Archive for fatness

(Fat)al: a story of growing up fat in America
… a guest post by J.C.

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Shame. It’s a heavy word.

When people ask for my story, they assume I have been hurt because of prejudice about my sexual orientation. That’s the narrative they want. The you-came-out-as-gay-in-the-South-let-me-praise-you-for-getting-through-this-hardship story. That is not the narrative I feel obligated to write.

Yes, I was ashamed of my sexual orientation when I became conscious of it at fourteen. But that shame no longer exists. Sure, the word “faggot” still gets fired at me, but that isn’t the problem anymore. My “story” is about my anxiety as a fat man, especially a fat gay man. I’ve been ashamed of my fat ever since I can remember. “Fat” is the word that has plagued my entire existence. “Fat” is the hurricane that dilutes my humanity.

My mother provided me with my earliest memory of shame. She didn’t just tell me I was fat: she showed me. Pushed into countless fitting rooms, I was unable to find clothes my size at a young age. Still, she refused to buy me jeans that fit. For three torturous years, I wore pants that would attach by Velcro, not buttons. I wanted to be vapor. I wanted my fat to instantly vanish into thin air because I felt like a burden to her. After all, what would the other parents think of her fat first-born?

Imagine a child as young as eight telling his grandparents he wasn’t hungry because he was fat. That’s what I did. Their solution was to bribe me with one dollar for every meal I attempted to eat.

At age twelve, I was too embarrassed to change my clothes for gym in front of the other boys. Refusing to do so, I received a C in the class. It was worth it.

When I started a food diary, I convinced myself SlimFast was the salve that would weaken the poison fat on my body. I drowned my stomach with that faux chocolate to the point of nausea. It replaced my breakfast and lunch. Every. Single. Day.

I got thin. But I also got weak. And I didn’t lose enough to satisfy myself despite my family complimenting my weight loss. There was a sense of Armageddon within my fat cells. My goal was a BMI of 18: I wanted to be underweight.

When one of my friends got her driver’s license, we went to Walmart, so I could buy Lipozene for the first time. The words “lose pure body fat” coaxed my brain into submission. I took my precious miracle to self-checkout only for an automated voice to say, “Please wait for assistance.” The employee told me I was too young to buy weight loss supplements and sent me home. My friend suggested eating only five hundred calories a day, and we became each other’s food coaches.

A year later, I came out as gay to my mother for the third time. Her response was to “cure” my “queer-washed mind” with anxiety medication. I launched the pill into my stomach every morning, and, as a result, my mouth got sore and eventually bled. I could only ingest a small portion, but I savored the metallic liquid, hoping it would sustain my body for one more day despite the excruciating pain.

In college, I had a health professor who wondered how fat people had sex because “their parts don’t fit.” I felt like the other students were staring at me as if I were the only overweight person in the course, as if I was the target of her words. I felt even more ashamed and thus began a diet of SlimFast and Special K. My roommate and I would run at the gym until I felt like I would collapse. Once, when I ate a cookie, he posted unsolicited advice to my Twitter page: “Go throw up.”

I could have died from that shame.

The treatment I got because of my fat made me feel as wretched as Frankenstein’s monster and as twisted as Mr. Hyde. That’s when I realized I needed to change before I ended up eradicating myself with diet rituals. What I learned is that fat people don’t need to feel shame. I’ve ended up gaining eighty pounds back in college, but I feel healthy and positive now. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and surround myself with people who encourage me to love my body. I have the right to exist and won’t let anyone water me down. I am not a problem, nor am I a before and after dichotomy.

I am a credible, intelligible fat human.

—J.C.

Shows about big people: step in the right direction or more jokes about fatness?









Glee‘s new hot couple: Puck and Lauren.

If you haven’t noticed, there has been a drastic increase in the amount of big people on TV lately. There are still very few medium-sized people (which is a problem), but the rise of big people is worth noting.

We now have numerous shows about obese or overweight people: Mike & Molly, Huge, The Biggest Loser, and Dance Your Ass Off are the most obvious examples.

The question is, are these characters being presented in ways that are helping us a society or hurting us?

My favorite of these shows is Huge, a smart and moving scripted drama about teens at a fat camp, which I’ve written about before. Not only does this show avoid the usual fat jokes, it also treats each character as a unique and interesting individual, something I’d like to see more often with characters of all sizes. Unfortunately, this might be the only show on television that regular depicts big people as real people.

I don’t watch the reality shows about losing weight, and I’ve only seen one episode of Mike & Molly, and that was enough to turn me off. As Slate’s Daniel Engber says in his outstanding photo and video essay, “Tele-Tubbies: The Rise of the Obese Actor on TV,”Each episode [of Mike & Molly] delivers an onslaught of rim-shot-ready, anatomical putdowns. (Hey, this shirt looks like it was made in an awning store, ba-dum-bum!) After [several] months on the air, the scripts still vacillate between sweetness and fat shame. So what should we make of Mike & Molly? Does the show reflect some new phase of size acceptance in America, or just the opposite—a growing appetite for weight-based minstrelsy?”

Engber raises a good point—are shows about big people just a way for us to laugh at fatness? And if they are, is it still good for us to see people of different sizes on television or not?

The answer is ultimately that the jury is still out.

The most recent episodes of Glee have brought an obese character—Lauren, played by Ashley Fink who also has a supporting role on Huge—into the spotlight, but I still haven’t decided if Glee’s treatment of Lauren is good or bad.

Lauren joined the show last fall, but her character has taken center stage since one of the show’s main character’s—Puck—started pursuing her this winter.

On the one hand, it’s nice to see someone Lauren’s size being depicted as the object of desire.

On the other hand, it’s disappointing and frustrating that a show as envelope-pushing as Glee still falls back on so many clichés—Lauren eats all the time, she’s loud and a bit crass, she has attitude to spare, etc.

Still, probably the most off-putting thing about the introduction of Lauren as a major character is that Puck sang Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” to her while he was trying to seduce her.

Thankfully, Lauren told him what she thought of that, explaining that though she’d always wanted a boy to sing to her, she never thought it would be a song like that, adequately expressing her—and our—disapproval. And, as some people have suggested, maybe that’s WHY the writers chose to have Puck sing that song, to demonstrate how insensitive and cruel people can be.

So, yes, the show is laughing a little bit at the “fat” thing by including such a song and showing Lauren as a lover of chocolate, but her character isn’t taking the abuse either, and just by doing that, she’s pushing the envelope.

As Lauren explains, “I look like America. Deal with it.” One of my friends called the war between Lauren and Santana (Puck’s on-again-off-again super fit girlfriend) “a fight between ide0logies”: raising the question, what makes us happy? Having our bodies worshipped by men or accepting ourselves the way we are?

Ultimately, Lauren is intelligent, mature, and thoughtful, and not just there to make us laugh, and since Huge is the only other show on television with obese characters depicted this way, that makes her characterization a positive to me.

Like I said, the jury is still out on whether the increase in big people on our TVs is a good thing or a bad thing, but I think we can all agree, we’ve got to start somewhere.

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