This was sort of inspired after reading this.
I remember being unemployed. So damn skint, having to rely on other people and government hand outs. I’m still not financially well off- I get by, but if suddenly an emergency cropped up I’d struggle, and have done in the past. I have enough to live month to month and maybe a few luxuries in the form of a new game every few months. I’m unlikely to starve. But when I was unemployed it was really bad. We learnt to shop carefully, ASDA smartprice food filled our cupboards, row after row of their white and green tins proudly proclaiming how poor we were.
It was during this time, on one of my many walks to hand out CVs that I was walking home from a village several miles away when a teenage girl at a bus stop yelled at me.
She couldn’t have been much older than 15, and she was sat at a bus stop with friends who all giggled along with her. I felt crushed, embarrassed and unable to respond. I just carried on walking home. Despite the verbal attack, it was another couple of years before I started to look at losing weight. Though I was 17 stone, a 40 inch waist, smoked and drank a hell of a lot I didn’t really have any desire to change. Well, no, I had the desire but not the motivation. I had recently been diagnosed with depression and in that state it can be difficult to exercise. Some people lose weight when depressed because they don’t eat, others gain it because all they do is comfort eat.
I was 17 stone, I grew a beard to hide my chins and I wore baggier shirts to hide my moobs, I grew my hair long and I looked my age as opposed to looking several years younger when slim. I was in a relationship at the time and my partner didn’t have a problem with my weight. It was only when I became single it started to actually be a noticeable put-off for women. Though I was, and still am, terrible at talking to women, when I was slimmer I didn’t have a massive issue with sex. My sexual partners are into the double digits so clearly even though I have always had self esteem issues women don’t automatically find me hideous. Even if I think they do.
But when I was fat, it was something different. Women who are attracted to larger men are called “chubby chasers”- a rather insulting phrase to both parties. People have different tastes but we don’t say women who go for average sized men are “toned chasers” or those who prefer skinny men are “stick chasers”. Yet chubby chaser is its own category, as if we need it pointing out that there is something a bit different, and different isn’t necessarily good.
There was an episode of the sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart where the overweight Ron ended up sleeping with a woman who was not his wife and the punch line to this was that she was a chubby chaser. It was something to poke fun at. Because fat people are funny.
My weight has had impact on other areas of my life- cloths shopping once you reach a certain size is difficult. At a 40 inch waist you are severely limited, mainly in the trouser shopping department. XL and XXL shirts are quite easy to find, but try looking for jeans in a 40 at Primark. You’re lucky to find one or two pairs amongst the hundreds on sale. And even then, for some reason the legs are always too long. So not only is being fat a problem, but short and fat is a problem that people don’t seem to think to cater for. And I wasn’t big enough to go to those “big man” style shops. It is an odd size to be- too big for most high street stores and not big enough to have a better selection at larger-themed clothing stores.
Then there are the calf issues- walking puts strain on my calves and it becomes painful to walk, never mind exercise. People would tell me I would be attractive if I lost weight. Friends would bully me in their “only joking” way because being fat is an acceptable thing to ridicule. Being called a fat fuck by a friend who is only “joking” isn’t a joke and it really does hurt.
Though it is not as rampant as it is for women, men are still told that they should look a certain way if they want to succeed. Another friend told me that I would get more work if I lost weight because people don’t like hiring fatties. This was meant as friendly advice. Walk into any shop that sells magazines and look at what’s on display. Front covers do show you the toned, six packed hunk because that’s what we should all aim for apparently. In Fight Club, one of the characters – ironically I believe Brad Pitt who was toned and ripped in a way that makes some women swoon and some men think they should hit the gym- looks at a poster of a Tommy Hilfiger model and retorts “Is that what a real man looks like?”
Mens magazines promote the idea that a man should look a certain way, and if we aren’t trim or “ripped” or bulging biceps then there is something wrong with us. Skinny guys are told to beef up, but fat guys are told to stop eating if we want to succeed. I don’t recall hearing skinny friends saying they had been told their weight will affect their job search, though maybe they have.
I would stand in front of a mirror and look at my hideous, fowl body in its fat naked hideousness and cry. I wasn’t what a man should be. If I want to be successful and liked and if I want to have sex I need to be something else.
So partly through societal pressure and partly through my own wish to be able to walk more than a hundred yards without stopping for a breath I began to lose weight. I went on a low carb diet. And you know what? It bloody worked. I lost around 6 stone, suddenly I was slimmer. My 34 inch waist trousers needed a belt and although I wasn’t toned, nor skinny, I was at least socially acceptable. Whilst I kept that weight off I became less of the butt of jokes, I had more success with women and I could shop quite easily for clothes.
But was I any happier?
More confident? Maybe. But not happier. As Ken Dodd said “happiness is a frame of mind” and my mind was still broken. But at least others were more accepting of me, right? That’s a good thing, right? Being slim and “normal” instantly makes you a better person? No of course not. Because being overweight or underweight, or a “normal” weight doesn’t suddenly allow your serotonin to start working normally again. I just found more reasons to be unhappy- I was slim but I wasn’t toned. I still hadn’t become the Perfect ManTM that society demanded I be.
Slowly but surely I began putting weight on again. And again people started noticing and commenting. Pretty soon my sex life vanished, and people again started saying that I would be more attractive if I lost weight. And again the “fat fuck” jokes from friends began. I’m not as big as I once was, but I am close. Again the chin hiding beard is back. Again the baggy shirts, and again the struggle to find clothes that fit.
But this time I’m a little less disgusted in myself. I’m not comfortable with my weight but I am less likely to weep at my reflection. Weight loss and weight gain put all sorts of thoughts into your head- I am now back to the thoughts of having to endure a single life because what woman would want me? Finding work is again going to be problematic because who wants to hire a fatty?
We are obsessed with weight, in ways that confuse other cultures. The idea of the perfect figure is an invention. There are what we’d consider less civilised (read: less technologically advanced) groups that actually prefer larger people. So the idea that the perfect form is slim and/or trim/ built etc is a myth. But it is one we happily perpetuate. We bully and ridicule people, drive them to suicide, eating disorders and self harm over something as arbitrary as what we find attractive or acceptable. And this attitude needs to stop.
We don’t tend to see any obese 80 year olds so clearly those of us with extra pounds will die younger. And there are all manner of life long slim people who will berate you and tell you that you’re a strain on the NHS. But this doesn’t exactly help. However, despite these points, when I get ridiculed and told to lose weight, that I’m adding to an unhealthy culture that doesn’t make me go “Ya know what? You’re right. Wheres the salad?”. It makes me go “Fuck it, wheres the popcorn and ice cream?”
We do have a weight problem in this country, but it is our attitude toward weight that is a problem. Fat people may be a strain on the NHS but damn you, I’ve paid taxes. I do want to lose weight again. I want to lose weight because I have a wardrobe full of clothes and suits I love that I can’t fit in. And of course the societal pressure is still there- I don’t want to spend my life single, and like it or not the preferred sexually attractive type is a slimmer one. I increase my chances of life long partnership by being slimmer. Stronger mate, blah blah blah evolution of course.
But it is a vicious cycle. As Fat Bastard in Austin Powers said “I eat because I’m depressed and I’m depressed because I eat”. This is shortly before he realises that actually, no, hes got a ton of cash and he does see himself as sexy. He’s a lot more body confident than me. And that’s it. Body confidence. I don’t know anyone, from the slimmest trimmest person to the most obese who truly has it. Even someone who you may look at and think “Yes, they meet the socially accepted standards of attractiveness” may still feel they are ugly and not perfect because they have some issue that they feel doesn’t meet the standard. Even if many would overlook it or not even see it.
I want to lose weight, even though doing so before didn’t make me any happier. I want to lose weight because I feel that I have to. Because society tells me I have to. Because mens Health magazines are more interested in pecs than actual health. Because my friends say I wont get work, or I’m a fat fuck, or that I wont find a girlfriend, or I wont be able to do X, Y and Z that only slim pretty people can do.
The world is full of different people, yet we still insist that we should be coming off a conveyer belt, identical air fix models of humans. And even if it doesn’t make me happier, its still something I feel I need to do to at least avoid the teenage girls at the bus stop telling me I’m fat as I waddle home.