The Fat of the Matter
It was never my size or shape that bothered me. Rather, it was the side-effects, byproducts and consequences that got under my plethora of skin. Many of my friends simply can’t seem to understand that being fat isn’t the problem; being treated fat is.
The conversation sprang up, oddly enough, at our book club meeting, a tangent of a tangent. The book itself, Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, wasn’t really worthy of discussion or note, though we found a way to criticize it intelligently enough. Falling into offshoot conversations about the lifespan of ants, a makeshift decathlon, the books of Bruce Campbell and, more to the point, the hidden merits of Glee simply brought enjoyment to a disappointing showing for the book itself.
Admittedly, Glee isn’t a show I’ve bothered to watch. I’ve received a plethora of reviews from friends ranging from verbal thrashings to unmitigated praise. Those opinions from friends I trust the most, however, seem to emphasize the camp and place it firmly in the entertainment-over-substance category, ultimately making it both moderately unappealing to my tastes and trivial to my sense of social obligation.
Kevin, one of the newer members of our club, became the only voice among the crowd claiming any merit to the show. In essence, he argued, the stereotypes typified on the show are so extreme as to prove that they are merely stereotypes. The characters all have an opportunity to accentuate and break down their given role at some point, and therein lies the means and opportunity for the show to be more than just campy fun.
His example relied on the character Lauren Zizes, a rotund girl on the wrestling team. During the episode “Born This Way,” each character has a shirt whose slogan is their perceived flaw. Rather than reading “fat” on Lauren’s, it reads “bad attitude.” Kevin argued that Lauren gained power from her size and that being fat was more a benefit than a detriment for her.
“How can anyone not think being fat is a problem?” seemed to be the general consensus from the group. Up until that point, I had remained silently on the side, but this remark raised my ire in more ways than one and I couldn’t remain so.
For context, our book club, Kevin included, is made up primarily of athletic, intelligent people. Earlier in the day they had even held their own makeshift decathlon, substituting a few of the more difficult to arrange events with easier replacements. Their gatherings outside of book club don’t often include me (not out of spite, but by my own choice) and usually revolve around intense physical activity.
I, on the other hand, have been a fat man for years and always will be, if not physically, then in personality and internally. The things that bothered me about being fat and made me want to change wasn’t being fat itself. It’s the way others treated me, the way in which I felt, my inability to compete in sports I enjoyed, and, perhaps most difficult for me, my self-confidence and worth when it came to relationships and women. Even after losing a significant amount of weight and getting into better shape, many of these issues are internalized and haven’t gone away. Being healthy and slimming down hasn’t been the solution society seems to claim it’s supposed to be.
And, most oddly, the one thing that bothers me most is when people draw attention to my weight loss as if it’s a good thing.
I haven’t made an effort to lose weight, a revelation that often surprises and confuses people. I’ve made an effort to live better, to eat better, to feel healthier, to be more active. Losing weight is a side-effect, an unintended consequence. My lifestyle has shifted to include more things that I enjoy, to keep me mentally happier and healthier, and my work, most significantly, requires me to be active on a level I never was before.
If anything, not being fat has caused more problems than it solved. I’ve lost access to a great degree of my humor. My athleticism is no longer hidden and my ability to surprise people with acts of agility and strength has disappeared. I can’t shyly hide in the corners or use my size as an excuse to avoid certain activities I don’t enjoy. I’ve had to constantly and consistently spend money on an ever changing wardrobe due to my steady body change. And, to top it off, a few of my friends now treat me worse, as though I’m suddenly a threat socially, competitively, and physically.
Meanwhile, the perks of losing weight are small and barely noticeable by anyone but me. I like that I can fit into a standard seat on an airplane and only feel cramped instead of claustrophobic (my height still just maddeningly long enough to make coach uncomfortable regardless). My bike rides have become easier, yet I miss the powerful cadence I use to elicit from my legs. I’m not quite as in the way as I used to feel all the time, though I still gravitate toward the back of crowds to avoid blocking views. And most pleasantly, my performance athletically has improved significantly, though my amateurish skill doesn’t allow me significant gains or a competetive edge.
Sitting there, listening to these skinny, athletic people decry fatness as a problem, I realized that the criticisms offered were from people who feared being fat. They had never experienced what it was like, what the difficulties really were. And certainly, there are plenty of good reasons to want to lose weight and keep it off, but coming from their mouths, any good reason would be said with a parroted lack of understanding and a brutal insinuation that fat is bad because it’s not like us.
Despite my anger and disappointment, I attempted to articulate this. It’s doubtful that the brief monologue I offered did the topic justice, just as it’s doubtful that many of you will read this and truly understand.
For the briefest moment, however, I looked around the room and saw a collection of looks that seemed to reflect shame, guilt, and fear. As a self-proclaimed fat man I can only theorize what really caused that reaction, but my postulate stands as follows:
Among the thin, the fat are loathed not because of what they are, but because they represent an existence no longer tied to narcissistic values that define the social self-worth of the judges.