I have debated with myself for a while now, attempting to decide whether or not to explore this particular topic. One one hand, I’m pretty sick of it myself – however, the point of this blog (at the moment, for myself) is as a self-reflexive writing exercise: to look at things that have happened in my life, good or bad (or hilarious… mostly hilarious), turn them around, see how they’ve affected me. And, well. This is a big one. Pun intended. So, here goes: My name is Christopher Bryant, and I am an ex-fat person.
First, to get the boring shit out of the way: I was Fat. People often say, eyebrows raised: “you? Fat?! Never! Couldn’t imagine it”, or “everyone had to deal with a bit of puppy fat here and there”. But I assure you, folks, I was fat with a capital F, at my heaviest… I don’t remember, exactly, but hovering around the 120kg mark.
The funniest thing about my weight woes, was that, at my heaviest, I was totally unconcerned with the fact of my physicality. I was aware of the mass of my body, truly – rolls of insistent flesh rubbing against each other; a round face with no small resemblance to Rosie O’Donnell – and felt occasional flashes of guilt – for example when a friend’s mother, surreptitious but well-meaning, took my mother aside to ask if she’d tried to get me swimming (“It’s easier when they’re… well”) – but on the whole, I was rather nonplussed by the whole affair.
My parents, however, were particularly perplexed – their cherubic blonde child had, seemingly overnight, blossomed into a hungry hippo (who did drama, nonetheless), and whilst they didn’t love me any less, I think – coming from a family of engineers, mathematicians, union workers, skinny people – they were quite unsure as to what to do with me. This, I suppose, is the danger of adoption: traitor genes.
I’m not interested in engaging with body politics; this is not a political story, so I will say this and only this: nobody has the right to make you feel ashamed for what size you are, big or skinny. Even if you’re a pedophile. Because if you’re a pedophile, let’s be honest – you’ve got bigger problems.
At age 12 – not my heaviest, but on my way – a personal hero of mine was Miss Trunchbull, from Matilda – particularly the Pam Ferris version from the film of the same name. I remember with perfect clarity the first time I saw her in that film – the educational equivalent of the shark from “Jaws”, slicing through children like a sharpened blade; intimidating, terrifying, physical, and, best of all – fat!
I would practice my Trunchbull glare in the mirror before school, and mirror her gait – wide, commanding, and (if we’re honest) a practical way to avoid chafe – as I walked down the school hallway. I would rehearse Trunchbull quotes – once more in the mirror, in my room, alone – and dream of the day when I’d have the gall to use one. How people would stare. How impressed they’d be with my wit. How they definitely, obviously couldn’t have seen the Matilda movie.
It is lunchtime, and I can’t seem to find any of my friends. I’ve sat in the library for half an hour, sneaking bites of a sandwich from my blazer pocket while flipping through some insipid children’s novella about precocious young people solving mysteries, but I’m bored, now, the book has taken a turn for the worse and I crave some human contact.
I trudge through the hall, half here, half elsewhere, thinking of getting something from my locker, when a group of older girls I do not know very well emerge from a classroom, giggling.
They stare – eyes pushed down to slits below blonde quiffs and pink-puff scrunchies, perfectly appointed eyebrows, skin as clear as water.
I stare. And say: “What’re you laughing at?”.
One of the girls, self-appointed fat kid mediator, leans forward, and she smells of potpourri and old Dr. Pepper.
“You wouldn’t get it,” she advises, hand close to my shoulder, almost touching, not quite. “Trust me.” She smiles.
This is my moment. I understand. The spirit of Pam Ferris manifests on my shoulder, biceps bulging, hair pulled back and hobgoblin features rearing, ready to go, to chuck someone into the Chokey.
I speak, a direct quote: “Why not? I like a joke as well as the next fat person!”.
A beat. The girls seem perplexed. Then:
“Yeah”, the lead girl says, smiling genuinely now, and puzzled: “But… we’re not fat.”
My top 3 greatest moments of food shame, from age 10 to age 17, Number 1:
At age 10, my next door neighbour and I, bored, decide to mess around in the apothecary of the kitchen, inventing new taste sensations; the kind of things that’ll let us hit the big time.
After a few failed experiments – mostly involving adding food dye to existing products – we invent “shilk”. Shilk is, as the name might indicate, sugar mixed in with regular milk.
It is delicious.
I am 18, walking along the narrow brick path that leads from my school’s front gate past vast lawns intto the cluster of buildings where my homeroom resides.
As I trundle along, a voice, brimming with machismo, screams across the oval:
“HEY!”. And, again: “HEY! FATSO! BETTER RUN TO CLASS!”.
I turn, and flip the bird. It always perplexes me when people wield the fact of my weight as an insult, like I’ve somehow managed to coast through my life without realising the actuality of my body. Yes, I am fat. That’s correct. What else you got?
I am running on a treadmill.
My eyes hurt. My body screams. Each breath I take seems to fill my lungs up with sand and glass, shredding my insides black and raw and I feel I might vomit up my insides – my whole insides, stomach, intestines, veins, skeleton, the whole shebang. I’ll just start puking and turn myself inside out like a used condom ’till all that’s left is a pile of bones and a traitor brain who couldn’t control its eating habits. At least then I’d be skinny.
I pause the machine and move to the side, the clock counting down the seconds I have left on this desperate break. 29, 28, 27, 26…
In the reflection of the gym’s window I can see my speckled-egg, dirty blushed face, hair oil-slicked into my eyes. 15, 14, 13, 12…
Behind my own visage I see a man in a tight singlet and short shorts. He holds in each hand weights with a distinct “20KG” in bold letters printed on each side. He pulls them up, each one independent of the other, and the dominion of his biceps bulges, drenched, rising with every fall. 7, 6, 5…
I force myself back onto the treadmill. Below me is a large red button, hostile in its insistence: “GO!”.
I press the button and begin to run.
I’ve hit my goal weight, and am quietly perplexed that my mind hasn’t yet been blown. I still feel the same. I think that I look the same, only the scales say something different. Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe it’s a cosmic joke, and someone’s been fucking with me, Truman Show style.
A friend of my mother’s, sipping coffee, horse-mouth gnashing halfway through a mince tart, notices me and squeals, spraying a fine mist of crumb and spittle across the room through lipstick stained teeth.
“You! Look. At. You. You. Good. Thing.”
Look at me?
“You look so much better now! So good!”
My top 3 greatest moments of food shame, from age 10 to age 17, Number 2:
At age 14, I discover that my parents keep Kettle Chips in a small cupboard in the kitchen. They are, at the time, my favourite food in all the world – probably because, as a family, we have them so rarely.
One night, after everyone has fallen asleep, I sneak away a packet and stuff it into the crevasse between my bed and the wall. When I’m bored, I reach into the hole and – trying not to rustle too much, lest I wake anyone up – claim a handful of crisps.
The third time I do this, it is the middle of the day. I am reading a novel and munching happily, a pleasant nest of crumbs and crisps spread haphazard across my doona. Without warning, my aunt – staying over from interstate – wanders in, on the telephone.
She pauses, mid-conversation, eyes wide, and I can hear my mother chattering away on the end of the line. I say nothing, a buttercup chip suspended in the dead space between Stephen King’s It and my open mouth, silently praying for some sort of miracle.
The aunt speaks:
“Oh, no, I’m – I’m here, still. I just walked into Christopher’s room and he’s eating a pack of Kettle Chips. I… I don’t know whether he didn’t want to share them with me, or…”
To be fair, I really didn’t want to share them.
I am 16.
A friend’s boyfriend, who has been sizing me up for a good fifteen minutes, clears his throat and speaks, apropos of nothing:
“Yeah, I mean, I don’t think your tits’d be that big, really. An A-cup, at most.”
My top 3 greatest moments of food shame, from age 10 to age 17, Number 3:
I am 17, and it is New Year’s Day. All throughout the night before I have drunk with abandon – UDLs, the occasional beer, and the better part of a bottle of “Rasputin” brand vodka, purchased from a shady milk bar in outer Sunshine. I have done so in preparation for the challenge of the century: consuming a pounder meal. For those not in the know, one can, if one desires, ask for a “Pounder” from your local McDonald’s. It is made especially. It takes approximately 20 minutes to be assembled. It looks and smells like Cthulu’s taint.
The actual consumption of said Pounder took just under an hour, with several stops to rehydrate (on a chocolate shake – go hard or go home, in a coffin, apparently) and wait out the meat-sweats. I did it, though. I’m not proud, but by god did I eat that thing.
I suppose, really, when you start your year by consuming a pound of McDonald’s meat, you’ve only got one place to go: up.
I am 23.
I stand in front of the mirror. I am shirtless. I run my hand up and down my chest, over my stomach, my sides, grabbing at myself as I go. I do this every day, and every day I see that same old moonface staring back at me, sunken eyes, piggy nose, a face that nobody could or should love. I go to the gym four or five times a week – no longer at the expense of spending time with friends or family, as I did at 22, but also because I am convinced I will never shift the imagined weight – and drink diet shakes for breakfast, sometimes for lunch as well. Carbohydrates are the enemy. Fat is the enemy. I am the enemy. My shirt size is small, my pant size is smaller than it’s been in quite some time, but the mirror says otherwise, and who am I going to believe?
I am standing in a young man’s bedroom. I am stripped down to my underpants. He is naked. The curtain, which had been open, is now closed by my request, and I feign confidence in the safety of the dark. He pads towards me, clear azure eyes dancing below chocolate locks, the faintest hint of stubble flirting ’round his mouth – his mouth, I am focussed on his mouth – and he stops, still, calm.
He looks me up and down, slowly, luxuriously, eyes drinking in the contours of my body. In a daze, I slide off my underpants, and, emboldened, run a hand down his hard ivory chest, tracing the lines, the muscles, the skin, the flesh. He feels so different to the lines of my own body and I can’t stand it; my hands are shaking with a junkie’s twitch.
He smiles, then:
My heart is pounding loud, too loud, I am given away, and my brain clicks into hyperspeed, screaming, apologising, pulling me out, away, back home to where it is safe, where the curtains are open and nobody can look at me and I am in jeans and a t-shirt and a jacket watching television or doing Uni work or exercise or exercise or exercise or –
He kisses me, and our bodies move together.
I realise that I don’t have to apologise, or leave, unless I want to, and then – for the first time, if only for a second – I realise that I am no longer fat.
My first moment free of body shame hit me like lightening, and for that following half hour I felt more open than I’d ever felt.
The next moment came a few weeks later. A friend made a joke, sarcastically, about how fat I was, and my immediate response was not blind terror. I simply smiled, and laughed.
From then on, moments flew towards me on the daily, free falling like tiny drops of rain, each one whispering, smiling, assuring me with every lover, friendship, flirtation, enemy made: “you are okay”, and, importantly: “you were always okay.”
I am 24, and working in a cafe.
As I work, I overhear a gaggle of women chatting, laughing. One of them pipes up:
“Oh, yes – that cake looks delicious. But let’s just get one, to share. That sounds great, doesn’t it, girls?”
They agree, their dull enthusiasm belying their desire for plan b – the plan where everyone gets their own individual slice of cake, and nobody complains about their thighs.
As I wash the dishes, I contemplate whether or not to tell them that plan b is always the better option.
My greatest moment of food shame, age 25 and 20 weeks to 25 and 21 weeks:
Not having enough money to buy prawns and saffron to make paella properly, the way it should be made.