Funny story about me.
I’ve been swimming exactly twice in the last ten years. Once was yesterday and I had a great time. The other time was two years ago when an ex and I went to the pool and I had an awful time. I did NOT want to be there and I did NOT want to be swimming, but God knows I did my best to look like I was having a blast. My instinct is to hate the water and hate the pool and hate the beach. Because swimming involves me being in a swimsuit… which involves me being shirtless… which is a terrible fear of mine that even now, with vein-crossed biceps and developing abs, I have to grit my teeth about. For the last ten years, with one exception, no one who I wasn’t dating had seen me shirtless. But I went around shirtless at a party last year, and only under duress as it was, again, a situation where I was gritting my teeth and pretending to be ok with it. Because I dread it. Or I have dreaded it for a long time… it’s not as strong as it once was.
Being shirtless was terrifying to me because there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to just be invisible.
Growing up fat, you feel like people are always looking. It’s part of my criticism of that one woman’s photography project where people allegedly gawk at her for being fat… It’s a feeling. It may be true or it may not be in any given situation, but if you’re fat and you’ve grown up fat, you feel like everyone is watching. Because you are always watching yourself, recognizing the ways you’re different.
Part of what that woman is hoping for is, I think, what I long hoped for. Just to be invisible. It may seem strange to regular people – those people who desperately want to stand out and make a splash and radiate with your own unique glory. But to us, we already stand out and have always stood out. We don’t want anyone looking anymore. We don’t want to be unusual or remarkable or even interesting. We desperately want to blend in to such a degree that no one even notices us. We are tired of people noticing us.
I remember thinking something almost exactly along those lines a few years ago. I was walking outside somewhere – walking the dog I think – and I saw a guy jog by with no shirt on. The guy wasn’t impressive at all. Kinda amorphous, not really remarkable, and in my memory probably not a very serious runner if he just looked kinda “meh”. But the reason the memory strikes me is exactly that: he was unremarkable. I instantly wished I could be unremarkable. I wished I could go around outside with no shirt on, or go to the beach or the pool or anything and be one of those people who no one even spares a second glance.
And I remember being discouraged because I thought, “I really just wish I could do things that other normal guys do.” A normal guy doesn’t think anything about not having a shirt on. He doesn’t have to be fit: doesn’t have to be an athlete or a model or Colossus. Average guys could just be average and be ok. Being shirtless wouldn’t even be something to think about… again, unremarkable.
But I couldn’t. There was this feeling in me that I wasn’t a normal guy. My body didn’t look the way a man’s body is supposed to look. I had rolls and big thighs and a giant butt and great big boobs. So part of my being abnormal and a spectacle was the feeling of also not really being masculine. I was shaped like a primitive fertility goddess, not a grown-ass man. I’m sure you can imagine how complicated that made coming into young manhood. This problem with masculinity would actually bleed into other areas… but I’ll get back to that.
My biggest wish was to be someone no one looked at. But like many things, this ended up being a serious mistake. For a long time I felt like I could never achieve what I wanted – to be unremarkable – and the truth is that I was right. I can’t. For the same reason I can’t be skinny and I can’t look like my little brother or Adam Levine. My body just won’t do it and is not designed to be something other than big. My longing to be “normal” and invisible was actually really counterproductive because it only left me paralyzed as I contemplated, completely correctly, that I could never get there.
The alternative was to sacrifice the idea that I could be invisible and embrace my visibility: just like I had to sacrifice being skinny and embrace being huge. I’m never going to be normal. I’m never going to be unremarkable. My choices are big and fat or big and jacked, so I’ve gone with jacked. But even apart from that, we shouldn’t want to be unremarkable. We should want to be remarkable for things that we can be proud of. Growing up fat and feeling constant scrutiny – real or imagined – can rob us of that and it robbed me of that. Changing that mindset can be a long process, and it’s one that I’m still going through honestly. Being shirtless makes me nervous. But it’s integral to changing your life and changing how you see yourself with regards to weight.