When I was growing up, I used to pray at night, to a god that I didn’t really believe in, to wake up in the morning and not be fat. I would tell this deity that I would give/do anything to be free from the hell that I was in. It is amusing that I thought that this was even possible; this a-la Fairy Godmother type magic. Obviously, that never worked and it was many years before I was able to get out of the fat fueled funk that I was mired in. It was many more years of emotional abuse and self-sabotage before I finally made the first step toward becoming a recovered fatty.
My entire childhood consisted of my father frequently reminding me that I was fat, as if I wasn’t aware of this fact. As if I weren’t reminded every time I went to the pool or beach, and every morning when I got dressed (shirts that were just a little too tight and required me to stretch them out just a bit or pants that were tough to button). Because, seeing my reflection in the mirror every day, wearing XL shirts as a freshman in High School, and always failing to run the mile in an acceptable amount of time during PE were not reminder enough, and maybe I would forget.
It was usually small comments; calling me “Chunk” or joking with people that they never had to tell me to finish my dinner, a comment about thunderous footsteps, or being in the “splash zone” when I jumped into the pool. Often times it was in reference to something I was eating or wanted to eat. “You don’t need that crap fatty” or later when I was a teen and able to make poor eating decisions for myself, “Do you really think you should be eating that?” But some times he would get really upset and go big, calling me a “Fat Ass,” and make really mean digs, berating and belittling me. It is because of this that I was ashamed of my weight from a very young age. It is also part of the reason I started to sneak food as a child. I knew that I would get crap from him no matter what I ate, so in my mind it was better to sneak it and eat in peace.
The taunts my dad was constantly slinging my way didn’t cease until I was eighteen or so; a point in time where I had surpassed the three hundred pound mark and, I assume, he viewed me as a lost cause. What’s interesting (to me at least) is that I realized somewhere between 18 and 23, he had been resorting to the teasing and name-calling out of love (yes, I know how absurd that sounds). It is not as if he didn’t care, he just had an odd way of showing it. He is definitely of the “tough love” school of parenting, and I see that now more than ever in how he interacts with my younger brothers. He was a star athlete in H.S. and expects that his progeny be as well. I was forced to play all sorts of sports I had no interest in because he wanted me to both lose weight and be an amazing athlete. It is not that I hated the sports, I actually like most sports and can play many of them moderately well, but that I was a fat kid and didn’t want to be active. Running the length of a basketball court, back and forth for nearly an hour, out of the question. Running bases was not incredibly high on my list of things that I would like to spend my time doing. Of all the sports I was forced into the only one that I actually enjoyed at the time was being on the swim team. Unfortunately, I let the lazy inner fat kid get the best of me, and I eventually gave up on swimming in Jr. High. The reason I say “unfortunately” (and I suppose there’s actually more than one) is because that time period was when I made the most progress in my pre-adult life when it came to losing weight and becoming healthy. Had I continued to swim I doubt I would have had the weight issued that plagued me in my teens. I still regret my decision and actually wish that my parents had forced me to continue swimming.
Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that my father lacks the ability to express himself in a way that is not abrasive when it comes to dealing with his children. He cares deeply, only wants what is best for us, and expects us to live up to our full potential, and that is why he gets so angry when we fall short. The problem is that he focuses on the negative, highlights it even, and doesn’t sugarcoat a damn thing. This is of course not easy for a child to hear. So, maybe, just maybe that is why I have it drilled into my head that I am fat. Even at 6 feet and 180 pounds I still look in the mirror and see a fat person reflected back.
Imagine my surprise when the last time I saw my family all my dad would say was that I needed to gain weight. That’s right. I am apparently too skinny (I know I‘ve said it before but, I cringe when I hear that word) and I need to put some weight back on. Are you fucking kidding me? Twenty-something years of torture about how fat I was and now, when I am at my lowest and healthiest, after all the hard work and dedication I am still not “good enough.” Throughout the weekend he repeatedly made comments to me and to others, calling me slim, saying that I needed to eat, etc. It got to the point where I was so bothered by it that I had to tell my mother how much it was upsetting me, and hope that she might relay the message to him, since he clearly wasn’t taking the hints I was dropping after each remark. I just can’t win. But at least now I know that.
P.S. The photos are by Sergi Pons, originally for El Pais magazine. I liked the swimming theme.