the overweight. The words “morbidly obese” seem to have replaced “fat” in describing the greatly overweight. Morbidly? Cripes, I’m glad they didn’t put it that way when I was in junior high, though. It would have scared the living daylights out of my parents.



Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at