God called to the Man: “Where are you?” He said, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid.” – Genesis 3:9-10 (MSG)
Shame starts early. At least it did for me. This is not a post I want to write, but it’s one I’ve been fighting with for over a year.
If everything had gone to plan, the photos below would have been a “before” and “after” shot, showing my success at my “#LessWaz journey” that I started at the beginning of last year (and properly, November 2008).
Things have not gone to plan. I started 2012 at 149.8kg, and on the 7th of October, I reached an all-time adult-low of 108.4kg. Unfortunately, the week before that low, I hurt my back while moving house which led to me being banned from the gym by the physio; the legs slowly fell off my weight-loss stool.
As my weight started to increase, so did my sense of shame. I’d made a conscious decision to be public about my weight loss, and seek out that accountability, but I slowly stopped vlogging, then stopped Instagramming pictures of my weekly weigh-in, then eventually abandoned even trying. By the beginning of 2013, I’d put 10kgs back on, and my weight has hovered around 125kg since the end of April.
The smaller clothes that I’d been enjoying wearing had slipped, one-by-one, back on to the coat hangers, and to the back of the wardrobe. I still had a few “larger” shirts, and found myself caught between wearing shirts that were too big on me, or shirts that were a little too small; I preferred the larger shirts, because they hid my shape “better”.
Oh, the shame…
Even at my lowest weight, I still hated looking in the mirror. People would say to me “Oh, you’ve lost so much weight! How different do you feel?!?”
“I don’t feel… any different.” Even though I knew, objectively, I was wearing smaller clothes than I’d at almost any time in my adult life, I knew what my body looked like under my clothes. How it was just a smaller version of the same thing. I knew about the saddlebags on my inner thighs and under my arms. I knew the uneven texture and balance of the spare tire around my waist. And my man-boobs. Oh, how I hate them. How I hate all of it.
I wish I could speak in the past tense, but I can’t.
This body of mine has gotten me through a rollover car accident. It’s walked my beautiful bride out of the church on our wedding day. It’s made love to her, and it’s fathered five children; it’s thrown four of them in the air and caught them again, and laid one of them to rest in the ground. It carries the scars of my depression, the genetic baldness of my maternal DNA, the weak dental enamel and proclivity to ingrown big toenails of my paternal DNA. It’s walked over 500kms intentionally since the start of 2012.
I should feel proud of my body! I don’t. I’m ashamed of it.
Everywhere I look I see the same narrative, over and over. Being fat is bad. It’s unhealthy. You’re miserable being fat, so try this 12 week program to get to a better you! Buy this customised calorie controlled food system! Buy this exercise equipment. Look at how unhappy these fat people were and now we’ve humiliated & berated them on national TV for your entertainment for the last three months, look at how happy they are to be thin!
If an actor gains weight for a role, he’s hailed as a consummate method actor (Jared Leto playing Mark David Chapman, Russell Crowe for Body of Lies, Robert DeNiro for Raging Bull). But when they’re not bulking up for a role? The gossip rags in the supermarket screaming out headlines like “HUNK TO CHUNK! Look how these once-sexy movie stars have let themselves go and… GOTTEN FAT.”
That message right there. They’re not sexy or attractive any more because they got fat.
There’s a growing backlash, and rightly so, against the messages society sends to women about their weight. I was surprised to notice a female mannequin with an average shape when shopping for clothes with my wife a few days ago.
And let’s face it: as a tall, caucasian Australian male, I know I already have an undeniable level of privilege. Even in that privilege, I’ve struggled with my sense of gender. One of the unspoken, but powerful messages inherent in this culture is “this is what a REAL MAN” looks like. Rugged. Square-jawed. Inverted-triangle-broad-at-the-shoulders-and-narrow-at-the-waist.
You don’t look like this? “You. Are. NOT. A. Real. Man.” You’re not attractive. You’re undesirable. You’re not really masculine.
What to do then, when you don’t fit the gender stereotype? Unpacking that is a whole other blog post. In many cases, money, or power, or both; those can be methods to cut across or ignore the stigma of being a fat man. I lack money, and I don’t desire power.
What I desire is to not be ashamed of my body. But it’s hard to ignore thirty-plus years of being told “You’re fat, and fat is ugly, and you should be ashamed. You are not desirable. Don’t go shirtless at the beach. Don’t sit next to me on the bus. How can you let yourself get that big?”
Here’s a little thought experiment: think back to the last action movie you saw where the hero was fat. Not just pudgy, but honest-to-God fat. It’s OK, I can wait.
How about RomComs? At least I can answer this one. The only three I can think of: Seth Rogan in Knocked Up (let’s face it, he’s just a bit chubby), Marlon Brando in Don Juan DeMarco (if you can remember back that far) and Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets – and the last two were older guys with some serious issues. You pretty much need to get to straight comedy to find an overweight male lead. Yay for Paul Blart, Mall Cop.
When I see fat men in the media, they’re not the guys getting the girl (or the guy). They’re almost never the hero. They sure as hell aren’t doing the voiceover for a black and white ad for Chanel No. 5. More often than not, they’re dumb or a buffoon and/or the butt of the joke (Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, Daddy Pig on Peppa Pig, Pierce Hawthorne). They might be the comic relief for the hunky lead. Occasionally they’re the bad guy/anti-hero (Tony Soprano), or the bad guy’s enforcers.
That’s not to say there are no positive portrayals. John Goodman as Dan Connor in Roseanne. Robbie Coltrane in Cracker. Oliver Platt in The West Wing. But they’re the exception, not the rule.
The message I’ve received and internalised for over thirty years is “You are fat, and unattractive and you should be ashamed”.
A few years ago, a Christian friend of mine wrote an amazing play. I’ve been privileged to read and provide occasional feedback on a few of his scripts over the years, and this one blew my mind… then I got to the last scene
“Uhhh… Fraser? These stage directions indicate you’ll be… naked.”
“Well… yes. About that…”
He went on to tell me about his fear of being naked on stage, but that when he got to writing the end of the play, it was the only way the play could end. It was done very tastefully, and it’s amazing what you can do with light and shadow. It was an extremely powerful ending, and he was absolutely right. It WAS the only way the play could end.
That’s almost the only way this post can end, too (well, I’ve retained a little modesty!). Oh, I’m afraid. I’m leaving myself wide open to become a meme, to have people laugh at me, to have my friends and co-workers never be able to look at me the same again.
I’m tired of being ashamed, so this is where I make my stand. This is my body. It is “fearfully and wonderfully made”. I am loved. I am beloved.
I will not be ashamed any longer.
Postscript, 18th September, 2016: Thousands of words written in journal entries later, and I’ve never managed to live up to the last couple of paragraphs.