No one around my age remembers this, but apparently I was overweight as a kid. I think I remember the doctor talking about it when I had a check-up, maybe I made up that memory.
I had bad eating experiences. I grew up poor and assigned male at birth. That meant that there was not a lot of food, but when we got some, I could eat a lot without people talking about it. So I guess I got fat?
In grade school, I was always the slowest one. I always got tagged. I was a target. I was like, “There are at least 20 other people playing this damn game. Why am I always the first?” Slow and steady wins the race my ass.
I had a friend I’ll call E. My mom, who was also overweight, would make me work out with her all of the time, at random hours of the day. She would say, “We need to be skinny like E and his mom.” I started to wish that E was fat, so that I wouldn’t have to work out anymore.
By the time puberty hit, I got taller and thinner. I saw one of my yearbook pictures, I looked like a skeleton. I did track and field for two years in middle school. I told people it was because I wanted to get ready for tennis in high school. Secretly, it was because I wanted to lose weight and stay thin.
I think that’s a body image disorder.
I would overexercise all of the time. But I still wasn’t really eating well. I never knew what I was gonna get. A nutri-grain bar for breakfast. Really bad TV dinners for lunch? A double dinner of Chinese takeout and Pizza Hut? Maybe my mom or dad would make fried chicken or fried pork chops? I had pretty bad acne, I’ll say that. I wasn’t fat, but I was afraid I would be, and then my parents would shame me again. My dad loved to bring up the fact that I used to be overweight. He’d say “You’re all skinny now, but you weren’t always.”
My dad is overweight. My mom was fat. I wasn’t. I felt like I won some unspoken battle. I lived in a conservative Christian home where I was hiding the fact that I was gay at all hours of the day. I wanted to control something, I guess. So my body was the victim. But I couldn’t talk about that. My dad believed that boys who had eating disorders were gay, because why would a boy care that much about his body?
I was so active, but I didn’t really take good care of my body, partly because I didn’t know how, partly because I couldn’t afford to. My freshman year, I developed knee pain. Two years later I found out that I have “loose patella.” I did cross country and was given cleats a size too small for my feet. I got shin splints and messed up my toes. I tried to be a vegetarian in high school, because I heard that was healthier for you, but by that point, my dad didn’t have a job and my mom was dead, so I had a lot of Ramen. Fun fact: I’ve never eaten Ramen noodles in college. After three months, I looked like I was sick.
I dreamed of a world where I could eat regularly and healthily. Where I could be in charge of my body and let it go where it naturally wanted to. I ended up going to Oberlin College, which won the title of “Best Vegan Liberal Arts College” two years ago. I had lots of granola. And eggs. And beans. And kale. So much kale. Burnt kale. Well-massaged with oil kale. Kale chips. Kale soup. Kale pizza.
I learned about fat-shaming at Oberlin. I learned about debates over what terms to use for people who are plus-sized/fat/overweight/big/etc. I felt hypocritical: haven’t I been spending my whole life “fat-shaming” myself, and I wasn’t even fat anymore (and according to some peers who knew me back then, I never was)? Was I still fat-shaming? Would I date overweight people? I did, but would I do it again? Would I be OK if I was fat?
But all of that is tied to other shit, as it always is. My mom had a stroke my junior year of high school. She had high blood pressure for the longest time. No matter how many times she dieted or followed the advice of Dr. Oz and Oprah, she still had high blood pressure. And she had a stroke and died a couple of months after that. Her death never made sense to me because she had tried to be healthier but it didn’t seem to matter.
I went to the Netherlands this past January. My friend D and I noted the fact that so many people there were skinny. It made sense, everyone walked and biked everywhere. But what was weird to me was that I was eating the way I usually did, but I noticed that my skin was clearing up and that I was losing weight. D knew a lot of shit about environmental health, and she told me it was because of a lack of GMOs and pesticides and chemicals and all of that. That those things build up in a person’s body and they make you overweight. Sure enough, when I left the Netherlands and started eating in America again, I gained weight.
All of that surprised me more than anything. For a lot of my life, my family was given cheap food from food pantries, or we had to buy cheap food on food stamps. I didn’t know how to cook a lot of food, I didn’t know about what foods had what vitamins or whatever. And as I grew up, all my friends started obsessing over this shit and pursued all sorts of diets and whatever to make sure they wouldn’t be fat. And I couldn’t even afford to do what they did. Neither could my mom. And I come to find out that maybe in other countries, the food isn’t killing their minds, bodies, and spirits. Part of me wishes my mom would have been able to experience what I did, because when I was there, I wasn’t caught up on “calorie-counting” and “portion control” and all of that shit. I ate what I wanted when I did, and I felt free to just be in my body. I wonder what my mom’s life would have been like if she could have been just as free.