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.
I’d started to follow up, as promised, on “Fatties and Phone Calls” because apparently that really resonates with people. But then I remembered that a certain kind of conversation has been coming up for me and the new guys I am consulting about training, which means it’s probably closer to the surface of my thoughts and what I think is important right now.
When I sit down with a client – this is before they even see the gym and usually over dinner or coffee so we can get to know one another – I ask them a range of questions designed to get a feel for them. Who are they? What is their health history? What are their goals? How do they treat and/or feel about their body? And they get a chance to interview me as well. It’s important to me to have a rapport with my clients… Usually the biggest reason they are working with me is because they know I’ve been on the other side of fitness – the painful, discouraging, difficult side of fitness – and so I, myself, am as much a part of their experience getting fit as any of the exercises I’m working them through.
Over the course of the “interview” between us one thing seems to stick out almost universally. My clients simply aren’t imagining themselves getting something they want out of fitness. They are dreaming too small. I’ll explain.
I get the impression from talking to people about their weight that there is a pervasive fear about seeming to be shallow. This fear of seeming shallow colors a lot of what people think about themselves and their relationships to others, especially if like me they grew up struggling with weight and body image. People will go to unreasonable lengths to avoid the appearance of vanity, to such an extent that they end up making unhealthy and destructive choices in life… because it seems better than appearing shallow. It can keep us from making positive changes in our life and even sabotage us in some ways.
Was just asked this. I got asked it last night too while I was out and about. And really, I get asked it some some frequency now that I think about it. There’s something about my personality when people see me in person that seems incongruous I think. From a distance, I look like a jerk and a douche and a stereotype. I look like I’ll be conceited and superior and condescending and abrasive. I look like I’ll be Big Guy at the beach kicking sand in the nerd’s face. But when someone speaks to me, I’m not that way at all. The departure from the stereotype is jarring for some people. I’m apparently sweet and funny and playful and kind and magnanimous… and it contrasts with how I look. So people ask me, “You know you’re beautiful… right?”
Here’s the thing: knowing and feeling aren’t the same thing. I see my flaws magnified 1000x because they’re mine. For a long time after I lost all the weight and got big and strong, compliments made me squirm. I didn’t like the scrutiny because I didn’t really understand it (and because I’d been used to feeling scrutinized in a negative way). It’s hard for me to take a compliment… and if I get asked something like the above, I don’t know how to respond! I know I should feel one way and respond with something gracious. But I usually end up saying something clumsy that reveals that, no, in fact, I don’t really realize what I look like. And I’m embarrassed to be reminded that what I see in myself is still in contrast to what everyone else sees.
Embarrassed, but also in some way encouraged. Encouraged to know that I am doing well and that what I feel is just a feeling and not reality. It’s hard to change that feeling though. Because whatever we look like now, to one degree or another guys like me will be haunted by our inner fat kid.
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’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.