A lot of us who grew up fat or were fat for a long time but overcame that have what I call “Ugly Duckling” syndrome. I’ve mentioned it before obliquely, but it’s basically what you’d expect: we went from fat to fit but still carry the fat kid with us in a few ways. It actually reminds me of something my brother said – though it’s a pretty common aphorism I think – when talking about chasing women. He said that you don’t want the girl who has always been hot, because she knows she’s hot and expects more. You want the girl who used to be a fat dork because she doesn’t know she’s hot yet and you have a much better shot! A lot of us are like that. No matter what we look like on the other side of our journey through fitness, we will still be, to a lesser or greater degree, dysmorphic. What we see doesn’t really line up with reality entirely.
I’ve caught a lot of flak recently for a few things I wrote on facebook about obesity. Things that are objectively true, but are offensive by virtue of the fact that some people wish they weren’t true. I got attacked, in fact, for being cruel or heartless. A couple of people were shocked, shocked, that I would say such a thing considering that I used to be fat myself.
They don’t seem to realize that it is precisely because I was fat myself that I’m in a position to point out how reality actually works for fat people.
Since I was fat for most of my life it seems as though a lot of issues that appear discrete from the outside actually converge in a lot of ways. Few more so than identity issues… who and what am I, exactly?
There’s a very clear memory of mine from when I was in grade school… one of those memories that sticks with you because of keenly it alerts you that something is amiss. Something in life isn’t what it seems. I remember I was flipping through a magazine that had an article about Dolly Parton. At that age the only thing I knew about Dolly Parton was that her boobs were enormous… and that’s basically what I got from the article too. She said, “I do have big tits. Always had ’em – pushed ’em up, whacked ’em around. Why not make fun of ’em? I’ve made a fortune with ’em.” That’s literally the only thing I remember from the article, but this was almost twenty years ago and it’s pretty clear in my mind. But that isn’t actually the memory that’s important here… What I remember more was the advertisement on the opposing page. It was an ad for Jockey athletic wear with two buff, athletic guys fighting over a volleyball. I remember seeing it and thinking, “Oh… that’s what a guy is supposed to look like?” Neither of them looked anything like me. How did they get that way? Why didn’t I look that way? Would it just happen when I grew up? And why are they so much more interesting than Dolly Parton’s chest?