When I was in 5th grade, I found out that I was fat. I was cast to play Santa Clause in the school Christmas play, Some kid, I don’t remember who, said something to the effect of “heh, you won’t even need any stuffing.” It wasn’t until that moment that I learned to be ashamed of my body. Before then, I didn’t really think about it. But at that moment, it was revealed to me that my body was ugly and unpleasant. That was the moment where I changed from being able to watch “Stand By Me” unaffected to flinching every time Jerry O’Connell got referred to as “the fat kid.” That was the moment where I stopped wanting to take my shirt off at the beach.
Being “the fat kid” makes life difficult in a lot of ways, but none so much as dating. I’ve been interested in girls since first grade, and probably before that. Dating in elementary school is just weird, so I don’t really count that. I even had a girlfriend in 5th grade. It seems like a ridiculous thing, to have a girlfriend in 5th grade. I don’t think we even kissed, but it because very important to me later. She and I didn’t particularly interact after we dated, and I can’t even begin to remember how or why we broke up, but I it meant a lot to me all through middle school that someone was willing to give me that kind of attention.
Middle school (6th-8th grade, in my district) was a near-constant stream of rejection. I watched my classmates form romantic connections and hold hands in the hallways. I would hear stories of experiments with adolescent sexuality. Girls would express interest in my friends. I would look around, and clearly see what all of these people had in common – no fatties. The point was driven home by social rejection in other ways, most notably a regular outpouring of teasing for my weight, my fat ass, my “tits.”
Remember how I said that my 5th grade girlfriend ended up being important to me? That’s this part of the story. That “relationship” was probably the only thing that kept me from feeling like a complete loser throughout middle school. As with most adolescent boys, I was obsessed with girls, not only because I had strange new desires, but also because I wanted to be a person with a girlfriend. Somewhere along the line, I internalized the idea that having a girlfriend was the most important thing a person could do to be worthwhile. The longer I spent single, the more pathetic I felt. The only thing staving off complete despair was the fact that I had a girlfriend and one point in my life, so clearly I wasn’t completely worthless to girls.
Except, really, I always knew I wasn’t completely worthless to girls. Girls liked me. I had a number of female friends, and I tended to get along well with girls in general. There was only one part of me that was worthless to girls – my body. No matter how much of a connection I formed with a girl, she would be repulsed at the idea of touching me on any level beyond a friendly hug. My body was disgusting to girls. Sometimes, they would tell me so. Most of the time, they would give me one of those so-called “polite” rejections, e.g. “I just don’t feel that way about you,” or “I don’t have time to date right now,” or “I’m busy on [every evening you ask me out].” Until Mandy.
met Mandy in 9th grade. Well, back up. I met Mandy in 7th grade and thought she was really cute, but she disappeared over the summer. I next saw her again once I got to high school (turns out she skipped a grade). Mandy changed everything. Mandy liked me. Mandy like-liked me. She was beautiful, and smart, and fun, and soft, and amazing to touch, and she. liked. me. Naturally, I had no idea what to do. We dated for over a month before I would even kiss her. But I did kiss her, and she kissed me, and we didn’t stop kissing each other for two months. I, being 15 years old, made some poor decisions, and Mandy left me in July of that year, but I never believed that it was because of my body.
After Mandy, I didn’t date again for almost six years. Oh, I went out with girls. But they would make it clear that we were not on a “date.” As before, girls still liked me, just not my body. In the latter half of high school, I started developing real, deep feelings for girls. I started getting emotionally close with people, even intimate. But none of that changed the fact that my gross, fat body was undesirable at best and repulsive at worst. And every year, I got fatter.
By 2002, my freshmen year of college, I was 275 pounds, and my body-shame was at an all-time high. I was a 19-year-old virgin and hadn’t kissed a girl since 1997. I would fall in love with any woman who even looked in my direction. My shame was so great that I felt unable to turn away any attention, even if it wasn’t the kind I wanted. I let myself be used as not much more than an emotional sounding board. I had a drunken makeout with someone whose name I didn’t even know at a party and I looked at it like I’d just been awarded a Nobel Prize. Hey! A girl who was near-falling-down drunk could stand to touch me! It was pathetic. By the time I went home for the summer, I was convinced that college was going to be a lot like high school.
Mandy saved me again. She randomly came into the record store where I worked that summer. It had been four years since we dated, but she was as attractive to me as ever, probably moreso, since I was now convinced that nobody else would ever be interested in my stupid, fat body. The situation was a complete mess. She was going to school in Pittsburgh, and she had a boyfriend that she would break up with, and then get back together with in the course of a week. But I didn’t care. I wanted her so badly, and we finally had awkward sex in the front seat of my Oldsmobile 98, ducking to make sure nobody on the not-10-feet-away sidewalk could see us. It didn’t matter to me how awkward it was. It wasn’t the sensation that was important. It was the status. I wasn’t a virgin any longer. I wasn’t a total loser. I wasn’t undesirable. This person desired me. She desired me so much that she was willing to massively complicate her relationship situation to be with me.
Unsurprisingly, the situation went to hell within a few months. I visited her in Pittsburgh a few times, and those are some of my fondest memories of that entire time period. She made me feel amazing, and sexy, and she reminded me that not everyone saw my big belly or my fat face as revolting.
Sadly, and to my shame, I didn’t do the same thing for her. While all I wanted was someone to take an interest in my body and my sexuality, she was all-too-familiar with such things. Her life had been a mirror image of mine, and she was convinced that her body and her sexuality were her only assets. While the relationship did wonders for my self-esteem, I suspect it did the opposite for hers. In retrospect, I used her as a self-esteem booster and a status object. I think she just wanted to be valued, and didn’t know how to say “no.” She tried to tell me, and I didn’t listen. Mandy, if you’re reading this, thank you, and I’m sorry.
Around that time, I tried the Atkins diet. It was in vogue at the time, and it was the first time that I tried any kind of rigid diet. It worked amazingly well. I lost 10 pounds in a week. 5 pounds the following week. Another 5 pounds in the next two weeks, for a total of 20 pounds in a month. Eating bacon. I was still 250 pounds, but I felt great. My clothes fit looser, and when I looked in the mirror, I looked thinner! I decided to keep it going, and signed up for Weight Watchers (I figured Atkins would give me a heart attack if I actually kept it up). Over the next year, I lost about 40 more pounds. The need for smaller pants gave me indescribable joy.
Spring 2003 was when I got to know Gina, and fell for her almost immediately. This, also, was a mess. She had a boyfriend at the time, and we were all in a 6-person show together. This was not new to me. By this point, I was used to having unrequited feelings for “taken” women. Even with my new smaller size, I was still “obese” according to my handy BMI calculator, and didn’t harbor any illusions that my body looked good to anyone but me.
It’s a long story, mostly involving me being too desperate to give up and Gina not wanting to admit her feelings. BUT it all worked out, and we’ll be celebrating 10 years together this January.
My body image issues got better after that, but they still weren’t great. I still saw my body as unattractive, but actually having a girlfriend, especially one as great as Gina, was helpful.
Wanting to feel wanted while in a monogamous relationship is a strange thing. Up to that point, I always wanted to be wanted for practical reasons – I hated being single, and I wanted somebody to be with. Now, I was with somebody, and didn’t need to impress anyone but her – but I still wanted to. I still wanted to be wanted, not for any practical reason, just for how it made me feel. Or, more accurately, how not being wanted made me feel. Being wanted by one person was great, but I still didn’t feel attractive, and I still didn’t like what I saw when I looked in the mirror.
It wasn’t until Gina & I opened our relationship, and I lost another 30 pounds, that I started actually feeling good about my body. My first relationship after opening up was kind of a disaster. I was still feeling vulnerable due to my body issues, and she represented all the girls I couldn’t “get” when I was younger. She was skinny, outgoing, popular, and every guy I knew wanted to be with her. When she kissed me, I felt like the coolest kid in school, like I’d never felt before. She was also self-absorbed, inconsiderate, and within a handful of weeks, her attraction to me waned, and she started seeing a much skinnier guy. Like I said, kind of a disaster, but she meant a lot to me at the time.
In February of 2010, I started dieting again. March 27, 2010, was a big day for me. That morning, I weighed myself, and the scale came out to 201.5 pounds. That number might not mean a lot to you, but it meant everything to me. For my height, weighing less than 202 pounds moved me from “obese” to “overweight” on the BMI scale. I honestly never thought I would get there. It felt great. Over the next year, I lost another 25 pounds, and bottomed out at about 175.
More than the weight loss, my body image was improved by joining okcupid. On okcupid, I could meet women who actually found me attractive, and who were ok (or even enthusiastic) about dating a married man. I stopped being able to count on one hand all of the women I ever knew who found me attractive. I started seeing real evidence that my body and my sexuality were not generally looked at as disgusting and repulsive. Women appreciated my body. I even met women who didn’t seem to like me that much, but were still interested in my body. It was surreal at first.
Since then, things have gotten much better. I’ve gained back about 30 of the pounds I lost. I’m not happy about it, but I no longer believe that I need to be thin in order to be attractive. I’ve also stopped viewing women as status objects that I can use to prove to myself how not-hideous I am. Because my insecurities are under control, I’m able to connect with people on a much deeper level. It still hurts when people tell me that my body holds no value to them, but it’s bearable. I love Gina more than I ever did, and I have an amazing fiancee who can’t get enough of me. I’m performing in a burlesque show (and yes, I take my clothes off).
This week is weight stigma awareness week. This morning, I weighed 208 pounds. I’ve eaten 1,397 calories today. My pants fit a little tight. The buttons on my shirt are pulling a bit. I have a lot of love in my life. So it goes.