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?
I want to expand on both my “fatties don’t get phone calls” post and something I alluded to recently in this post about masculinity and self image. This won’t necessarily apply to all my readers, or maybe even most of you, but it’s part of what shaped my experience growing up with obesity and what I know shaped the experiences of several other former fat boys I’m acquainted with. Most of the experiences of being fat and young can be pretty generalized – a lot of what I’ve written so far speaks to a lot of people who used to be fat or are still struggling with their weight – but there are things that not everyone struggled with. But maybe as I write this, the broader application to everyone will emerge on its own.
Fatties don’t get phone calls. My episode with Starla reinforced that fear for me. What’s funny is that on the one hand, yes, I felt rejected because of my weight and that hurt. But it didn’t hurt like it might because I was only partially invested in trying to date her, or even to date my ex girlfriends in high school. The main way that my weight impacted my love life was that it basically kept me in the closet until I was about 24.
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.
Let me tell you what makes me anxious right now. This project is part of it, but it’s actually much broader than this. We’ll see if writing this is a helpful way of me talking it out, so to speak.
Let’s talk a minute about what I was doing during college. I may have mentioned before that in high school I made some decent progress in weight loss through one method or another. I dropped perhaps 70 pounds during my sophomore and senior years of high school. Pretty impressive, right? Well for various reasons that discipline collapsed the moment I started college… my attitude changed somewhere in there, and naturally my results changed. But it wasn’t just my attitude about pursuing fitness that changed, it was my attitude about myself entirely. I saw myself completely differently… and that seeing myself differently let me really balloon up to epic proportions.
If you’re around my age – late 20s and early 30s – then The Goonies is another one of those movies that really defined the generation.
Part of a movie like that is identifying with a character – that’s the point of a giant rag-tag group of misfits, right? – and naturally I saw myself as Chunk. Chunk was clumsy, fat, uncoordinated, kinda dumb, sweet-hearted comic-relief. Chunk is near the center of the story because he’s the first one to witness the gunfight and is usually the one holding the keys to the group’s salvation. But no one remembers Chunk for his narrative power, do they? Of course not. Probably the most memorable part of the character was near the beginning when he finds his friends at the house and they refuse to speak to him unless he does the Truffle Shuffle.
Chunk pulls up his shirt and dances around like he’s electrocuted. Kinda sad and kinda hilarious at the same time. It’s one of the most prominent moments in the movie for me (apart from Sloth saying “Hey you guys” or “Sloth love Chunk” haha).
Why this scene sticks with me isn’t really clear to me, but when I was younger I remember being terrified that someone would make me do the Truffle Shuffle. If I wanted to get into the treehouse, in my back of my mind I’d think, “I wonder if they want me to do the Truffle Shuffle?” Or if there was a club I wanted to be in, or even just a gathering of friends I’d subconsciously steel my nerves and get ready to lift my shirt and jiggle. Totally a rational belief, I know: it was in a movie! Of course that’s exactly representative of real life!
But the only time I ever actually did the Truffle Shuffle was in college at my fraternity… and not even as part of an initiation or gatekeeping type thing either. I was just drunk and dug up the memory at a party one day.
I’ve mentioned before that part of what was surprising about my epiphany was just how far I’d let myself go by the time I finally got a smack in the face by my own fat. And part of why I had let myself go so much was because I thought I was doing pretty well. I was getting low-fat groceries, I went on a walk now and then, I at least knew where the gym was… I was doing pretty well! At least as good as a normal person. Better than a normal person, I thought, especially if the food selection at the grocery store was any indication of the normal American diet. And yet I was enormous.
What revealed just what was wrong with my situation wasn’t really something that happened to me, but something I saw when I was visiting my family for a wedding. My problem was of course that I was eating poorly in general, but the reason I was eating poorly in general was that, bizarrely, being fat was part of my “routine”.