No, I’m not talking about the weather here in Oregon, though I could. I’m talking about an Instagram Reel I watched today, in which a successful realtor talked about “avoiding décor mistakes in your new build.” Like, avoid counters with lots of “movement” in the stone. Choose a classic floor tile, not a fun one. And guess what’s over in flips and new construction? That’s right. Gray decor has had its day.
Apologies in advance to anyone reading this who has a gray kitchen, gray floors, or a preponderance of gray décor. I myself cop to having gray furniture in my TV room, but it’s set against wood bookshelves and red walls (not red red, I am way too boring for that–think of Campbell’s Tomato Soup but made with milk like moms did so long ago). I added some red pillows and throws to punch it up a little more, because, seriously, gray has been an object of mild derision in my house since November of 2016.
What happened in November of 2016? Well, certainly you haven’t forgotten that night in November when a chasm opened underneath America, a chasm over which we still balance, thanks to the polarization of our country.
It happened because after election night, I stared at MSNBC, hollow eyed and grim, for about a week, waiting for someone to DO something, waiting for what had apparently happened to go away, or be challenged, or…something. But nothing happened, aside from an eventual and orderly transfer of power. Remember those?
So I started watching HGTV. Because it was easy. Distracting. Occasionally hilarious, though that was inadvertent. It was like eating toast when your stomach is upset. Toast may or may not be any less offensive to the system than any other food, but it smells good and there’s butter, and sometimes that’s enough.
HGTV was the warm buttered toast my soul needed, when I’d had enough of outrage for the day. Outrage was earned, and constant, and exhausting, so my husband and I watched it.
All. The. Time.
And we were not alone. I think a bunch of famous people did that, too, based on the new crop of celebrity-themed shows that have popped up on the network. Quite a few of us collapsed in front of HGTV in 2016, and we all have our favorite shows. Those of us who are celebrities can have shows, too, like Lil John and Melissa McCarthy.
These Johnny-come-lately celebrities do not host my favorite HGTV shows. I like them old school, and that means…
Before Ben & Erin, and aside from the Gaineses, the First Couple of HGTV was/were the mighty El-Moussas, Tarek and Christina. He was dorky and innocent, and she was blonde and prone to rolling her eyes and smirking at her husband. This lasted until the inevitable divorce, after which Tarek remodeled himself into a hunk so he could catch a younger realtor, and Christina completely checked out.
Despite her contempt for him and his almost total lack of a personality, I found them so easy to watch. They would find a cheap house in a passable neighborhood somewhere in the hive of freeways that is the LA area. Sometimes they would luck into an expensive house in an expensive neighborhood, where they would be almost guaranteed to lose money.
Wherever the property was located, they would tour the house while Christina said “Ew” a lot. Tarek would underestimate the cost of flipping with or without a contractor present, then pretend to “call the seller” (who I assume was a producer standing just off-camera) to dicker over the price.
Then they would gut the house and make everything gray.
Christina, whose voice is heavy on the vocal fry and SoCal Valleyspeak, would always be going on about being “obsessed.” She was almost always obsessed with something gray. “I’m obsessed with this backsplash.” “Buyers will be obsessed with this bathroom.” “I’m obsessed with these floors.” Christina seems to have some caps in her orthodontic history, so “obsessed” seemed really sibilant and over-applied because do people really get obsessed with a backsplash?
Especially when all the backsplashes were gray.
They were. Really. The backsplashes were gray, or gray marble, or those cement-look “let’s-have-a-fiesta” patterns in black, gray, and charcoal. The counters were generally white quartz with big swirls of gray running through them, but sometimes they were gray. The floors were done up in that taupe-gray, or just plain gray fake wood laminate.
Sometimes they went absolutely wild, and used gray ceramic floor tiles.
With all this gray, each home had the warmth and personality of a TJMaxx restroom.
Once the interior had been created in this cold, boring palette, they would go outside and paint three colors of gray on the siding. Christina sometimes slapped up a really strange color like puce, so she could roll her eyes and smirk at Tarek while he protested. Then fun time would be over, and they would agree on one that Christina called, “a nice warm gray.”
Is there a nice warm gray? I mean, really? Isn’t gray by nature a cool, dull, nearly invisible color? Like, have you ever just not seen a gray car on the freeway, because it’s the same color as the road? My brother actually sold a gray car after he got rear-ended twice by people who didn’t see him.
And the sheer ocular boredom of it. I have a soft beige bedroom because I want it soothing and restful. I guess gray could be that way, too. But a gray bedroom would veer from serenity to despair very quickly. Like, why am I in a cave?
But for ten years, gray décor has led the way. Especially in flipped homes, which are remodeled to be as basic as possible, so that no one can object to anything at all about the décor. They are engineered to be devoid of personality, which is apparently causing some trouble with resale, now. Can you imagine the stagers coming into these homes? “Quick! Splash some teal around here! Unearth some daffodil! For god’s sake, liberate the tangerine!” It must be a color emergency, every single time.
Let’s see what the experts have to say about it.
From HGTV.com: Go Under-board
“… the days of monochromatic gray interiors appear to be dwindling,” says interior designer Marie Flanigan. “Although we’re seeing less full-on gray spaces, people continue to be drawn to the thoughtful use of the hue.” The lesson here? A little goes a long way.
From the Washington Post, where “Democracy Dies in Darkness, but we still talk about decorating trends” : After years of being the ‘it’ neutral, gray may be on its way out
There are a lot of things people are sick of these days: bad news, limited gatherings, Zoom calls, incessant cleaning and disinfecting, and, judging from the comments I see on social media, the color gray. Whether it’s a pale shade or a deep charcoal, gray seems to have overstayed its welcome.
From Apartmenttherapy.com: Why Real Estate Agents Hate Gray Living Rooms
As is the nature of trends, it seems gray has been overdone to the extreme, with homeowners outfitting their abodes in the neutral hue from floor to ceiling—accessories and furniture included.
So sure, if you read these articles, which date from 2020 to today, you’d think gray was over. You’d think. But for every article I found condemning gray for the empty choice it is, I found another going on about timeless neutrals and versatile basics.
These articles extol colors like Agreeable Gray, Repose Gray, Light French Gray, and Mindful Gray, from Sherwin Williams (they also have Amazing Gray and Dorian Gray, which are clever, clever, clever).
Benjamin Moore has Edgecomb Gray, Silver Satin, Gray Owl, Gray Cloud, and Revere Pewter.
Do any of these names give you any actual information about which shade of gray they might be? And does it matter?
Let’s give gray the color names it deserves. Like…
Cracked Patio Gray.
Dryer Lint Gray.
Wheel Rim Gray.
Basement Floor Gray.
So, to answer my own question, I think gray might be over. I think gray should be over.
But since so many houses are gray now, I’ll believe it when I see it.
Part of speech: adjective
Origin: Yiddish, 1930s
Having a full, rounded figure; plump (typically used of a woman)
Back when I was filling out those online dating profiles, I used to wonder what to call myself. My weight varied and I didn’t own a scale. I was fairly sure I wasn’t “a few extra pounds” because it was way more than a few. There was “curvy,” which was true—in those days I had a true hourglass with a flat stomach and admirable waist-to-hip ratio—but that didn’t take into account the exaggerated nature of the hourglass.
“Big and beautiful” seemed too much of a value judgment on my part. Big, yes, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A man I dated a few times confirmed my reluctance around that term when he said, “Just because you’re fat, doesn’t mean you’re pretty” (he did think I was pretty). He told me I was what his black friends in the military called “thick” (now “thicc” in the parlance of the day). To me, that term implies a certain firmness or muscularity I lack.
There was “full-figured.” I probably chose that the most, but it was a term that no one (including me) understood. My dear friend and dating guru, who is exactly what “curvy” should mean on those profiles, thought I should instead put “curvy.” She believed in casting a wide net. When the inevitable coffee date came, she thought my superior wit and charm would cancel out the fact that I hadn’t been honest.
I tried that a few times, but the disappointment in men’s eyes on meeting was more than I could take. So I always made it quite clear that I was not thin. I did this on purpose. If weight was an issue, I didn’t want to meet. I was being…efficient.
Even so, I’d be gently questioned by my correspondents, politely asking the equivalent of, “Just how fat are you?” Pretty damn fat, thanks for asking. This might be followed by a polite request for some specific data, as in, height, weight, measurements, dress size, and so on. Or better yet, a nude photo.
To which I replied, “Next.”
Other times, men would try to argue with me about my size. Something equivalent to, “I bet you’re not fat at all. I bet you’ve just bought into our society’s unrealistic weight standards for women.” The wishful thinking behind this was pretty obvious, and there was no point in stringing them along. “Nope,” I’d insist, “I’m actually overweight. I don’t hate myself, I’m not slamming myself, I’m just being honest so that neither of us wastes any time.”
Despite all my efforts to weed them out, some men who objected to my weight would be brave and meet me anyway. My guess is, they were taken enough by my face and wit that they thought they could get past it, and were disappointed that they couldn’t. A few asked me why I didn’t lose weight. “Oh, I don’t know,” I’d say. “I’ve gained and lost so much weight over the course of my life, and I want to take a break from all that.”
This was a revolutionary stance, back in the day. I wasn’t loud and proud about my self-acceptance, but I was firm in my quiet refusal to accept the idea that I had no worth or value in the world because I was fat. I also made it clear that this probably wasn’t going to change. This attitude actively antagonized some men. I guess I didn’t hate myself enough for them.
At any rate, the point of all this is that when I wanted to, I found men who admired and accepted me, and were proud to take me out and about. And even though I wrote an entire book about a very specific time in my dating years when I was laser focused on finding a man worthy of commitment, and how fruitless that particular search was, that was less than six months. Most of the time I did fine. I’m also glad to be married, and off the market.
As a side note (and to be fair), I think that combination of fat/devoid of self-hatred is rare out there in the dating arena. So many fat women cower in shame over taking up any space at all. I understand, because every six or eight months I slide into self-loathing over my weight. Usually this happens when I have to fly, because sometimes I have to ask for a seatbelt extender and sometimes I don’t. I have not completely reinvented contemporary womanhood, and that experience can melt me right down. I might even start a diet when this happens. The last thing I tried was intermittent fasting, which worked for a week, and then I boomed right back up to my starting weight, so forget that.
I have a life to live.
I was over at a friend’s house for dinner the other evening, and we talked about weight. My friend is healthy and slim, with a graceful, classically proportioned shape. Like, those elongated Venus on the half-shell proportions. But she was an overweight kid and teen. That will scar you. Even though she lost her weight forty+ years ago, it still haunts her. It’s hiding around the corner, a big pink blob waiting to jump back on her if she relaxes her vigilance. She weighs herself each morning, and carefully considers every bite of food that goes into her mouth. She doesn’t trust her thinness. She says she has body dysmorphia.
I told her that (like Ann Wilson of Heart) I have body promorphia. That I always think I look fine. I walk around here like I have a right to be here, thinking I look great most of the time. And occasionally I see a photo or a reflection that contradicts this, a self-view that makes me say “Yeesh, Karen. Seriously?” Those moments of reckoning (like the seatbelt extender) can trigger self-loathing, but I furiously beat it back.
The thing is, I wasn’t always this way. I used to feel extremely upset with any weight gain. Here’s a very old photo of me right after I had a baby, and was awash with self-loathing over how fat I was.
It is clear that I was not fat. It is also clear that I like myself more now than I did then, despite the enormous difference in my size.
I don’t care if anyone else understands or accepts my acceptance of being fat, but I realize this is an affront to people who fight hard not to be fat. I’ve likened it to religion. Some people find a religion and are gripped with apostolic fervor. They organize their life around it, and forego certain of life’s pleasures, and resist temptations and struggle through dark nights of the soul because they have found the answer, the one true way.
And there they are suffering for their beliefs, and here I am, shrugging, because as far as religion goes, I’m fine without it. I realize this is a slap in the face to true believers. My “whatever, no thanks” attitude about diet and fitness probably feels the same to those who have devoted their lives to it.
The formerly fat fitness influencers I see on Instagram have gorgeously muscled bodies and post things like, “If I can do it, you can do it. You have to want it enough.” I agree, you do have to want it enough and I don’t. Whatever the cost is to being thin—eating 900 calories a day, time at the gym, all that damn sweating—I don’t want to pay it. I’ll just stay over here, putting half and half in my coffee, eating whatever the hell I want to, and being fat.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a life to live.
Believe it or not, I don’t eat that much. I have something called lipedema, or lipoedema, or lipoeadema, depending on who you ask. You can fall down the rabbit hole of googling it, or you can look here: https://www.lipedema.org/ This condition has been recognized since the 1940s, but American doctors don’t diagnose it because isn’t it easier to tell your patients that they can lose weight if they just want it enough? Isn’t it more effective for the medical community to shame you for your weight? Isn’t this poorly understood medical condition just another excuse for women to be lazy and fat?
But the reason I don’t eat that much has nothing to do with lipidema. I went through a bunch of foregut testing six years ago. My mother died of small cell carcinoma of the esophagus (as opposed to the kind of throat cancer caused by HPV), and I wanted to understand my own risk factors. I’d had chronic heartburn for years and years, and treated it with OTC acid suppressors, but I was starting to have a lot of night regurgitation and thought it was time to get things straightened out.
So in addition to an endoscopy, I did all these tests. Like, they implanted a little capsule-sized sensor in my esophagus that measured every acid spike that rose into my throat. Every time I had a stab of heartburn, I clicked a thingie that then coordinated with the information gathered by the capsule. And yes, if you’re wondering, I could feel the capsule in there. I felt like I’d swallowed a pill that wouldn’t go down. It was supposed to fall out after three or four days and go through my digestive system, but it took two weeks to do that. Fun times.
But wait, there’s more!
Next, I had a tube snaked into one nostril and down into my stomach to measure something else. That was also uncomfortable. That was a swallowing reflex text. Then I sat in the office and drank something disgusting and had my swallowing reflex measured in another way.
We found out some interesting information during all that.
I had serious chronic heartburn, and yes, I could tell when I had acid spikes. Believe it or not, that’s good, because some people’s esophagi are so scarred, they don’t feel the pain anymore. Despite my huge nostrils, I have tiny sinus passages and a small esophagus that narrows at the bottom due to scar tissue from acid reflux.
I have a hiatal hernia that a nurse called “cute.” “You have a cute little hiatal hernia bobbing around in there.” I’ve always wondered about that. What makes a hernia cute?
My swallowing reflex is pathetic, which is the cause of my esophageal spasms (these are so painful that some people mistake them for heart attacks).
I have chronic heartburn because don’t have a valve at the top of my stomach. Oddly enough, my sister and younger brother are the same. My guess is, this is an anomaly inherited from our mother, and explains why her esophagus became cancerous.
There are surgeries that might help with some of this, but if they go wrong, they really go wrong. Like, goodbye to solid food wrong. So I have developed an entire protocol for how, when, and what I eat to try to deal with all this stuff. A big part of it is, I never want to be too full.
I don’t eat that much.
I’m a queen of the leftovers. I cook for two at home, but still save leftovers from most dinners and eat them for lunch. If we eat out, I always have to ask for a box.
I also eat early. This makes me a difficult dinner guest because I need two or three hours and a bunch of water before I go to bed, and if we start eating at 8 PM, I have to sit up and sip water until the wee hours before getting prone. I’ve been eating like a senior citizen for many years. There is a certain relief in actually reaching senior citizen age, because now my early eating habits seem less absurd.
So you’d think with all that, I’d just give up food and switch to protein shakes or something. But even though I’m fat, and I’m supposed to be ashamed and secretive about it, I actually do enjoy eating food, so I muddle through.
As previously mentioned, I haven’t reinvented womanhood. I do care about how I look, and it does get tiresome to be fat sometimes, but I’m determined to like myself because I was raised by a woman who didn’t. My mom also had lipidema, though we didn’t have a medical name for it. We just called it “Mom’s legs.” Mom’s legs were her lifelong shame, and I inherited those same legs—well, not exactly the same, but my fat-legged genetic destiny was inescapable. I accepted that, but I didn’t accept that my body should be a source of pain, anger and self-loathing, like it was for Mom. She inspired me to try to find a different path.
But first I had to get through my childhood.
There is so much I could write here about my mother, and my older brother, who was morbidly obese before he was a year old, and the diets my mother started subjecting me to at age seven, and my sister’s eating disorders, and my birth father’s very vocal hatred of fat women, and my own decades of up and down dieting. It would fill a book and at some point I might even write that book. I’m taking a memoir class with a friend this summer, and I assume we will be asked to pick a topic to write about, and maybe this will be mine.
I’m not sure I want to do that.
There’s a crew of people who have recently decided it’s okay to be fat because they watched some Lizzo videos or read Lindy West’s books or whatever. They’re trying to stop pitying and/or despising fat people, and are desperately trying to find them admirable.
“You go girl, look at you, over there being fat and everything! Whoohoo, chubby woman! I feel you! Team cellulite!”
Writing a book about my weight might feel too much like initiating a conversation I’m not quite ready to have, especially with those people. I dread the idea of offering up my fat reality to their new understanding that I’m a human being.
But whether or not I ever write at length about how deeply weight affected my earliest years of life, and what weight loss and weight gain meant to my personal happiness, at some point I decided to get on with life without worrying about my weight all the time. I had a life to live, and no matter what I weighed, I went ahead and lived it.
I’m starting to understand what a radical act that was.