“I’m fat, I’m fat, you know it, I’m fat.” – Fat, Weird Al Yankovic
I’ve been trying to write the following post for the last few weeks, but I’ve not been able to finish it. I had some ideas I was kicking around in my head about fundraising and the like, but wasn’t sure how I’d set them up. Then Mike goes and trumps me, in this blog post (it’ll open in a new window). That’ll teach me to procrastinate. There will be another couple of blog posts about how and why I’m losing weight, but right now I wanted to talk about how I got fat, and life as a fat person.
How Did I Get Here?
I’m fat. Actually, if you want to go by the World Health Organisation’s Body Mass Index (and I suggest you don’t), I’m “obese class II”.
I started putting on weight around the age of eight. I started kindergarten as a clumsy, skinny, hyper-sensitive kid, and consequently got picked on mercilessly. I found solace in food. By the time I hit eight, I was coming home after school, overeating, and sitting in my bedroom reading. I became a clumsy, fat, hyper-sensitive kid. As you can imagine, getting fat did nothing to help with being bullied incessantly. They just had a larger target to aim for.
This is a large part of why I hated school – and a lot of the people I went to school with. I’m pretty sure I’ve forgiven most of them, although from time to time, I find I still need to work on that.
Soothing my emotional pain with food became a vicious circle that I’ve been in for nearly 30 years; I didn’t matter what I ate, nothing would fill that gaping maw inside me – although damn if I didn’t keep trying. Once you’re in that downward spiral, it feels like there’s little hope of escape. When your solace is food, and it feeds the very thing you’re ashamed of? It’s a constant slow-burning fire consuming everything inside of you. If you add depression to the mix… is it the cause? is it a symptom? Whatever it is, it’s sandbags on the scales of any attempts to lose weight.
Can I have a side of shame with that?
I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t ashamed of my body. I remember being told by my mother “girls don’t like fat boys”; that really set me up for success with the ladies. There was the time a three year old boy walked up to me in the produce section of the local supermarket and yells out “MUM! THAT MAN IS REALLY FAT!”. Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.
In all my life though, there’s nothing like the searing shame of having a woman tell you “I’m sorry, but I just find your fat repulsive”.
You live with people’s stares at you as you walk past, or hear them whisper comments to their friends and start snickering. You wear baggy clothes to try and hide, but you’re not fooling anyone; on the other hand, you sure as hell better not wear form-fitting clothes. That’s much, much worse.
Shopping for clothes when you’re obese is a special kind of hell (all of these things actually happened):
“Oh… this 5XL shirt is getting a bit tight. I have to go to 6XL. Great.”
“Look… 6XL! I have the choice of the bright pink shirt, or the bright yellow shirt!”
“Thank you for this gift of clothing!” (I shall now put it in the cupboard and never be able to wear it)
“Oh crap. This 7XL shirt is getting too small.” (Target don’t go past 7XL).
Eventually, if you don’t find a way to reign in your weight-gain (and I didn’t), you need to give up on shopping at Target or K-mart. The only clothes you’ll find in a shopping mall that will fit you are shoes and hats, and some of the underwear – unless they have a “big-and-tall”-type store. Then you’ll pay way too much for a basic black T-shirt. What other choice do you have? Not only are you failing to lose weight, you’re getting bigger.
You get used to the idea of never finding something “fashionable” – after all, fat people don’t want to look good, do they? Obviously, if they did, they wouldn’t be fat.
Fat is bad.
Stigmatising fat people may be the last acceptable bigotry. We all know it’s wrong to judge someone by their gender, or their sexual orientation, or the colour of their skin. You can’t judge someone by something they have no control over.
But us fat people? Obviously we CAN control it. If you don’t believe it, check out the comments on any news site article about obesity. You’ll see comments, sometimes numbering into the hundreds, explaining how fat people should just lose weight. They should just eat less, and exercise more.
Because if you do, you can conform to “normal”, saving “normal” healthy people from the terrible offence of having to look at overweight people.
What’s more, if fat people can’t be bothered losing weight, apparently “normal” people should feel comfortable in shaming overweight people; publicly, if necessary. Give me a withering glance. Comment far too loudly to your slender beautiful friends “How COULD he let himself GET like that? Why doesn’t he just get stop eating?” “Shhh, he’ll hear you!”
Don’t worry, I heard you. In fact, half the bloody food court heard your stage whisper. It had never occurred to me that I might need to lose some weight. I’m fat?!? Why didn’t anyone tell me?!? Thanks for that gentle, subtle advice. I shall head straight for the gym, and work out until I’m thin and beautiful like you!
Maybe I’m just unfortunate; I suspect most overweight folks have stories like these.
Here’s another idea: put the fatties on TV. Turn losing weight into a competition. Present them with torturous “challenges”, cut their calorie intake to insane, unsustainable levels, provide them with personal trainers to drive them to spend hours every day constantly exercising, and then make them vote each other off until only the most supposedly virtuous and committed remain. Throw the failures back into the outside world where they have to try and keep losing weight for the big finale, because they signed a contract.
Get the contestants worked up, and them whack away at them until they burst into tears and spill their pain like a pinata spilling candy. These shows eat confessions like those up, and shit them out as ratings gold. “Roll up, roll up, hear the secret shame of the obese!”
With every ratings-laden episode you can send messages like “The only thing that matters is being thin” or “Do you want to be accepted by society? Cut the fat!”
Then there’s the insidious, reprehensible theme of 2012’s Australian Biggest Loser: “Do you want to find someone to love you? Lose the weight, because thin people are the ones who find love.”
Look, I don’t know whether losing weight will help these people find love, but I suspect it’s a symptom, not a cause. If they’re anything like me, then the underlying factors driving someone to find solace in food aren’t likely to be the most conducive environment for a successful relationship.
So… what now? What’s with #LessWaz?
Some overweight people have chosen the path of fat acceptance. More power to them. I think what they do is important, because not all fat people are unhealthy and unfit, and not all slender folks are the epitome of good health.
I’m not judging those who choose a different path, but in my case I’ve been neither fit nor healthy. I respect those working for fat acceptance, but for me… it’s not something I can do. Even if I could somehow accept my body the way it is, and shed the shame, I haven’t been fit or healthy.
So, at the beginning of 2012, I changed my life because I need to – before things go from bad to worse.
More about that in Part II…