Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Cathy Guisewite, creator of 'Cathy' comic, on weight

(AP Photo/Universal Press Syndicate)
Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Since 1976, the frumpy, pear-shaped working woman in the comic strip "Cathy" has reflected women's feelings about their bodies and their love-hate relationship with food. Cathy, whose final strip will appear in newspapers Oct. 3, has tried every fad diet but remained consistently pudgy. She indulges in cookies, cake and chocolate and then wonders why she hates shopping for bathing suits.

I recently spoke with the strip's creator, Cathy Guisewite, who, at age 60, has been writing and drawing the strip for more than half of her life. When portraying her character's struggles with weight and body image, Guisewite knows whereof she cartoons.

"I pretty much ate my way through college," Guisewite says. "I gained 50 pounds between freshman year and graduation. My career evolved a lot from my weight gain in college."

"My parents are tiny," Guisewite adds. "I come from a thin gene [pool]. It was an act of rebellion to get overweight."

But in recent years, Guisewite has shed those pounds. How did she do it? "I don't have any miracles to offer," she says. "It just took time."

It helped that she was able to get over one vice. "I finally got immune to frozen M&Ms. I used to hide them in the freezer" but then came to prefer them that way, she says. "I developed a whole rationale: Frozen M&Ms have fewer calories because of the extra effort" it takes to chew them.

Still, maintaining her weight requires vigilance. "My weight goes up and down," Guisewite says, "but now by five pounds, not 40."

And she has her weaknesses. "I can't be in the same Zip code with a box of granola," she says, "or certain rice cakes that taste like shredded cardboard." Such foods may be healthful, but, says Guisewite, "I think they're good for me, so I overdo it."

Nowadays, the strikingly thin Guisewite says: "I always need to apologize when I meet people. They count on me to be plump."

Still, she's "never far from the memory of what [being overweight] was like and the impact it had on every minute of every day."

As for "Cathy," Guisewite didn't plot a course parallel to her own. The character plays an important role, she observes, serving as a touchstone for women who contend with weight issues, whether they ultimately conquer them or not.

"At the very least, women can feel better about doing better than Cathy on a given day," Guisewite says. "Those women have moved on, and I applaud them. But there are still many women whose whole sense of themselves depends on which jeans they can zip up and the number on the scale. Those people deserve a friend."

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