The Fat Kid
Have you ever looked at someone hugely, grossly overweight and thought “Thank goodness I’m not them!”
Did you clock their bulging seams, their cushions of flab, the way their legs bulge out around the ankles (feet in their shoes by comparison appearing tiny), the way the features of their face seem to be engulfed by a neck which just took over?
Did you ever smell them in high summer?
Did you ever see a small child, who is really beyond ‘chubby’, and recall that image of the fat, fat person to mind, and think “Oh dear – I can see where you’re headed!”
Or a big, ungainly, overweight teenager, looking awkward and uncomfortable in clothes designed to hide, and think “It’s not too late! Stop now! Stop the eating! Get some exercise! It’s so simple!”
I’ve thought all of those things. Fortunately (thus far) I’ve managed to stop myself from saying any of them out loud. Because I think if I did, I would (deservedly) be punched in the middle of my face.
It’s a highly emotive issue for some, this business of fatness.
The general media consensus tells us that Slender is Sexier (I know; blah blah blah – old news) while there are those who attempt to convey the opposite message – Fat is Fabulous – there’s more to love – and in some part they succeed, drawing obsessive followers, while in dark corners, the Thin-titled put their heads together, purse their lips and whisper in scandalised tones about ‘chubby chasers’ and ‘fat freaks’.
The health crew reliably tell us (nearly causing blunt force trauma as they hit us over the head with that ungainliest of tools; the Body Mass Index (BMI)) that TooFat and TooSkinny can be equally unhealthy, and that what we need is BMI <25, 7 hours of sleep a night, 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, and 30 minutes of exercise as often as we can bear to take it.
Fashion is torn. Music and Movies largely follow fashion. And in the end it all comes down to money.
Because truly, in the western world, we eat too much.
“Never before have so many calories been consumed by so few.”
We pay for food we don’t need to give us energy we won’t use and then buy new clothes (because the old ones don’t fit) and a gym membership (to get back into the old clothes).
Call me cynical, but I don’t really think anyone’s looking out for us. Not really.
Which brings us round to common sense (should we not be taking care of this for ourselves?), and the fact that it might just be lost with our ancestors.
Allegedly we are built for running. We carry the bulk of our weight carefully around our middles, ensuring a low centre of gravity whilst allowing us to remain upright. We have tall, upright bodies for seeing well with our binocular vision. We have long legs and strong muscles (when developed) and can go on for miles and miles and miles (once trained). We are tough, athletic creatures at heart.
And we’ve let it slip.
Since the advent of…what shall we blame today?
Canned goods – which allow food to be stored for longer and used when convenient?
Refrigeration – which allows food to be stored for longer and used when convenient?
Fast food – notoriously full of grease (because our brains are programmed to love sugar and grease, because these are the things which grant fastest energy (which is what our anciently-historical selves would have needed whilst living in caves and going out to hunt bison)) because it’s what sells well??
Family breakdown – because parents no longer monitor what their kids eat, or feed them out of guilt or indulgence?
Advertising – because they confuse us by showing the most outrageously sexualised adverts of ‘perfect’ bodies alongside an offer for ‘Buy One Get One Free’ on processed food?
Consumerism – because in the end it’s all about giving us our opinion, telling us we demand it, and then offering a supply?
Poverty – because fresh food and foods-with-fewer-additives-and-preservatives cost more?
Personal trauma – because it’s easier to eat (or starve) away the pain than deal with it?
We are absolutely buffeted with conflicting messages, the most prevalent of which is this:
Fat Is Bad.
I should know.
I’m remembered as a skinny child with a dairy allergy, but looking back at my childhood photos, I see a well-rounded girl with a wide, lumpy face.
Once the dairy allergy was gone (simultaneously with my home life taking a nosedive for the far worse) I entered 12 years of over-indulging and comfort eating.
I don’t even remember when I first noticed I was fat. It goes so far back I can’t remember.
Photos of myself as an older child and a young teen still make me cringe deep inside. Why was I allowed to continue eating myself into a sphere? How could I not have noticed?
I’ll tell you how – food was feedback.
It told me ‘Yummy’. ‘Delicious’. ‘More’. ‘Yours’.
It delighted my eyes, my nose, my taste-buds – even my fingertips as I reached out for another delectable morsel.
It was positive input.
It counteracted the daily negatives I received via word, non-word and inference - “Burden. Unworth. Ugly. Greedy. Vile. Unwanted. Failure.”
But with that positive input, there was the weight, too. That kindasorta happened along the way, almost incidentally.
I do remember the first time someone else noticed I was fat, though. A routine check-up at the doctor necessitated me to lie on the bed, and after examining me for whatever-it-was, he put out his big, man’s finger and poked me in the middle of my belly “You’re getting a bit fat” he said.
It echoed round my brain.
I can’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old.
I clammed up and didn’t meet his eye for the rest of the consultation. I remember staring determinedly at the edge of his desk and answering questions in a monotone. He offered no advice (that I recall) other than that damning announcement.
I made a fuss and we changed doctor. The new one was nice. She didn’t call me fat. But by then I didn’t need her to tell me.
Then my schoolmates began to notice, and they called me fat, too.
I was worst at Physical Education (PE). I achieved a reasonable time one year on our annual cross-country run because I somehow missed an entire lap. I frequently found reasons to be ill before PE. Or to join in the least I could. I hated the communal changing rooms and tried desperately to hide my body as it continued to grow outwards.
I left school with self-esteem that rock-bottom couldn’t even see down to. It wasn’t just the Fat (though that weighed heavily on my mind) – the bulk of the issue stemmed from an abusive home and the systematic destruction of my self-esteem. But none of that mattered, because the ‘me’ I presented to the world, the one who was perceived – and judged – by others, was Fat.
I grew up hiding myself in big clothes. I lurked. I socialised very little. I ate. I did make friends at college, for the first time, who liked me for myself; who appreciated my creativity and sense of humour and the person who I was. But I drove those friends to distraction with whining about my weight, leading one of them to finally snap and tell me “Do something about it or stop complaining”.
This was the best advice I’d ever received, and in that moment, I finally owned my fat.
It hadn’t happened to me – I wasn’t afflicted – I didn’t have ‘fat genes’ or ‘big bones’ – I had done this to myself. And I could undo it.
This was a powerful tool, once I’d admitted it to myself.
I got a job and joined a gym, and the weight fell off. I began to feel better.
Then the membership lapsed and the time wasn’t there any longer, and the weight went back and I felt worse.
Then I signed up for a half-marathon and began doing some training and the weight fell off. I began to feel better.
Then the half-marathon was over and the weight went back on and I felt worse.
Then I got engaged and was going to be married and I dieted and the weight fell off. I felt better.
Then I got married and the cooking for Husby and the wonder of being in charge of my own pantry went to my head and the weight went back on and I felt worse.
The rest of me was better – I had some self-esteem, some good friends and family and a man who loved me dearly, however I looked. They encouraged me and told me I was strong and striking and intelligent and a wonderful daughter/niece/sister/wife, and that they loved me very much just for being me.
They didn’t care that the ‘me’ was Fat. But I cared.
I cared because I could still poke myself in the belly with one finger and say “You’re getting a bit fat”, and I was – I was at my heaviest ever. I cared because when I saw a photograph of myself, I saw a blob. An ungainly, ugly, flabby, lump, trying to look good in clothes which still couldn’t hide the truth.
I decided to lose weight to qualify for fertility treatment (whose requirements demand a BMI of <30). On the day I was first measured, my BMI was 31, which, shockingly, put me into the ‘obese’ category. Obese.
Like those Fat People.
Something had to be done, so I installed a lifestyle diet – the 5:2 fasting diet, where for two days a week, you eat nothing for as long as you can; then only fruit and veg until a normal (but healthy) evening meal.
I gave up cheese.
I began going for walks with a friend twice a week, and we encouraged each other to follow work-out DVDs when it was raining.
The walks turned into walks with running-y bits, which turned into runs with walking-y bits, which (for me) have turned into Proper Runs.
Sometimes the not-eating would spill into other days, too, and it didn’t matter because (lets face it) there was lots of fat to lose.
I found some inspiring quotes:
“Sweat is fat crying”
“No food tastes as good as slender feels”
The second quote caused an argument, as my friend believed that it was the kind of trash associated with pro-anorexia literature and websites. I disagreed, finding it motivational. We were both vehement, and in the end agreed to disagree.
Since April, I’ve been working hard.
The next fertility appointment came, and I was excited to show off my progress and my commitment. But they didn’t even ask, and I was knocked off my feet by how much that hurt me. I decided there and then that the inconsiderateness of fertility clinics and even the possibility of having a baby was not a good enough reason to lose weight, however noble. I needed better motivation.
To look good. Purely, simply and superficially, so that when I meet someone they don’t think I’m a big, fat cow first, and a lovely person second (as if that even matters after the judgement’s happened. All I am then is a fat, nice person).
I gave up desserts. Not intentionally, but just because I didn’t find I wanted them.
My portion sizes have shrunk drastically.
I’ve been dieting and exercising and remaining in control of it all, ensuring that I eat healthily but not too thoroughly in between fast days. I doubt I’ll ever be skinny, nor do I really want to be. Because I do love food, and I doubt my ability to ever get that thin, though toned and slender surely might be achievable?
But the allure is strong, and I’m beginning to understand the delight in conquering hunger. Of embracing it and knowing that it means it’s working.
I don’t mind being cold any more, because shivering and trying to maintain body temperature burns calories.
I’ve reached the point where sometimes, I genuinely do forget to eat lunch, and it’s okay – it doesn’t kill me, and it all helps towards the goal.
I’ve come to a point where the bathroom scales are my friends, because they show my progress so delightfully (GOODBYE 20kg of unwanted blubber (HOW much?!!?!)) and I get onto them several times a week to check how I’m doing.
I recently got a new job, for which I needed to buy some new trousers. Thanks to the slimming, I astonished myself by fitting straight into a UK size 14 (I had previously been a generous size 18) and in realising the difference, congratulated myself mentally for a bare moment before the thundering realisation of just how incredibly fat I had been, crashed down on me.
I strengthened my resolve.
I will get this.
I continued with the 5:2 lifestyle and upped the ante on the exercise front, taking on a squats challenge, adding back in my old gym-years routine of push-ups and sit-ups. I began going for longer runs, alone. I was able to do up my belt an extra notch, and danced in celebration when it happened.
And today I realised that the size 14 trousers I bought a month ago are baggy in the front, baggy in the back and round the thighs and round the tummy. I won’t hold my breath, but I might’ve slimmed out of them!
For a moment I felt really good about myself and my efforts, until I got home and looked in the mirror and could still see pudgy arms, a wobbly tummy and jelly thighs.
I’m still Fat.
And I’m disappointed, too, because I know I’ve been doing well. But just not well enough.
But there’s more to be done. More weight to be shifted. More toning to happen. More running and striving and training and starving and…
…and it’s only now that I’ve realised where the work needs to be done.
On the inside.
On the part of me which looks at Fat People and sees a Fat Person rather than just a person; the part of me which looks at a Fat Teenager and sees Heartache Waiting To Happen rather than a teenager; the part of me which looks at a Overly Chubby Toddler and sees the early stages of Fat Problems rather than just a toddler.
The part of me which looks in the mirror and sees a Fat Kid rather than Lizzi.
Because when I look on the outside, I only see the ‘me’ – the physical, awful shape, who was told all those nasty things from an age too young to protect herself. Or to know any different. Or to know that the horrible things weren’t Truths.
So those skewed truths were internalised and now the mirror spews them back. To slim is to beat them. To get stronger is to refuse to listen to them. To (begin to) look good is to flip them the middle finger and tell them to fuck off. To be fitter and slender and in control is to conquer them.
Because the person in the mirror is not who everyone else sees. Everyone else seems to see someone they really like. Someone maybe sweet, kind, valuable, worthwhile, inspiring, good, helpful, worthy of love.
And one part of me wishes I knew that person. And the other part of me is terrified because those nice things still feel like lies, and that the people who think them might one day find out that they’re lies, and know the truth. The one I can’t unhook from.
And so I strive to look on the outside like what people seem to see on the inside. Because that other image is too entangled with the original ‘truths’, and this way, I have half a chance of learning to like myself.