Objectively, I am not a fat man. I feel like a fat man. Objectively, I was not a fat boy. I always felt like a fat boy. No jokes this time. No humor. (Or at least I’ll try my best, best, best!)
Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve felt fat. Sometimes I was just chunky or “husky,” but mostly I felt like a tub of goo. Interestingly, there are no surviving photographs of me as a fat child, unless you count a baby picture where my body looks like a large canned ham with an admittedly cute face plugged on top of it. Or one of me as a well-tanned five-year-old in pajama bottoms with my tummy inflated. It’s hard to describe exactly, but think of the pictures of children with kwashiorkor, the protein deficiency that causes the belly to expand while the child dies of starvation. Now, stop thinking of that, because it’s entirely too melodramatic for me to compare a picture of a dying African child to me in front of a fireplace with a goddamned cute smile on my face consciously blowing my belly up. Trust that only a few pictures of me from early childhood show me as anything approaching overweight, much less fat. Still, that’s not how I felt. I felt fat.
Feelings, I know, are not facts, but they still goddamned feel that way. As a perhaps related example, I was a “precocious” child in school. Precocity can be demonstrated a number of ways; mine was to treat the class as my audience, my teacher as my straight man and to work slightly more comedic gold of any situation than was actually there. In kindergarten, I was sent home from school numerous times for misbehaving—most disruptively for pulling down my pants to show Cathy Palmer what I was packing down there. Suffice to say, I was a pain in the neck to every teacher I was ever inflicted on, including Mrs. Fullam, my second-grade teacher and my favorite of all time. Like many class clowns, I suspect, I had a view of myself at odds with any available evidence. To wit, I viewed myself as shy, reserved and soft-spoken—while standing on a chair and calling out for attention. Anyway, Mrs. Fullam had the good sense to encourage my interest in writing—it seemed productive, it kept me quiet and it allowed her to get some teaching done with the rest of the class. Were it not for Charlotte Fullam, I almost certainly would not be here writing this, or, in fact, maybe here at all. One more reason for singing Mrs. Fullam’s praises: when I confessed to her, this saint who’d had to fight with me for the class’s attention, that I thought my voice was too soft, quiet and hard to hear, she didn’t laugh out loud. She may have chuckled with her back turned, but she didn’t give the guffaw I deserved.
I started this essay with the word “objectively,” so let me give some facts. All my adult life, I’ve falsely claimed to be five-feet, eight-inches tall. I’ve never been five-eight, but five-seven just seemed short. As a high school athlete of more will than ability, I was five-seven and weighed 145 pounds. Whatever BMI chart or healthy weight comparison one uses, that’s not fat. I understand that. Still, I felt fat. Today at 58, I have just lost an inch to gravity, and weigh 145. That’s not fat, but don’t try to tell my heart that. It feels very fat indeed. My weight has gone up and down over the years, with a low of 135 just over 30 years ago, right before I was hospitalized with suicidal depression, and a high of 155—that latter still, I think, in the normal range. The normal range of fat, is how it appears to me.
Objectively, I am not a fat man. Since America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic—and “midst” may be highly inaccurate, for overweight seems to have been normalized enough to cause a statistical shift—I’m not looking for sympathy for my weight, nor understanding of my feelings. Off the top of my head, I can name a hundred things more important than my feelings about my weight, starting with the importance of slaying the ego to stop worshiping at the altar of self.
Still . . . I feel like a fat man.