If I Could Change…

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?

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The Hidden Traps

So I bragged on Facebook about a few of my clients last week. Several of them have made great progress: dramatic, visible progress. J___ is much leaner, T___ is practically a different person in the face, and C___ can slip out of his pants now without unbuttoning them. I’m proud of their success! And a little proud of my part in it.

But at the same time, a few guys have expressed frustration at their progress. Not that they aren’t making progress – all my guys are, even those who barely listen to me! But some of them want to hit the gas a little harder. C___ in particular wants to see some abs and tends to grumble that those aren’t making their debut quite fast enough. I’m sympathetic to a point – abs are bizarrely motivating, especially to us fatties who may never have seen them in the mirror – but only to a point. And I say that because my guys tend to fall into some pretty obvious traps. Traps I feel like I warned them about… but then again, maybe it’s one of those things where you can’t really warn people away from a hot stove until they put their hand on it.

So what are the biggest traps my clients fall into? Let’s look.

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Shallow-Phobia

I promised I’d get back to the idea of body image in Fatties Don’t Get Phone Calls (2), and so here that is.

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.

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Fatties Don’t Get Phone Calls (2)

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.

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Self-Criticism: The Easiest Trap

This post is something of a follow-up to that critique I wrote a few days ago about the woman doing her “Everyone is looking at me” art exhibit. But it’s also more than that and it deserves it’s own topic I think. What made me think to write this was reading elsewhere in the aether a post by a guy who thinks he is really, really ugly. The premise of the discussion was that the guy was feeling discouraged about his looks and was asking the forum whether he should even bother working out because he felt like his face was so busted. That is, what good was getting a great body if his face was ugly and there would be no changing it?

I’ll assume the guy was being mostly serious – sometimes people pull the “Why I so uggerz” card as a way of fishing for compliments – and that he really is obsessed about how his face looks. Now I’ll go ahead and say the guy isn’t a GQ model or anything (which is why I think he probably wasn’t fishing) but he isn’t hideous. In fact, he isn’t remarkable looking in general. But he wrote out a long list of perceived flaws in his face that apparently really haunt him: the angle of his ears, the wrinkles on his cheeks (he’s in his 20s, by the by), 2 pores on his forehead, the slight ovoid shape to his cranium… Very meticulous. But again, the guy actually looked unremarkable to me.

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There is this tendency, though, when we are being critical of ourselves to magnify things way, way out of proportion. This is a problem with former fat kids, of course, but is also a problem with anybody who has any kind of body image issue.

I grew up hating myself, hating how I looked, how I felt, and how I felt people thought I looked. It was so bad that for a long time I was immune to compliments. I thought people were lying or joking or just didn’t get me… because I thought of myself as fat and ugly. As a guy who grew up hating himself for how he looked, let me say this about self-criticism.

1) Never describe to people what you think is wrong with you. If you’re self-conscious about something, that thing may be big or it may be small but to you it feels like a head wound or a third eye. Other people, though, are probably not looking at it. They usually don’t notice until you point it out. And yet, when you do point it out, it becomes a thing that people notice. Because you brought it up!

2) No one notices your “flaws” nearly as much as you do. The human eye tends to generalize how people look, so unless you’re a circus freak or a beautiful demigod, most people average out what you look like. I have a lot if things I don’t like about how I look (I won’t say them as per rule 1), but I’ve literally had no one notice those things in me. I have a scar that I used to be self-conscious about and I think only one person has ever even noticed I had it… but to me it felt like everyone was looking and wondering “what the hell is that??” But no one is looking.

3) Don’t obsess over what you can’t change: obsess over what you can. The things you can’t change are the things you need to embrace: own them and wear them like armor. I can’t be “skinny”… I can only be huge. So I’ve embraced being huge. I’ll be huge on my own terms and in my own way, but my size is what it is. Even if this guy’s face were ugly, it would be a footnote if he embraced it (especially in the context of body building). How many people think Vin Diesel has a pretty face? Exactly zero. But it doesn’t matter because he has charisma that partially comes from just being confident.

Finally, and this doesn’t need to be a rule necessarily, just a reminder from the previous post… No one is looking. The thing about self-criticism is that it’s actually a curious species of narcissism. We believe that EVERYONE IS LOOKING AT THE THING I THINK IS IMPORTANT!!1! But that’s the opposite of the truth. No one is looking at you, guys. For the most part, no one cares. And once you stop focusing so intently on the minutia of how you look, you’ll begin noticing that no one saw your flaws the way you did.

Projection (Or “No, Not Everyone Is Glaring”)

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.

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Larkin the Hutt

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.

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