I remember the first time someone called me fat. I was in the second grade and I had no idea how to react. Until then, I'd not really thought about my weight. I was a twig when I was a kid and when that kid called me fat in second grade I was blindsided. So I said "thank you."
My second grade teacher had taught us to say thank you to insults in order to take the wind out of the sails of anyone insulting us. It makes a degree of sense. The kid says thank you to an insult and there's no escalation. That way there's no real confrontation. Now I teach elementary school music and my advice for dealing with an insult is a little different. I tell kids to let each other know that something another student says or does hurts their feelings. I try to model this for my students. Some times it works, some times it doesn't. Last week, a student was intentionally singing in a silly voice. I told him that singing that way when we were trying to sing seriously was disrespectful to me and hurt my feelings. He responded by saying, "I didn't know grown men had feelings. I got rid of my feelings when I was six."
I think by saying "thank you" to the kid who called me fat, I owned it a little too much. From that day on, I was officially fat. It was part of my identity and I started eating like it. There were plenty of other factors contributing to my weight, including emotional eating and a fondness for chicken nuggets, but I attribute a lot of my weight gain to the self fulfilling prophesy of being called fat. The thank you response to being called fat eventually wore off, but, like many other people who have struggled with their weight, I tried to grow a self deprecating sense of humor.
There are a few particularly painful memories I remember through elementary school. The first was in fourth grade when we were running laps in the gym. A couple kids decided to name my butt cheeks Tom and Jerry. In fifth grade, I caught some girls drawing some pretty terrible pictures of me in a notebook. I didn't see much, but the picture looked like a fat monster. Riding the bus was the worst. Older kids who were relentless about teasing me rode the bus.
Junior High School was much, much worse. I tried so hard to be cool. So hard. Everyone else seemed to do it effortlessly. It took years to realize that they were trying as hard as I was to look cool. It felt like every day someone said something about my weight. I was so insecure about my body. God, puberty is an awkward time. I had my first outbreak of stretch marks on my inner thighs. Of course, I told no one and just let it scare me every time I saw them. Then they happened around my arms. I remember getting ready to go swimming and trying to stand casually so no one could see my stretch marks. Soon it got a lot harder when they appeared on my belly. I'm still just a little self conscious about them, but at least I know what they are now.
Somewhere in here, my dad decided to tell me I was gaining too much weight. He said he was worried about me and wouldn't drop it. I felt awful about the whole thing but I think he was generally worried about me and since he had been thin all his life, didn't understand the psychological impact of expressing his concerns. The same thing happened a few years later with my grandmother years later. She pulled me close and tried to lovingly tell me that she was worried about me because I was getting too fat. I wanted to cry.
By ninth grade, I was starting to form an identity. I was the smart, fat, nerdy kid. There were a lot more aspects to that personality but smart, fat, and nerdy pretty much summed me up (and still are part of who I am). I would make a lot of jokes about my own weight. I was still using the tactic my second grade teacher taught me about stealing the thunder of my assailants. In order to fit in socially, I tried very hard to be the funniest person in my circle of friends.
High school was kind of a wash. I was so wrapped up in everything I was in to notice my weight too much. There were times I was convinced I was going to lose weight, but I never did. I got a job at McDonalds. There I developed a taste for fatty foods. Miraculously, in the two years I worked there, I only gained 5 pounds. I was in marching band and doing strength training and conditioning at school. Imagine how much weight I would have lost if I hadn't eaten a 20 piece chicken nuggets every time I went to work. I started jogging at one point, but gave up fairly quickly.
In college, I really tried to change who I was. At this point I weighed 230 pounds and very much wanted to change that. I did. In the wrong direction. I gained an almost exact freshman 15. Then lost it over the summer. I started getting really down on myself about my weight. I blamed it for the fact I was always single and incredibly lonely. I felt absolutely gross and terrible. Looking back, it was probably my lack of confidence that kept women away. I was sad and lonely, so I ate. Then I'd get mad at myself for eating and I'd eat more to manage that. Then I drank. Alcohol helped me shed my self-doubt and interact with people more easily. At least for the first few drinks. By the end of most heavy drinking nights, I would get sad and lonely. I ate and ate and tried to love myself. Something changed when I met Claire. When we first started dating, I instantly became a stronger person. Almost instantly, I felt valid. I still knew I was fat, but I didn't care. A person who looked like me was capable of being with someone who looked like Claire (incredibly gorgeous). Unfortunately, that meant I didn't care how much I weighed and started eating even less healthily. Claire still gives me strength and validation every single day. She's an incredibly important part of my identity, but now I understand that I need to lose weight for a different reason than women. I need to lose weight so I can live a long and healthy life. I spent 6 years in college getting my act together (which is another story in and of itself). In that time I went from 230 pounds to 300 pounds.
Then I started my teaching career. Kids don't understand that it's not okay to call someone fat. It's a delicate subject, especially for someone who is very sensitive about his weight. I've been told I was going to break a chair on several occasions, I've been told I was too big, had a big belly, fat, gross, the list goes on and on.
I try not to be the gross, fat guy. I'm very sensitive about how I appear when I eat. I'm terrified that when I sit in a chair, it will break. I once bent the legs on a cot. Thankfully, no one brought it up. I have bad sleep apnea. Before I started exercising, I got winded easily. I always spill food on my shirt, which draws attention to the fact that I've been eating.
I know I've talked a lot about how I've struggled up to this point in life, but I've been pretty lucky so far. I have an amazing wife, a great job, despite my complaining, I actually had a great time in college and discovered who I really was. I've always had a family who loves me and enough food to eat. I've never had to worry that I would be homeless. I've never been a victim of a natural disaster. Objectively, my life is pretty good.
So here we are. I still have body image issues but I'm working on them. I'm coming to the realization that losing a lot of weight won't erase the memories of the pain that weight has caused me. I'm just hoping that losing weight will help me feel better about how I look. Most importantly, I'm losing weight so I can be healthy and be able to do everything I want to do, without breaking any chairs in the process.