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.
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.
A friend of mine linked me this article yesterday from the Daily Mail: Obese woman’s revealing photography project exposes the cruel and judgmental stares she attracts from people on the street. The article is about an artist, Haley Morris-Cafiero who goes around taking pictures of herself in order to document people looking at her in the background. The premise here being that, because she’s overweight, people are being “cruel” to her behind her back by, apparently, giving her judgmental stares. While the article and her website where you can view the whole project are meant to reveal something about our wider culture and the insidious presence of fat-shaming, I was actually struck by what the whole thing said about the woman herself and how much of what we think about other people is actually a reflection of what we think of ourselves.
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.
Aaaand I’m back. Reconnected to the interwebz after a while moving from one house to another. Been hard not having access to the net, even beyond not being able to put down my thoughts on my blog and such, but now I’m back and I have a lot to catch up on!
We’ll start with what’s freshest in my mind – since it came up yesterday and it comes up fairly often for me. Yesterday I was at the gym and ran into an old friend who was getting ready for his personal training session. His trainer – also a friend of mine – had told him that he needs to reexamine his eating because they had been working together for a while and he still basically looked the same. I asked, “Well you’re stronger, right?” and he said, “I’m definitely stronger. I am, I guess, more able to perform duties at the gym…” We both laughed. “That’s not why any of us is at the gym though,” I said with a smile, and he nodded. So I asked him how he was eating. “Well for breakfast I had a Nutrigrain bar and some almonds…” I stopped him right there (since if that was breakfast, then the rest of the day was probably not making up for it). The answer wasn’t surprising necessarily… I used to eat similarly, thinking it would make me lose weight. But looking back at the conversation I realize that this eating style is endemic: people still eat that way thinking it’s healthy. The truth is that they’re sabotaging themselves.
I’ve mentioned before that I think that the fitness industry has glaring blind spots. That’s part of the premise of my entire project here at Former Fat Boy: that there is a demographic that isn’t being served (or else why create one more generic fitness regime among thousands?). With few exceptions, the fitness industry seems to ignore those people who suffer most and serve those who need it the least. In particular, fitness programs just don’t seem to aim at the seriously obese or the chronically – or lifelong – obese. Fitness programs are for those who are incidentally fat.
By why? Well there are a few things going on and a few reasons for them.
It occurs to me that I’ve given a little bit of advice, but also spoken mostly about what it was like being a fat kid right up until the first week I changed things. There will be a lot more about that – it was 20 yeas of life, after all, hardly able to sum it all up in December – but one thing that will come up in Former Fat Boy in the final chapter and the Afterword is my perspective on the whole thing now. Looking back on that whole life lived, did I get what I wanted from all that work?
Here’s something people need to understand about about being a Former Fat Boy: the fat boy never really goes away. Let me tell you what I mean by that.