One Christmas, right around the time I turned 30, I ordered a gift for my mother-in-law through a catalog.
Before I go any further, there are a couple of things you need to know. The first — and most important — is: I loved my mother-in-law. From my perch in the family tree, Mary was one of the sweetest people to have walked this earth.
The second is she really liked my gift.
I bought her a top, the kind that she liked to wear. It had appliqued birds or flowers or maybe both flitting and flourishing on the front and a perky faux collar that gave the illusion that the wearer had gone to the trouble of putting on not one but two tops that day, the convenience of a layered look without any layers.
It was also something I didn’t see myself wearing for, say, another 40 or 50 years. But I knew my time would come.
I just had no idea how soon.
Not long after I placed that order, I got a catalog in the mail. It came with a note saying that this was the inaugural issue of “As We Change,” a catalog especially for women going through, well, the change.
When you turn 30, it’s hard to image that there could be any bigger, more monumental change than that. That catalog gave me a preview — a couple of decades early — of what my shopping habits down the road might be looking like.
At the time, I thought it was pretty funny. I had no doubt that one Christmas gift had landed me on a marketing list tailored for women 50 and older whose wardrobe happily and breezily resembled the adult equivalent of Garanimals, the mix-and-match clothing for children.
Years later, I started getting catalogs from a company that seemed to think I was working out and in terrific shape. The catalogs featured images of incredibly lean women rock climbing, running over rugged terrain, paddling through towering walls of white water, their jaws set with determination, their faces streaked with sweat, their hair looking incredible.
I was flattered that someone somewhere thought that could actually be me. But at the time my fitness regime consisted of walking, and most days I barely broke a sweat. The thought did cross my mind that maybe if I invested in all of that that Spandex and Lycra I could wick a lot of things away. But then I’d trip over my feet and grab some chips as I headed to watch TV and be reminded of the fact that I have the coordination, appetite and grace of an elephant.
Candidates running for office have incorrectly gauged my politics. Toy companies mistakenly think I have kids. And one association was relentless in inviting me to belong to take advantage of discounts years before I was eligible (I did the math).
I have a basic understanding of how this works, or at least how it used to work. I got my name on a list thanks to something I purchased or signed up for. When some part of my record matched certain indicators, I would end up being a prospect.
I get it. But now it’s come to this: The Internet knows I’m fat.
It seems to have no doubt that I need to lose weight. I do, by the way, but I don’t think it’s the Internet’s business.
Specifically, the Internet has no doubt that I need to lose belly fat. I know this because increasingly when I log on to check out a movie or find a recipe or see who wore what to the Emmys, off to the right, hovering like a not-too-discrete eavesdropper desperate to join in the conversation is a caricature of an overweight woman with brown hair (the same color as mine.) wearing an unflattering bikini (I never) with coy text, dripping like graffiti, promising “this one simple trick” will dissolve belly fat.
I have yet to find out what the trick is. I don’t want to know what the trick is. All I need to know is that the Internet knows I’m fat, which seems like something it really doesn’t need to know. Edward Snowden warned us. I should have paid a lot more attention.
Christmas is coming. Don’t tell but I’m going to buy my mom some more snazzy compression socks online — the fashionable ones that come in wild paisley designs and animal prints. I can only guess what the Internet will know after I do some holiday shopping. Maybe I’ll start seeing an image of a woman with brown hair in an ill-fitting bikini teetering on swollen feet with more than one simple trick up her, uh, sleeve.
Ho, ho, ho.