heavy weights

Bio_howie So it’s no secret that I’m obsessed with Bravo’s Top Chef.  I’ve been known to watch the rerun marathons, just because, well, because I can.  No matter that I watch each episode at least twice, I’ll still manage to leave on the marathon as background to my daily tasks.  Last night the premiere episode of season three aired.  I was busy cleaning out the office–as it’s soon to also become my arts & crafts studio–when Phil alerted me that Top Chef would be starting in six minutes.  I cannot miss a beat of it.  There is no talking allowed.  No babies are permitted to cry.  It’s just the way it has to happen.  And I most always need to eat something while it’s on.  Dessert.  Meyer lemon miniature tarts.

"I think I know him," I said mid-way through the episode when I saw his full name appear in a caption as he was speaking.  Phil stared at me, unsure if he was able to speak.

"Yeah, Howie.  That’s Howie!"  I said of contestant Howard Kleinberg, half-expecting Phil to know why and how I knew him.  "I went to fat camp with him!" 

Phil proceeds to the Top Chef web site to check out his bio.  "Yeah, born in 1975, like you."

"I think I have a picture of him upstairs in one of my camp albums."  I’d pawed my way through it recently in the writing of the second half of MOOSE, my second memoir about fat camp.

"Did you kiss him?"  This is a question I would ask, not out of curiosity but out of a twisted sense of jealousy.  An insecurity, worrying, as foolish as it is, that maybe (if it were reversed) seeing her on television might spark some juvenile memories, a fondness for a life he once lived that seems rosier than the one he’s carved out for himself with me.  A life lived in curfew kissing, make-out sessions, and an eagerness to fall asleep knowing when you wake, you’ll see them again. 

Howiekleinberg_2 And I wish sometimes, as futile as it is, that I could control his thoughts.  That I could shield all triggers to a past or possibility for an improved present or future.  I most certainly know, of course, that we cannot control others, and that the minute we try to, we muddy things and maybe stop believing their choices.  Once upon a much younger life ago, I used to rip the provocative pages out of my exes’ magazines.  Maxim, I think it was.  Well I minimized it.  I was jealous of photographs in magazines.  Insecure that he might become aroused by someone other than me.  Of course he’d become aroused by others, as a physical involuntary response even.  But I wanted to control what I could, and at the time, I thought I could control his thoughts, prevent him from straying even in his own head.  And when you do this, eventually, you end up creating everything you’ve feared.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy really.  If someone loves you, they stay because they want to, but at a certain point if you continue to oppress them, surrounding them with rules and expectations in an effort to protect what you have, you end up smothering it.  It’s like rewarding children for coloring.  It’s something they already took pleasure in, but once you begin to reward the behavior, they begin to expect it, and eventually without a reward, children lose their desire to color.  Something they intrinsically loved becomes tainted.  I lived in rewards and punishments, and I’m sure I do it still today because it’s hard to change.  It’s hard to recognize when you’re doing it.  And when it’s pointed out, there’s a quiet and heavy "oh" that falls inside me.  "I don’t want to be her," I think.  And then I apologize softly and want to hide my face.  It’s a heavy weight.

Phil is not me.  He would never think these things.  Instead, I believe he asked the "did you kiss him?" question, not out of curiosity even, but to prove some kind of point.  To mimic me, to teach me some kind of veiled lesson.  Hold up a mirror and subtitle the scene with, "it’s about time you shed the extra weight."

Fatcamphowie And as an aside, I tried to post a comment on Tom Collichio’s blog, saying that we fat campers were rooting for Top Chef’s Howie, despite the fact that it all hangs on Hung and Tre.  I mentioned that I was working on writing MOOSE and saw another former fat camper amid the season three contestant ranks, but it was not posted.  Perhaps they thought I was trying to promote my book, or maybe they didn’t want it leaked that Howie was a former fat-camp-champ?  Either way, here are his photos from way back then.  He hasn’t changed much, and his accent is *exactly* the same.

UPDATE:  My comment is on his blog now.  It just took a while.   



  1. I love TOP CHEF!!!!! I watch it with the same obsession…and must, must always watch it in the kitchen!

  2. Nice lil lesson there – did it work or did it annoy you?

    I felt bad for Howie – not getting his plating done in time. But totally unusual as it did not seem to happen to contestants on season 1 or 2.

    FROM STEPHANIE: It totally annoyed me that he did it, and I knew as soon as he said it he was doing it to prove some point. And I kind of mildly hate this about him, his need to "teach me lessons." I'm not a student anymore, though I still have a lot to learn. I don't always need to learn it from him. Ugh.

    As for Howard, to his credit, I was thoroughly impressed that he'd read one of the Judge's books end quoted that he was better off not serving it if it wasn't right (and making you wait for it) than serving it on time, but wrong. Very impressive how he turned it. And, to address concerns that perhaps Howie doesn't want to be outed as a former fat camper, he's a "public figure" now, so it comes with it.

    I will say this, also. A while back, I posted something on fat camp listing all the people I remembered, by name, hoping they might google themselves and contact me. And some of them did. Initially, a few girls were shy about it and begged me to remove their names, which I did, but upon further consideration, they said, "Actually, who cares if people, or employers know? It's just something I did. Go ahead and add my name back." I've since heard no complaints. Just for the record, it's never my goal to embarrass anyone.

  3. I don't get it… none of the people in this pic (including Howie) are fat.

    FROM STEPHANIE: Well, I could say that it was taken at the end of the summer, but in truth, I don't remember. What I will tell you is there were a lot of morbidly obese kids, and there were kids on the border, with a propensity to go there, and then there were thin kids. It's all in MOOSE.

  4. I would find that more than a little patronizing, even if he said it with good intentions. personally I thought he could have "taught you" more by reacting in a positive way, not being jealous but also not poking fun at your own insecurities. I think people learn from example better than from being mocked.
    Personally I can't get into Top Chef — they spent so little time on the food and way too much on personal dramas.

  5. I love Top Chef. So much better then Hell's Kitchen which really has nothing to do with food and everything with drama. Nothing wrong with drama but I want to see the food. With the many hats that you already wear do you think you can squeeze one more in and add "cook book author" to that already long list? I love your food articles. As hungry as they end up making me, I also get inspired and there isn't much better then that.

  6. Oh my gosh, I stopped breathing half way through this post. I swear you are writing my most intimate thoughts here and my part in why I believe my first marriage failed. I have to really stop and catch my breath because I feel like I am the only one who thinks this way. I share these thoughts with my girlfriends who look at me like I am crazy. Stephanie you are causing a hyperventilation here in my cube of an office.

  7. how annoying! that stuff may maybe perhaps work on kids, or on someone who has no clue that they arre doing something annoying/unhealthy/upsetting/whatever, but when you know your issues, pushing them in your face doesn't help. for me, it just makes me feel terrible for having them, like there's something wrong with me, which is not so great a headspace for change and personal growth.

    i don't have cable, so the only food show i've seen is iron chef japan downloads, which is faranly the best show ever. it's like the "deadwood" of cookng shows, only with less swearing and more squid.

  8. I have just recently gotten into "Top Chef" due to countless marathons of seasons 1 & 2. I am completely addicted. Although I am a lover of the gourmet, I usually don't get into the cooking shows. I will now pay attention to see if he mentions fat camp. I think he will be an abrasive character but excellent chef this season!

    As far as Phil's lesson; I would have just responded with "I don't remember; there were oh so many!"

  9. Or maybe it's just this, from Tom C's blog:

    "(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)"

  10. Im with Libby. I would have told Phil, "Only his cock"

    And ya know I actually tried to watch one of those Top Chef shows just b/c you talk about it all the time. I couldnt get into it. It was like watching fishing on tv for me. I appreciate the fact that so many people love these shows but I just dont get it. But I tried…

  11. Sarah – And he liked the results so much that he instructed the aesthetestician to please continue right on to his scalp.

  12. steven on the first top chef was the most entertaining – his eyes! those eyes were so expressive. he seemed to be such a bizarre figure, so sheltered and so young, but also strangely intriguing.

    the judges, with the exception of the model, as so annoying at times. so serious. a bit too much for me. it's a freakin reality t.v for chrissakes..

  13. I loved this line… "if you continue to oppress them, surrounding them with rules and expectations in an effort to protect what you have, you end up smothering it". So true!

  14. Hey! I read your blog daily, and I love it! I just wanted to let you know that your comment did get posted on Tom's blog over at Bravo.


  15. I'm curious… Could anyone please let me as part of the non-US-TV-audience know what Top Chef is? We don't have it… Thanks!

  16. …and I thought fat camp was a summer camp for kids / youth? They all look quite grown up! When did you go to fat camp? How old are they in this picture?

  17. One of these days maybe you'll give us a list of some good things about Phil. Because what I see here of late makes him sound…deeply unappealing.

  18. Your writing lately, appears more self-indulgent, self-absorbed and self-obsessed than usual…because of that, I had no interest in reading this piece all the way through. Those who've commented sound more interesting to me, than your posts have…and, that speaks volumes. Oh, well.

    Oh, and for the sake of your loved ones, let it go, already ~ please, with the "in labor, alone" nonsense…so many women have endured so much worse than that; trust me.


    Therefore, from the peanut gallery:

    (What Lea said. Yep, a couple posts back). Ugh. Self-serving writing is annoying to those who know better…and, since yours doesn't APPEAR to be for "you alone," this is meant as a gentle nudge to take heed of how important one's attitude can be in swaying those to your side…especially before a book is released.

  19. Maybe he didn`t want to be known as a fat-camp-champ? Maybe it was something that was in his past and he wanted to keep like that and not have his pics here….

    just a thought…

  20. 1. I don't get Phil's "lesson" at all, please enlighten me, anybody;

    2. I agree with Sonja: those fat camp people in the photograph they're far too old to be at a kids' camp? Look at that facial hair, good grief.

  21. For the record, I was not trying to teach Stephanie a lesson when i asked "Do you kiss him?". I've read the first half of MOOSE and jokingly was asking as the book combines weight issues, summer camp, coming of age, first love and self esteem. I'm excited to read the second half.

  22. It does seem odd that the pics show what looks like adults at fat camp. My impression was that fat camp happened when you were young?

    Way to go Phil (the suitor). You seem pretty with it.

  23. Carol, I was thinking the same thing, LOL!

    As for Phil's lesson, I actually find myself doing the same thing. My boyfriend often seems clueless when I am trying to explain how something he has said or done makes me feel. I try to show him when the opportunity arises and I am able to say, "well how does it make you feel"….
    So far, not a ton of luck with that, lol!

  24. I understand your frustration with getting your comment posted – of all my attempts at posting here, only 1 was posted.

    Along with Carina, I feel like you put words to my least attractive trait in this post. I struggle so hard not to be that girl, and am proud of how far I have come. I refuse to sabotage my marriage in hopes of controlling something that I know I never will. Thanks for writing this.

    FROM STEPHANIE: A quick look shows at least 3 comments live from your email address, more from the name. I don't understand why other comments may not have gone live.

  25. Long-time reader, first-time commenter. In my experience, I've found that it's an enormous blessing to find a man who can teach me something, help me grow as a person. I've also found that it's easy to squelch those opportunities with pride and arrogance, to my own detriment, merely for the sake of winning or one-upping him. If you know he loves you and he's got your best interests in mind, sometimes it's better (and MUCH HARDER) to look him straight in his loving eyes and say, "you know, you're right."

  26. Were these photos taken at the end of fat camp (?) because everyone looks to be a pretty healthy weight judging from the pics. Maybe I'm just so used to seeing REALLY fat kids now that I've forgotten what being 'fat' used to look like.

  27. Like Carina, I stopped breathing halfway through. I'm a long-time reader of your blog, and often relate to your experiences, but this is the first time your writing has so resonated with me that I was inspired to comment. I've been dealing with these same issues of control and insecurity in my current relationship, and I've been surprised and embarrassed by my own thoughts and actions, as deep down I know how irrational and insecure they are. I have tried to control everything I can in order to protect myself from getting hurt and keep my relationship. I have put conditions on my love for him. But, in reality, I'm holding on too tight, and the harder I try to "keep" him, the more far apart we get. I have realized that I am only smothering him, trying to control his behavior, and not allowing him to just be who he is: the most kind and loving man I have ever known. I, too, have thought: "I don't want to be her," – that needy, insecure girl who has so little faith in herself, in her partner, and in the power of fate to just let what is meant to be, be.

    In the past few weeks, things have come to a head, and I realized that we are at the make it or break it point. I have to change my behavior, or truly "end up creating everything I've feared." I have finally started being honest with myself about my behavior, have taken responsibility for it, and have committed to making some important changes, not only for my own sanity but also for the sake of saving a relationship with an incredible man who I very much want in my life. Thank you for showing me that there are other smart, successful, and independent women out there who also suffer from time to time with completely irrational insecurity. And that through hard work, honesty, and introspection, it's possible to just let go.

  28. Dee,
    Thank you for sharing such a beautifully written comment. I would love to hear your response and Stephanie's response to those of us out there who are trying to do the same thing….let go of the insecurity and move on…. but it is HARD and I don't know where to begin…or what to do. I have tried blogging and am at the beginning of that journey, but I need steps, rules to follow and support. I struggle and I try to not be "that girl" but I often find myself in the terrible cycle. Any advice on how to actually take steps to move on?

  29. I agree, those boys look like men. I too thought the whole camp was for kids. In my mind I figured like 10 year olds, but I suppose it makes sense to be there when you are a little older, but they look like they could be 18. I may have just assumed wrong and that the camp was actually when you were older.

    I don't know how I would feel if I were that guy (Howie) and you shared that he was with you at said camp, but maybe it doesn't matter.

  30. I find it quite interesting the bias some people who comment on this blog have with overweight people. They assume anyone would feel like they were being "outed" or "tried to hide" their past as if going to camp as a kid could ever be bad or embarrassing. Stephanie always talks about how amazing an experience she had. How she went for 5 summers AND as a counselor. People's personal issues seem to come to the forefront here. Someone should write a psychology paper.

  31. Connie: SK has also said that Fat Camp "fucked her up but good"…too, i.e., it wasn't all peaches and cream. As for comments and your need for a "psych paper", uh…its a blog, chock full of ppls opinions, good, bad and indifferent. Therefore, perhaps YOU should write the psych paper?

    As for Phil and SK's marriage, I can't help but wonder as to all the comments as to unhappy marriage, etc. EVERYONE knows that ppl tend to talk/bitch/moan about the downs v. the glory of the ups. REally, NO ONE CAN know the real good and bad of any realtionship unless they are in it. I can't tell you how many times I hear (as for my own marriage issues) Oh, but your husband is soooooo this, and sooooo that…My response is, yeah, but he's also soooooooooo the other thing, and YOU aren't married to him (or me, for that matter) so don't judge.

    Happy Weekend.

  32. re: dee's comment. for me, it's an ongoing battle, fighting my demons, doing my best to stop them from interfering in my life, and believe you me, i don't always win. with relationships, i find it's best if i lean A LOT on my good freinds. like, TONS. when i first started dating my sweetie, it was about a year after my mom, by best friend, suddenly died, and another good freind of mine had been killed, and 2 huge relationships had ended. so i was already thinking about loss, big time, and was waiting for the other shoe to drop, steel toed, but hard. BUT i knew i was irrational, and that my issues had nothing to do with him, he was awesome and very clear and open about how much he liked me and so honest and kind. and i was sick of all my bullshit, stuff that was over, long gone, in the case of my childhood literally buried, resurrecting itself and haunting my present, spooking good things from my life. so i a) took a chance with someone that was awesome, as opposed to the usual nice but unstable and un-dateable guys i tended to fall for, and b) talked to my freinds about my issues, and tried to reallly listen to them. not just venting, but also activelly accepting thier love and insight. sometimes i'd be having a freakout, and call one freind, who would talk me down, and then i'd call another five minutes later and get reassured again. totally crazy, and thank goodness i have a lot of freinds, but it did get me through the early part of the relationship and allowed me to get used to how awesome my sweetie was, to really believe that this was what it was, and that i could handle being this open and trusting. basically, i needed social support to help me break my habit of insecurity and withdrawl, the way other folks may need to call a freind when they want a cigarette. and by freaking out in front of my pals, who i thanked and bought drinks many many times (and continue to do so), i tempered my anxiety so i could chill out when we were together and really see HIM and not my BS.

    2 cents.

  33. 'Another Stephanie in CT' wrote.."Your writing lately, appears more self-indulgent, self-absorbed and self-obsessed than usual…because of that, I had no interest in reading this piece all the way through. Those who've commented sound more interesting to me, than your posts have.."

    Perhaps you see it that way. I have a different perspective. In fact I like change in her writing since motherhood; it has had an impact on her content. In this case it appears she has broadened her base appeal by the experience alone. She can relate to so many more people now.

    Regarding some of the comments, I used to read most of them but some of them read like corny junior high personal journal entries and schmaltzy Lifetime 'channel for women' scripts. No threat of her comments outshining her writing just yet.
    Just an opinion, of course.

  34. I think posting personal information and photos of other people without asking permission first is the part I (if I were Howie) might have a problem with. The fact that it was fat camp isn't really the issue, although I do think most people understand that an individual's issues with their weight can be very, very personal – and positive experience or no, someone may not want someone he knew 15 years ago letting the world know personal details from his life. And I don't accept the "he's a public personality now" justification.

    Of course, one has every *right* to post something like this. I just personally find it inconsiderate.

  35. My jaw is dropping…

    Amazed at the inherit negative feelings people on here have. If Stephanie wrote "I was amazed I saw this guy Howie I went to school with on Topm Chef" or "I knew the guy on the show I went to camp with him" no one would care. For some unfathomable reason someone thinks she broached some confidence about speaking how she went to camp with him? Get over your own insecurities it comes out in your judgements of others. And to the person who said Stephanie admitted Fat Camp fucked her up but good… what on earth does that have to do with her remembering a friend from Camp? It's not like she said she knew him from rehab or AA or her s&m clubbing experience!

  36. ATX, yes, we're surely entitled to our differing opinions…'tis the great thing about freedom of speech.

    The notion that 'she can relate to so many more people now' doesn't negate the self-serving portion of that.

    A better perspective behind the words, was the direction I was headed, in remarking upon her recent posts, as that does indeed shine through in accordance to what we all own on our insides, each moment…bits and pieces of life experience and inner wisdom corroborated or not, in an instant.

    I don't view Lifetime channel, but am aware of the "schmaltz" of which you speak, and what I've gleaned as of late from Stephanie's postings; quite frankly, have smacked along the lines of "smug" to me, which just happens to be a huge turn off to read…that's all. We all have our own ways. I'm not going to judge which gleam more brightly…this site and its comments are collaboratively wonderful, in my eyes.

    Yet, many of the words in response to Suzanne's question I did find to be touching, moving, and more unaffected in their honest simplicity…which is a blessing when a blog becomes an arena that supports everyone's intrinsic desire to "be themselves"…even you…and, I nod in approval of this forum opportunity, for us all.

    Walking through life as objectively as possible requires constructive support and acceptance of others' differences, including those of gender, age, even weight. So, yes…it's the content, "the weightiness," so to speak, of SOME of that which she's brought to us that was irksome to me, and I don't have a book deal entwined into my opinions of such, but I do share her delight in 'being able to clear my throat.' I like how the comments keep this from being ALL about SK. It's more balanced that way. In eventually reading all the way through this post, it became even more interesting to note the contradiction of wanting to give others a choice to be who they are through not smothering that freedom, alongside her defense of utilizing Howard's status as a 'public figure.'

    Amanda in SF? I'm in agreement with amanda b: I view it as a judgment call respecting another's right to CHOOSE their level of privacy that is at bigger issue, here.

    Uberswell…you're SO on track. Good girl!~

    Connie? Perhaps this IS Psych 101 but, it can also be seen as "sharing" with others, on a human level.

    Dee?…Beautifully written!…poignant and true.

    And ~ It Starts Now?…what a sweetie you are!…best thing I've found…is to make and live by your OWN rules…let go of the need to apply them to others, as best you can. If this is too much of a struggle? You'll not be feeling as much joy from the mix as we all deserve…without trying too, too hard, that is.

    Trusting in the universe helps!

  37. For all the griping about Stephanie's writing and is it self serving or not, what people who say that tend to either no recognize or choose to ignore is SK consistently introduces us readers to subjects and feelings that make us think, respond and stand up. Take a step back and recognize that talent for it's uniqueness. I know how hard it must be to be that consistent as well as prolific. Bravo SK and thank you.

  38. Maggie, life in abundance does that!…makes us think, respond and stand up. It's not that hard.

    I'm not tearing her down. I'm encouraging her to step up…we're all of us, "unique." That was my point.

  39. Its definitely interesting reading the 'BLOG' and then all of the comments. Interesting to see what people take from it and what they project onto Stephanie. There's always got to be someone to give her a verbal bashing and it seems that they are usually the ones who are so convinced that they have seen the 'truth behind the scenes' but really I think it tells a lot about them, how judgemental they are and their capacity to see the negative in people – not saying that there is no truth at all in their comments, just that that is what they choose to focus on. It is a blog after all, this blog is about her so she's entitled to be a bit self serving and whats wrong if she wants to encourage people to buy her book too?

  40. A rather interesting take on Top Chef! (I linked the site to my name, b/c this blog isn't allowing it in the comments part.)

  41. Thank you, Plantation. Your generosity and kind thoughts are always appreciated. My first Father's Day has been exceptional. Breakfast in bed, Homemade Paella, Fresh watermelon alcohol infused beverages while watching the U.S. Open and awaiting Met vs. Yankees(my one vice from NYC). Gifts, well wishes. When asked how does it feel on your first Father's Day I reflect and feel more like a babysitter than a Father. I'm sure when borrowing the car keys and incessant "why" questioning begins i'll think differently. They are amazing. Lucas just began smiling at us consistently which Abigail had acheived a month ago. The future humbles me.

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