It occurs to me that I’ve given a little bit of advice, but also spoken mostly about what it was like being a fat kid right up until the first week I changed things. There will be a lot more about that – it was 20 yeas of life, after all, hardly able to sum it all up in December – but one thing that will come up in Former Fat Boy in the final chapter and the Afterword is my perspective on the whole thing now. Looking back on that whole life lived, did I get what I wanted from all that work?
Here’s something people need to understand about about being a Former Fat Boy: the fat boy never really goes away. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
I’ve had a conversation several times in recent memory with guys, all former fat boys themselves, who have been questioning the motives behind overcoming obesity: both in themselves and in others. The implication here being that there are good reasons to get fit like improved health and well-being and a more fulfilling life etc., but that there are other bad or illegitimate reasons for getting fit. My one friend said, “Personally, and to be honest, it’s vanity for me. I’ve done enough unhealthy things in the past to reach my goals of what I think is a good body, so it’s clearly not from a health standpoint.” Another friend was also similarly worried that vanity was at the root of his transformation. He wrote to me, “I question if it’s wrong to solely do it based on vanity. I think as of now, it is wrong [and] it perpetuates a cycle of body dysmorphia […]. I think it leads to a cycle of comparison and ultimately feelings of depression, jealousy, and hostility.” These friends, socially conscious as they are, seem aware that there is some kind of damage from the societal pressure to have a certain body… and perhaps somewhere inside they feel embarrassed that they gave in to this pressure. That whatever they believe now about a healthy lifestyle, at the root of it all they just wanted to be sexy.
As my second friend said, “I should admit – i do have hostile feelings. It upsets me that people are a lot nicer to me now than before. […] I just wanted to be accepted, not the wallflower, funny guy, that everyone walks all over, and I hate that.”
Part of the chapter that I wrote for the book proposal involves this very thing: this pressure we feel to be “happy and healthy” and get fit because it has all these health benefits etc… even though, at the core, we don’t give a crap about that. I gave exactly zero craps about atherosclerosis or insulinemia or hypertension or any of it. My boobs hit me in the chin, but I didn’t exclaim, “OMG! I must have really screwed up Low Density Lipoproteins in my blood!” I was grossed out by how I looked. Most of us will start this journey because we are grossed out by how we look, so it’s not helpful for any of us to pretend we’re just martyrs for health or something and don’t have ANY vain imaginings. We’re all aware of how we look. Let’s just be real about it.
Still the dysmorphia is an issue for fat people and former fat people… and it ought to be discussed. (Even though I try to meet people where they are and not try to change their minds about WHY they should get fit)
Part of how I handle dysmorphia is trying to set it aside as a non-moral motivation for getting fit. There is this sense that Vanity is a poor reason to get fit… that you are dysmorphic and you have to cure that primarily. But I don’t really agree there are poor reasons to get fit and virtuous reasons to get fit. Either way, even if you don’t believe your own fluff about Health and Longevity and all the benefits from weight loss that aren’t a hot body, you still get all those things. You get the virtuous benefits even if you didn’t have virtuous reasons. It doesn’t fix all the problems you started out with, but that doesn’t mean we should resist getting fit because we think we’re vain.
And it’s those other problems that I want to make sure people are aware of. We started out on this journey because we were fat boys and we were ashamed of how we looked and we felt awful inside because of that. We struggled with identity and acceptance and self-worth and any range of other internal broken things that we thought wouldn’t hurt if we had a body like others: something we could be unashamed of or even proud of.
There are a lot of things on the other side of fitness that you’ll find, but what you can’t find is that internal validation about who you are. I feel better, I look better, but becoming fit didn’t heal that broken part of me that hurt because it felt ugly. We former fat boys, to the man as far as I can see, all carry around that fat boy inside us. We may always carry him around to one degree or another. And that inner fat boy will color how we see the world and see ourselves in a powerful way if we aren’t careful. Curing the “fat boy” part heals many things, but healing the physical isn’t the cure for the internal damage that growing up obese leaves.
Part of the discomfort these other guys feel – and that I share, honestly, to one degree or another – is in the idea that we know it was our broken fat boy self that chose to start this journey for vain reasons… And the fear that we are still that fat boy because we still feel those reasons we tell ourselves are vanity.
But, as we will see later, we don’t do ourselves any favors by rejecting the inner fat boy or by ignoring him or pretending we don’t still carry him with us. Just like embracing how our bodies want to work, we have to embrace the inside to… and put it to work for us.