We live during a time of self-acceptance and self-love. It sometimes feels like we are in a post-image culture, where it has become okay to have any kind of body at all. “All bodies are good bodies!” we are told. Memes and blog posts and media posts convey a sense of an era when the obsession over thinness and attractiveness is waning. The youngest generation is body positive and kinder to each other and to themselves.
As a fat person, this all seems like a relief. Finally, I won’t be immediately judged on my size. I won’t be deemed a moral failure. I will eventually be able to find clothes that fit, and not get weird looks from strangers. Finally, when I look in the mirror, I may be able to like what I see.
When I look at my face, I do. I think my kindness and my sense of optimism is reflected in my gaze. I think I have nice eyes. I think I have a genuine and easy smile. I have great hair. I look confident. I look happy.
When I look beyond my face, though, my joy fades. I sigh. My gaze lowers to my arms, and how one arm is larger and loose skin sags lower than the other. Lower still, I my chest broadens and then continues far beyond the outlines of a healthy body; lower still, a great protuberance emerges, representing years of struggle, of pain, of burden. That is when the dark fits of self-loathing begin. That is when I am reminded that my body actively prevents me from living a truly happy and fulfilled life.
I know I’m not alone in this. Most people are somewhat unhappy with the way they look in the mirror or in photographs. That is, of course, if we’re judging purely by aesthetics, but that’s what most people do. Our bodies are indeed a significant part of who we are. They are the physical projection and manifestation of our self, and they carry our brains and sense organs around in this world. It could be argued that the body is the self. Regardless of your opinion on this matter, though, we can agree that our bodies are important. Critical.
I have long had an intensely complex relationship with my body. My body has been the cause of the biggest struggles in my life even though it has taken me all over the world and surprised me in positive ways.
I have been fat for most of my adult life. That spectrum of fatness has ranged from “chubby” to “morbidly obese” at various stages, but for the most part has leaned towards obesity. In general, the line graph of my body weight has always trended upward. In 2020 during the depths of the pandemic, my body was the biggest it had ever been. It is important to note that I am also quite short, so 350 pounds/160 kg is very significant on a frame my size. It is also important to note that I carry the bulk of this weight right around the middle of my body: my stomach, my upper pubic area, and my upper thighs. This makes many things in my life much more complicated than they should be—everything from buying clothes to having sex, from seating to mobility in spaces designed for “normal” bodies. It even affects my ability to go to the bathroom in many ways. I’ve broken chairs. I’ve broken beds. I’ve broken toilet seats. I’ve been unable to eat at some restaurants because I could not fit in them. Travelling is difficult. My body has ruined many opportunities for me. I cannot ride roller coasters, something I absolutely love. I cannot masturbate well. I cannot have satisfying sex, nor can I satisfy my sexual partners in standard ways. I believe my body shape has impacted my career at certain times and kept me from being taken seriously in other situations. Other fat people will understand me when I say: this is the first thing people notice about you, and to many people, it defines who we are. Any fat person knows the struggle of walking into a new space and immediately scoping out whether or not we belong or if we can even physically fit into it.
More than anything else, though: my weight has affected my romantic relationships for my entire adult life. My weight came up as a significant factor when my first wife told me she didn’t want to be married to me anymore. I saw the once joyous and fulfilling sexual dynamic between us fade as my body got larger. I saw her eyes dim in disappointment every time I popped a button on my jeans that used to fit well. I watched her roll her eyes when she told me to give it up and throw away those shirts that would never fit again. When she found someone else to replace me, I knew right away that he wouldn’t be a fat man. When she told me she didn’t love me anymore, I knew it was a factor.
After years of depression and attempts at weight loss, I finally went into some kind of deep focus. I spent a year losing weight, single-mindedly determined to end my long run as a single man and a single dad. I was lonely and I knew I would struggle to date as a fat person. It worked. I dropped nearly 80lbs and wouldn’t you know it: I met the woman who would become my second wife. We fell madly in love. We grew together in our love and comfort, and slowly, slowly, the weight came back on. I was no longer depressed and unhappy. I took joy in experiencing life with her. We ate. We travelled. We laughed and laughed.
I gained weight slowly over the course of the next twelve years, but more than before. Every new benchmark, I would berate myself: when I hit 250, I swore I would never get any bigger. That was an extraordinary number to me. Then, when I hit 280 I panicked. My body started changing in very bad ways. At 290, my penis began disappearing as the increasing diameter of my thighs and the protuberance of fat above it sunk lower and lower. At 300, I broke a scale. I cried, alone in the bathroom. I swore to myself I had to lose weight. I was getting close to 40, and I knew that being over 300 pounds at age 40 was a death sentence.
At 320 pounds, I just sort of gave up. Everything else in my life was going well—so I told myself. My wife didn’t seem to care. She would even say things about how she liked bigger guys. The massive change in our ability to have satisfying sex didn’t really seem to bother her, as sex was never a big part of our lives anyway. In fact, in 2018 she came to the conclusion that she was asexual, and we decided to open our marriage up so that sex wouldn’t be a factor or put any pressure on our marriage. We would joke about it, as we did with everything else. Our lives were one long running laugh, and it felt joyous. It felt okay. We would figure it out.
In 2019, my life was shattered when my son was killed. My entire focus became healing the excruciating trauma that my family went through. I rekindled my Buddhist practice and it saved me and gave me the strength to carry the incredible emotional burdens placed upon me. Not long after that, the pandemic began. While many of my peers and friends used the time in isolation and lockdown to focus on fitness and self-improvement, I continued to gain weight. My new remote job glued me to my chair, and my hobbies kept me there. My weight continued to climb until I hit a number that frightened me. Each time I hit some new higher number, I thought to myself “this is the fattest I’ve ever been. This is the fattest I will ever be. It has to stop.”
I started getting ads for weight loss programs and apps and diets. Half of my feed was ads for Noom, for ketogenic diet guides, for meal delivery services, for fitness training. I spent money. I tried apps. I tried supplements. I would go through a cycle where I would tell my wife that I was going back on keto. She would buy low-carb groceries for me, but my job made it hard for me to make myself a healthy lunch every day, so it inevitably fell apart. A Facebook friend started a weight-loss accountability challenge, and I joined. I lost over 20 pounds while doing that, but slowly gained it back when it ended.
After vaccinations, I tried dating. I was searching for some reason to lose weight. I went on many dates, but each relationship I started ended the same: when things seemed as if the next logical step was physical intimacy, they faded away. In some relationships, I was ghosted. In others, I was told “this isn’t working out and I don’t think I’m right for you”. I heard “You’re honestly so amazing, but…” and then the trailing off of the inevitable words that neither of us needed to speak. She knew. I knew.
Eventually I did meet someone, and we fell in love. This was a revelatory experience for me, because my new partner is sexually attracted to me, and she has only known me at this weight. She has healed wounds I didn’t even know I had. She has helped me come to terms with a lot of the trauma and pain I’ve been carrying. She has made me feel attractive and sexy and desired for the first time in many years. This has been very healing for me, but I experienced a re-opening of this wound all over again, when a close friend of hers said to her: Are you sure you love him? What if you found someone who is just like him but actually attractive? Yeah. What if. These are the exact fears and doubts that play through my head incessantly.
Recently, my wife has had some life-changing experiences. This has manifested into a situation where some serious cracks have appeared in our previously unshakeable, seemingly perfect marriage. I honestly don’t know if our marriage will survive this, because these revelations speak to deep-seated, fundamental breakdowns in communication over many years. Her story is not mine to share, but suffice to say that my weight is a significant factor in these conversations. Just as it was in my first marriage. Just as I had always secretly feared. I feel deeply ashamed, deeply angry at myself, and so, so hurt… as so many of the things coming up in conversation now are rehashes of things that happened to me in my first failed marriage. Even though the situation is different, and we are in love and we are honest and we are open about our struggles, the parallels to my first failed marriage are poignant and hard to ignore.
My body surprises me sometimes. I have always been a very strong person, both emotionally and physically. I can lift heavier things than you would think. I have a shockingly good immune system. My bloodwork is almost always far better than it should be. I’ve had two doctors in my life tell me that I was “the healthiest fat guy” they’d ever worked with. My doctor is sometimes annoyed with me: she says things like “you know I have to tell you to lose weight, but honestly; your bloodwork is phenomenal for someone your age let alone someone with your body mass”. It’s as if my body was almost destined to be this way, that this is my natural state. It doesn’t seem to matter how much or little effort I put into weight loss; I always sort of end up at the same place. None of these things matter, though, when it comes down to the issues that my weight causes. “I know I’m fat and unsexy, but damn, you should see my bloodwork!”. My LDL levels aren’t going to get me on to The Raptor at Cedar Point. My stellar immune system isn’t going to unbreak that chair.
I’ve struggled with the diet and exercise roller coaster that so many are familiar with. I’ve tried so many of them. I’ve tried apps. I’ve tried paying professionals. I’ve tried gym memberships. I’ve tried various fad diets, intermittent fasting, and cleanses. I’ve counted calories. The deep-focus year where I dropped almost 80 pounds was due to an extremely strict ketogenic diet combined with intense levels of exercise over a 12-month period, and while it did indeed work, it was not a happy or sustainable time in my life. I was miserable, eating food I mostly didn’t enjoy, and it was physically painful. It led me to a realization that maybe I was just doomed to be fat. That this is my natural state. That my genetics and my hypothyroid disorder have driven me into this corner. I don’t smoke. I barely ever drink. I barely ever eat processed foods. I tend to have a relatively healthy diet: mostly fresh food, almost nothing from boxes or bags or cans. It’s frustrating because I avoid a great many things that I really enjoy. Believe me, if I could eat Cheez-its and Oreos all the time, I would. I have a great deal of jealousy about friends in my life who can eat high-carb foods and drink beer and don’t exercise a whole lot, and yet never seem to gain an ounce. I have never been able to find a way of life that was both fulfilling and made my body smaller.
I love food. I truly love it. I don’t just love food, but I love the lore of food. I love writing about it, learning stories about it, I love that making and serving food for others is a love language. It’s one of the most truly universal languages. I love photographing food. I think it’s beautiful, and I think it’s a wonderful way to express creativity. Food is more than sustenance for me; it is a passion, a hobby, and one of the ways I connect with people. In that context, life feels pretty damn unfair. Something that we need, something that brings so much happiness, is in so many ways making my life incredibly painful.
It seems I am doomed to some kind of misery either way. This is something I’ve never told anyone, but my son Kyle begged me to lose weight, and there’s a small part of me that thinks he was disappointed in me that I wasn’t, and that he died never knowing if I would be healthier and thinner again. It doesn’t matter, and I know it didn’t affect his love for me, but I think about it every day. He wanted me to be healthier so that I would be around for a long time in his life. I guess in some way it worked out: I was there for his entire life… just fat.
I recently started losing weight again. I’m down 20 pounds or so, which is not as exciting as it sounds, since this is something I’ve done many times in my life. I’ve been moving around more, and we’re building a home gym in the basement that I plan on using. I am highly motivated to lose weight right now, but in some ways that makes it more difficult. The depression that results from knowing that my worth is in some way tied to my weight is at direct odds with the benefits I might experience if I do lose weight. This feels like a pattern I am doomed to repeat.
It’s hard to talk about being fat online. There are many people in my life that celebrate fatness and embrace it, and who feel strongly that people are sexy, beautiful, and joyful at any size. And I agree with that, really, I do. But I also recognize that for me, personally, being overweight has only ever actually been a bad thing in my life and led to a great deal of heartache.
I worry that when the true realities of the difficulties my weight causes in intimate situations sets in, my new partner may start to waver on her insistence that I am attractive to her. I worry that when she starts to experience more parts of my life that have been affected by my body shape, her opinion might change. I am afraid that the cruel words spoken by her friend may come true.
I am sitting alone in the dark tonight, writing these vulnerable words because that is what I do. With every word wrenched out of my brain onto this page, I struggle between committing to it and deleting it. It is extremely hard to talk about this, even as my lower back aches from my body weight, the very thing I am writing about. I look over at my water bottle, and think that I’ve had three full bottles of water today, because drinking water is healthy and good and it will help me lose weight. I realize that I measure every decision in my life against some small part of my psyche that is just the word “fat” repeating in my head over and over again. Drink water, you’re fat. Don’t eat that piece of bread, you’re fat. You just ate a candy bar, that’s why you’re fat. You should have walked tonight instead of sitting, that’s why you’re fat. How many loves will you lose, you fat piece of shit? You’re going to die like this. Fat. You’re fat.
But hey, I’m losing weight. Again. Maybe it’ll stick this time. Maybe my life is about to take a new direction again. Maybe it’ll save my marriage. Maybe my partner’s friend will see my worth once I’m thinner. Maybe I’ll be able to go to Cedar Point again someday. Maybe I’ll be able to fly without a seatbelt extender. Maybe I’ll be able to go on long hikes in the woods. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe I’ll hit that publish button, then break down sobbing.