I remember this guy. I used to hate this guy. A lot of other people did, too. Maybe not the person beneath but certainly what he represented.
That is the word I fear the most. I’ve heard it all my life and I can’t think about it without revisiting all the pain it’s caused me. You see, looking this way is unacceptable in our society. Fat is an offense. Fat is a failure. Fat is okay to hate. This isn’t what a real man looks like. That’s what I used to believe. So much so that I would try my very hardest to make sure I never ended up like this guy. I had enough going on with my life that already invited ridicule.
But then it happened. Not overnight. I could see it happening month by month even though I denied it for so long. Even as my pants ripped apart and I’d break plastic chairs just by sitting in them. I was too afraid to admit it. That person in that photo was me. And when I turned into that person I found out how easy it is for people who would otherwise be your so-called friends and family to call you fat to your face. Repeatedly.
It took a while of trying my hardest to bounce the insults and emotional abuse right off and not break but break I did. I broke. I needed to not be this person anymore. I needed to be thin. Then and only then would I be a real man. Nevermind that the main reason I gained over 100 lbs in the span of a year was the antipsychotics I was on paired with soul-crushing depression that left me bedridden most days. No one would accept that. I just needed to try harder. There’s no excuses to be fat. So-and-so has it ten times harder than you and they lost the weight. Be a man! You don’t want to die early do you?
When someone needs something so bad they can resort to less than healthy measures. Such as starvation and self-hatred. Hating yourself so much that even thinking of eating anything outside of your super-strict-and-not-at-all-scientifically-based diet would make you scream at the mirror while holding your excess fat that just never seemed to burn away.
Slowly but surely it started to pay off. Similar to the initial weight gain I was in equal denial of losing it. I was once convinced that I would get so big that I’d be able to convince my doctor to approve me for bariatric surgery. But, by God, it was working! People were finally starting to notice. I was getting compliments on my appearance again! Oh, how I had missed that! So what if the remarks would make me feel like my value was reduced to the perceived aesthetics of my physical appearance. At least I didn’t look like that guy anymore! I was happy...right?
No. I was not. I was lost.
Of course, I continued my path towards an arbitrary weight loss goal because maybe I’d be happy once I started to look really good. But almost two years later I’m still lost. And I’m still afraid. What happens if I gain even a couple pounds back??? My weight is almost always brought up wherever I go and I’m sick of it. But I guess I’m a poor sport or something. If I’ve learned anything from this experience is that just because someone says they are commenting on your weight (whether as a joke or to express concern) that doesn’t necessarily mean they actually care about you living your best life. Too many people just think fat is inherently bad. Like I used to think.
So even though I still feel lost I definitely don’t want to remain silent. February 26th-March 4th is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in the US. Even though I struggle with the notion of pathologizing our pain I also believe we shouldn’t hold it in. Especially as a man. Whether you want to call it an eating disorder, disordered eating, or something else, I’m calling out my fellow men. This isn’t just a “women’s issue” and it doesn’t make you “weak” for seeking help. You can still have your football and fist-bumps but there’s just too many of us suffering alone because we don’t feel safe coming out. This needs to end. Now is the time for men to speak out on eating disorders. So, whether you look like this guy or the guy in the gym considering calf implants the silence needs to end today.
And, by the way, it took a while for me to realize but this guy is a badass and he doesn’t need your permission to feel that way.
In addition to recommending the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) for more resources and support I also recommend Project HEAL which raises money to pay for eating disorder treatment for those unable to afford it. There’s a good chance there’s a local chapter in your neighborhood. Visit theprojectheal.org to get involved.