I’m 27 years old. I am 5 feet and 10 inches tall. I weigh 260 pounds.
It’s difficult to explain what 260 pounds is like. And I know that I’m certainly not the most overweight person in the world, and there are people who have it much worse than me. But here’s the point: I am a card-carrying fat person. I am genuinely, actually, literally overweight. I am not an ordinary-sized person who is dealing with self-esteem issues and saying that I’m fat when I’m not.
I am fat.
It’s important for me to admit this because for me, it’s a positive thing. It’s a positive thing because you can’t begin to work on a problem until you’ve admitted it. It’s like when people stand up in AA meetings and begin by saying, “I am an alcoholic.” It’s liberating to admit it, to know that there’s a problem. Because without admitting that there’s an issue you can’t begin to work on it.
Being a relatively young person living in America in 2018, I’ve heard a lot of opinions about what it is to be fat, and the way people should think and feel about it. I have a lot of friends who are overweight. I have, on a few occassions, asked for encouragement from friends when it comes to losing weight, eating healthy, and working out. Almost always, the response is something along these lines: “You should accept yourself the way you are. You’re already beautiful, and instead of conforming to society’s idea of beauty, you should love your size and be proud of it.”
This… has always disturbed me, in a really profound way.
Let me back up for a minute. I was a skinny kid. So skinny that my family sometimes made comments that I ought to eat more and try to put on some weight. My mom and dad were both pretty thin when they were young, and when they had me. My brother had a different father than me but he’s been skinny his whole life and has one of those six-pack-without-even-trying bodies, the kind of guy who can eat absolutely everything and never gain any weight or body fat from it. My sister is more in the same boat with me: naturally skinny but capable of getting chubby if she isn’t careful.
Now, as for me personally, the first time I started to gain weight was when I was about 11 years old. I remember that it was summertime, and my whole life I’ve enjoyed sitting inside on a sunny day and playing video games or watching movies. I still played outside plenty, but I started to spend more time inside, and what’s more important is that I started to eat a lot more. I suppose I was on the onset of puberty so it isn’t surprising that I suddenly developed an enormous appetite (teenage boys in particular are known for having the appetite of a black hole).
I remember sitting in my bed until late at night, going through bags of chips, trail mix, Chex, Cheese-Its, peanut butter on a spoon, crackers, any kind of chocolate or candy. I would drink an entire 2-liter of soda in a day and then drink a pitcher of tea. I didn’t drink water at all. My mom used to buy big bags of mixed Hershey’s chocolates, and I would sit up and watch movies and eat the entire bag, and when I was done I would find a box of Chex Mix that had pretzels and M&Ms and eat the whole bag until I couldn’t eat any more, and then wash it all down with whatever there was to drink: soda, tea, milk, shakes. I’d make a bowl of ice cream and then another bowl of ice cream and then another, and I’d pour chocolate syrup on top of it. I would put ranch dressing on a plate and eat it with my fingers. I would bake frozen biscuits that were in the freezer, then put all of the biscuits onto a plate and sit and eat the whole thing.
By the time I was 13 I was overweight. But not CRAZY overweight. I was still active, I still had plenty of energy. I just also these little man-boobs and a tummy that hung over my pants, and my mom shopped in the husky section for my jeans. I remember one time on the school bus, a little girl walked over to me who I did not know and just point blank said: “Why are you so fat?” Despite this, I didn’t actually get picked on at school for being fat. Most people just considered my odd and unusual, and I was. I didn’t have many friends and I was constantly reading instead of talking. The thing that most people disliked about me was that I was gay, I was overly verbose and too intelligent to have anything in common with kids my age, and the few people I did associate with were ALSO freaks who nobody talked to. As such, I had no social life to speak of.
The majority of my time was spent alone, although I wasn’t really upset about that. I liked playing video games, writing on my computer, surfing the internet (this was in 2003, when you actually did surf the internet because you had no idea where you were going to end up and there was no central nexus to find anything), and of course, eating everything around me while doing all of this. When I turned 15, I started to grow taller, and this evened out my weight to the point that for a while, from the ages of 16 to 18, I was actually relatively normal-sized. I didn’t THINK I was, because I still had very small breasts poking out, but the truth is I was a totally average size.
When I was 18, around Christmas time, I met a guy, and I got into my first serious relationship. It was never a healthy one, and he was constantly making nasty little comments when I gained a few pounds, saying that I wasn’t skinny and cute like I was when he met me, and this of course caused me to eat more. This is when I started to REALLY gain weight. By the time I was 21 I was about 200 pounds. After that relationship ended and I moved with my family to Georgia, I met a new guy (this time the relationship was slightly healthier than the one before), but unfortunately we were living with his family and we were very poor, so the two of us both lost of weight essentially due to having nothing to eat. When we DID get jobs and our own place to stay, we were used to eating cheap, so we were constantly eating Taco Bell and Pizza Hut for every meal. By the time I was 24 I had grown to about 240 pounds. When this boyfriend and I broke up, I went into a severe depression and during this time, I went to Little Caesar’s almost every night and brought home a pizza, then ate the whole thing while drinking copious amounts of soda.
Two years ago, when I was 25, my weight had risen to about 250 pounds, and I had a blood test at my doctor’s office. The office couldn’t get hold of my results, so I went to the hospital myself and got them. When my roommate, who was a lab scientist, took a look at them, he pointed out my glucose looked really high, and suggested that I let my doctor know. I called the doctor’s office and told the nurse over the phone that my glucose was really high (I don’t remember the numbers), and her response was “Oh yeah, you’re definitely diabetic, you need to come in and see the doctor.”
Until this point, the idea that I had diabetes hadn’t really occurred to me. I knew that was a risk of being overweight but I didn’t think I had that issue. It turns out that I did, in fact, have Type 2 Diabetes. My doctor was not particularly helpful (in that he seemed to have no idea what the hell he was doing or talking about), but once I started taking Metformin and I cut out sugar, I very quickly lost ten pounds. This was a big deal for me, I thought whoa, I’m finally losing weight, this is easier than I thought! It turns out that when it comes to dieting and losing weight, you kind of get the first ten pounds for free, and the rest you have to work for. My weight has fluctutated ever since, but I’ve hovered around the same 250 pounds.
I have not known what it feels like to be “normal” since I was about 16. I have not put on a tight t-shirt or worn a pair of skinny jeans or even bought a cute pair of underwear since I was 21. I have spent the majority of my life being overweight. What I have needed, all this time, was discipline. Sure, some of it wasn’t my fault. I can’t help that depression and anxiety run in my family, and that these contribute greatly to eating disorders. I can’t help that the antidepressants I’ve been prescribed slow metabolism and cause weight gain. I can’t even help that I’m naturally at a higher risk for diabetes because other people in my family have had it.
But at the end of the day, the reason I am fat is because of my choices. I chose to drink a 2-liter of Coke every day. I chose to eat three bowls of ice cream at a time, or three sandwiches at a time, or to get a footlong sub and three cookies and a soda for a meal. I chose to eat Little Caesar’s every night for months on end, I chose to stay inside when I could have been outside walking. The reason I am fat is because of choices that I have made.
The thing that bothers me the most about all of this is the way that our culture responds to obesity. American has a serious problem with obesity. We’re the fattest country in the world. We eat like pigs, we eat processed food, we put poison into our bodies constantly. But the BIGGER issue in our culture is “fat-shaming.”
I don’t need to define what fat-shaming is or give you examples, you’ve heard of this, and you’ve no doubt seen the countless blog posts, articles, news stories, and scathing commentary by body-positivity advocates who think we should stop “shaming” people for being fat. But what a lot of these advocates consider “shaming” is just pointing out that someone is fat. Just NOTICING that someone is overweight, or even expressing concern for them, is NOT fat-shaming. And if it is, then I don’t personally have a problem with it.
I would consider fat-shaming to be outright abuse, picking on someone for their weight. Calling someone a fat-cow, telling them to put down the hamburgers, telling someone they’re ugly and unlovable because they’re fat. That’s cruel, that’s callous, and that’s wrong. But just POINTING OUT that someone is overweight, I don’t know that that’s the same thing. And on the few occassions I’ve posted on social media asking for support about losing weight, people tell me that I am being ignorant, that I should love my body the way it is. WHY? Why would I love my body the way it is? My body is SICK. My body is hurting. My skin is stretched, my blood is full of too much sugar, I don’t have the energy to make it through the day without taking a rest. I can’t stand up for long periods of time because my thighs rub together and create painful blisters that get worse the longer I walk. I sweat easily, I lose my breath, and if I go too long without food I become so weak that I shake and I can’t even stand up. I’m NOT HEALTHY. So why are people telling me to love my size? They’re essentially telling me to accept that I’m unehalthy and do nothing to change it.
How is it “body positivity” to tell fat people not to change their diet, not to lose weight? We know that obesity leads to heart attacks, to disease, to dying young. How are you possibly being “positive” or helping people by indulging in a delusion that they’re NOT unhealthy?
And then there’s the whole thing about beauty.
The number-one thing I hear when it comes to obesity is people saying “You’re beautiful. No matter what size you are, you’re still beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not beautiful because you’re fat.”
But… that’s not what we’re talking about. You can be beautiful and still be fat. Fat and beautiful are not two mutually-exclusive things. People are beautiful because they’re people. The reason you’re beautiful is not because your body is fat or skinny, what makes you beautiful is that you’re a human being who other people will find attractive. You’re beautiful because of your personality, your features, your attitude, your statements, your actions. You can be beautiful and be fat. So why are people setting up this false dichotomy? People always say “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!” as though they’re two opposite things. They have nothing to do with one another.
I know, we as a culture have a history of telling fat people they’re ugly. I get that. I understand that. Believe me, I’m a gay guy in 2018, I know better than anyone what it’s like to be ignored by an entire community of people because I’m fat. I send out messages on Grindr and never get responses. The only people who say hello to me are old guys, creeps, and other fat people. Just for fun I played around on my best friend’s Grindr account, and he gets messages flying in every two minutes. I know from personal experience that I am considered ugly and unattractive because I’m fat, especially in the gay community, which is known for being very shallow and obsessed with bodily perfection.
So don’t bring me this crap about “you’re not fat, you’re beautiful.” It’s missing the point entirely. If you love your friends and you want to encourage and help them, you should be encouraging them to lose weight. You should be offering suggestions about diet, helping them stay responsible and accountable, you should be cheering them on, not encouraging them to stay sitting on their ass and just accept themselves the way they are.
Now, of course, I’m not saying you should go up to fat people and start berating them for being fat or even telling them to lose weight if they haven’t asked. Apart from anything else, that’s fucking rude. But can we please have some sense and look at things in the light of reality here? I’m 260 pounds! I have type 2 diabetes. I want to live a long life, I want to be healthy, I want to have energy and put good healthy food into my body. It does me no good if you, as a friend, tell me to accept my body the way it is and just love myself the way I am. I already love myself! I already know I’m beautiful!
But you know what I also want to be? Healthy. I don’t want to have a heart attack, and the way things are going, I very well could. I don’t want to lose a limb, and I very well could. I don’t want to lose sensation in my fingers and toes, I don’t want to end up in a motorized scooter because I can’t walk. How is it “body-positive” to tell someone to accept being fat? The positive part would be telling someone they HAVE the power to improve.
I could go on and on. The other day I saw a video someone shared of a woman reading a poem about being fat. She talked about how every time she goes to the doctor, all the doctor talks about is her blood pressure and her cholesterol, and he won’t stop asking probing, inappropriate questions. SERIOUSLY? That’s what a doctor is SUPPOSED to do! They’re there to keep track of your health! These fat-acceptance crusaders would have us believe that to even bring up the topic of your weight is a fucking hate crime.
Well no. I’m calling bullshit. I’m fat. I’m a genuine, real life, FAT PERSON. And I’m here to tell you that calling out the obesity epidemic, in and of itself, is not a hate crime. Now, the way you do it very well could be. If you’re going up to fat people, calling them names and making jokes, and putting them down, that’s wrong, and any decent person would know better than to do that. But if I post on Facebook saying that I’m working on losing weight, and your response is to tell me that I’m wrong, that I ought to be working harder on loving myself, then you’re not doing me a service as my friend, and you’re contributing to the problem. We don’t tell people that have diabetes to love themselves the way they are and don’t worry about taking that silly insulin, we tell them to take their medication because they have a disease. We don’t tell people with cancer to just think more positively about their bodies, we tell them to fight!
Remember that Youtube video that made the rounds a few years ago, “Dear Fat People,” by Nicole Arbour? Now, Nicole Arbour is crazy for a variety of reasons that we don’t have to get into, but I’m going to be honest: I found that video very motivational. I thought it was funny, but truthful. It was a little cruel, yeah, but she made a lot of good points. And she was criticized for hate speech. But when I saw that video, it really reminded me that I COULD lose weight, that I could avoid being unhealthy and dying of a heart attack in my 30’s. It didn’t offend or hurt me at all, AND I’M ACTUALLY FAT. One thing I can’t stand is a bunch of skinny people harping on another skinny person about being fat-phobic. It’s like when white people get offended on behalf of minorities instead of letting actual minorities speak for themselves.
Remember Meghan Trainor, with that song All About That Bass that you still can’t escape from in every shopping mall, grocery store, and restaurant you walk into? I was always really bothered by that song. Because it seems to be sending this message “Hey, don’t worry if you’re fat, you’re still sexy!” But again, that’s missing the point. Being sexy isn’t the issue, being healthy is. As for that “skinny bitches” line, you can take it as a joke, which I did, or as an actual put-down toward skinny people, but honestly I don’t care, what I care about is that in a culture where we have an epidemic of obesity, where school children eat slop and process food for lunch every day, we have an anthem about accepting being fat. Well I don’t accept it, and I will again remind you, I feel I have the right to say all this because I am ACTUALLY FAT.
If we spent half as much time as a society actually caring about our health as we did getting outraged because someone had the audacity to point out that hey, maybe we’re not all that healthy, we could all actually solve this problem in the first place.
By way of offering another side to this, here is a comment someone once made when I posted a similar rant about body-positivity on Facebook. The comment at the end is a reference to the fact that I happened to be an anti-Millenial kick at the time (I have since begrudgingly accepted that I am a Millenial, but that we have some serious soul-searching to do), and I made a comment that this seemed to me to be another example of millenials forcing the world around them to change to meet their standards, rather than bettering themselves to fit into the rest of society. Here’s the response:
“Dude — you’re wrong on this one. Seriously wrong. There is no sum-zero game when it comes to fighting prejudice. If you think it’s not a real problem, you’ve never had a doctor dismiss your health concerns because ‘you just need more exercise’ as many, many overweight women and men have. Does a fat chick really have to be killed because she’s fat, for this to matter?
The body-acceptance movement isn’t about justifying unhealthy lifestyles. It’s just another area where we’re learning to meeting people where they are, accepting them for who they are, and they have value as they are. Not asking them to be someone else, to be a different shape, or a different color, or a different orientation. Why is acceptance of different body sizes important? Well, among other things — the shame associated with weight is unhealthy in and of itself, and makes it HARDER to make healthy lifestyle choices and changes. And I hate to break this one to you, but the weight thing? It didn’t start with Millennials.”
This person makes a good point. Putting someone down for their weight DOES make it harder for that person to have the confidence to make healthy choices. But I don’t think we’re doing anyone any favors by pretending that being overweight isn’t a problem. It is. Being overweight is a problem. A problem that can result in actually dying. And I’m not going to stick my head in the sand, I’m going to acknowledge the problem and then do my best to fight it.
I’ll end here by repeating some of the remarks I made to that commenter back then.
“I gained over fifty pounds and got type 2 diabetes because of my own shitty choices. Did my anxiety, depression, fun variety of mental health issues, and genetic predisposition all play a role in it? Yes. But ultimately I got diabetes because of my own choices. I chose to down soda and pizza and ice cream, and to give myself no limitation, and now I’m drastically overweight and I’m literally ill from it.
Whenever I’ve asked for encouragement about weight loss, time and again people keep telling me that weight loss doesn’t matter. That I should love my body just the way it is. But I don’t want to live my body just the way it is, I want to FIX what’s WRONG with it. If I were shot and bleeding to death, the appropriate response would be to treat the wound, not accept my bloody body and do nothing to cover the wound.
Sure, there are legitimate reasons why some people can’t help their weight. Usually those people are unable to walk because of severe life altering medical conditions. But suddenly, in the year , when America just happens to be at its most obese, eating poison, and our health is all rapidly declining, I’m expected to believe that SUDDENLY everyone who is overweight is a victim of circumstance and no one is responsible personally for the fact that they’re overweight? And moreover, that no one has any responsibility to themselves to FIX that issue? That everyone who is unnecessarily fat should just die 20 years earlier and get heart problems and diabetes because… because why? Because we’re too afraid we might hurt someone’s feelings to tell them they’ve stretched their body beyond the capacity it’s supposed to be according to our own biology?
There’s a clear difference between realizing that being overweight is a serious health risk and obesity is an epidemic in America, and the other extreme of pointing at all overweight people shouting “fat pig you should kill yourself!” But the trend in liberal culture now is to never tell anyone that anything is wrong with them in any way: we must accept all people exactly as they are, and that includes when they’re harming themselves and causing themselves problems that we need to ignore that. This kind of slippery slope logic is like saying that when I go to the doctor he should just tell me “Well, you’ve got cancer, diabetes, and HIV, but you know what? That’s who you are! We don’t need to change those things because that would be disrespecting who you are as a person!”
My doctor didn’t dismiss my health concerns because I need more exercise, he pointed out that my health concern IS THE FACT that I need mote exercise. Is there NOT a happy medium where we accept that one on end of the spectrum, being horrendously underweight like a runway model is terribly unhealthy and on the other end of the spectrum, being obese is ALSO terribly unhealthy? You don’t see people in the body acceptance movement posting pictures of people with anorexia saying “She’s beautiful just how she is! So what if she’s anorexic, that’s who she is and you don’t have the right to judge her!” No, that isn’t what’s happening at all, the fat-acceptance movement is happy to criticize anorexic people but still get offended if you imply that someone who is obese might be better suited losing weight.
I don’t think people need to look like models and fitness coaches to be healthy, and in fact I don’t really care if other people are healthy or not. What I care about is a culture that tells me that being unhealthy is fine, that to question it is wrong, and that I’m a bigot for saying that obese people, myself included, should work on losing weight rather than accepting obesity and the diseases that come along with it, and the possibility of dying young because of it.”
Nothing I’m saying here is a personal attack on anyone. If you’re overweight for reasons beyond your control, then I’m sorry. But I don’t think that justifies telling people who CAN beat obesity that they shouldn’t, just because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. How much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of not hurting people’s feelings? If it hurts people’s feelings for me to talk about how being overweight is bad for me, and bad for others, than I’m willing to hurt people’s feelings, because sometimes the truth is difficult.
Being fat, it’s hard. It sucks. Looking down when I’m naked and seeing my tummy poking out before I see my dick, that’s painful. Looking in the mirror and seeing the pouch of fat underneath my chin, that’s painful. Seeing stretch marks all across my sides and my arms and my ass is painful. Putting on an outfit and then looking in the mirror to see that it looks all wrong, that I don’t fit into my clothes, that’s painful. And the most painful thing of all is losing my breath walking around the mall, or having to sit down after half my shift at work because I’m unable to keep standing.
I’m struggling, as I always have. But the only way I can beat this is by looking forward to a future where I’m healthy, where I’m eating right, where I’m getting exercise, and where I have the energy to make my dreams come true. And I hope that I can do that. And I hope that anyone else who is in the same boat with me can find the confidence to do it too. I know that some of what I’ve said hear is a bit mean, but I don’t know of any other way to say it when it’s the hard truth. Being fat can kill you. And I don’t want to die.
So I’m fighting it. And I hope anyone else who’s obese will fight it too. Because I think that the rewards of losing weight and being healthy are much better than the rewards of just accepting being unhealthy when you have the means to change it.