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.
When I was in elementary school I remember watching TV on every long Saturday morning. It would usually start out at the crack of dawn with a huge bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. (You know the one… not the soup bowl, not a salad bowl, and God knows not a “serving size”. A full-on mixing bowl. Like I was baking a cake and Cinnamon Toast Crunch was the main ingredient.) With that in my left hand and a giant spoon (just short of a soup ladle) in my right, my little brother and I would shuffle over to the the couch, cross our legs on the cushions (the better to form a bowl to hold our Olympian cereal bowls), and turn on Saturday morning cartoons.