Ron Lawson wasn’t always fat. When the director of accounting at a Chicago manufacturer started working as a CPA in 1989, he was a willowy six feet three inches tall and 160 pounds. But after 16 years of spending 70-hour workweeks in the company of spreadsheets—chugging Cokes and inhaling cheeseburgers as he crunched numbers late into the night—he noticed his pants had become as snug as Mick Jagger’s, but without the attractive results. “I’d been getting them let out for two years, but they pinched anyway,” he says. “I had to buy six new suits.”
This development might have sent a lesser man into the arms of SlimFast shakes and celery sticks. But Lawson, now 42, is not interested in doing penance for too many Double-Doubles from In-N-Out Burger. He’s proud of his 40-inch waist. Not only that, he considers it an asset—clients have told him that he’s intimidating when he walks into a room.
“You don’t want to go into a closing meeting with a guy my size and have a confrontation,” says Lawson, who weighs 240 pounds. “My bad opinion doesn’t bode well for a company.”
So he enjoys every bite of his power lunches (and breakfasts and dinners), be they double cheeseburgers, chocolate-chip bagels, or peanut M&M’s (“Having some now!” he writes in an e-mail). And he doesn’t give a thought to changing.
“I could become a vegetarian, but I’m not going to do that,” he says. “I’d rather enjoy my life.”
Lawson is part of a group of accomplished men who are fat and proud of it—portly strivers for whom a little girth is as much a sign of success as is a corner office. In a weight-obsessed nation that now seems more mobilized to fight the war on fat than the one on terror, the number of such husky mavericks is small. Far more common are those sinewy type A’s running for their lives on treadmills between conference calls. Still, there is no shortage of supersize success stories, even in fields that put a premium on body image: Witness Elf director Jon Favreau, 38, whose weight was once reported at 270 pounds; former PayPal board member Reid Hoffman, 37, who cashed out when eBay bought the company for $1.5 billion in 2002 but hasn’t lost his double chin; Trent Lott’s former deputy chief of staff John Green, 33, a Washington lobbyist whose gut is as large as he is influential; Sopranos actor James Gandolfini, 44; puffed-up rocker Ben Gibbard, 29, lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie; Chasing Amy actor Ethan Suplee, 29, who has been steadily slimming down from his onetime 449-pound mass; and, of course, the succulently named Meat Loaf, 58.
Ed Lavandera, a 32-year-old CNN correspondent who has reported on the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia and the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, also fits the XXL mold. He declined to give his exact weight but says, “It dawned on me recently that I could go head-to-head with Shaquille O’Neal.” (The basketball star weighs 325 pounds.) “Unfortunately,” Lavandera says, “I can’t jump very well.” Lavandera was a solid six feet, 200 pounds in 1995 when he went to work at a CBS affiliate in Midland, Texas. A steady infusion of quesadillas at a Mexican take-out joint a block from the station led to a 15-pound gain that year—and every year since. But in spite of his expanding onscreen presence, CNN hired him in 2001 to cover the Southwest region. Since then, Lavandera’s quesadilla runs have been replaced—as he races from story to story—by visits to hotel waffle bars and airport grab-and-go stands.