I’ve been called many names throughout my life. Fatso is probably my favorite. It’s so simple and effective. It’s a direct commentary on what is seemingly not evident to anyone, as if the commentator were saying, “Hey, you! You’re quite large, and I don’t mean tall. What I mean is that you have a ton of fat and should probably get rid of it, because it’s offensive to me.”
When I was four or five, the name Fatso stung. Have you ever eaten an orange while your lips are chapped and peeled? It’s a little like that, but your ego is the one that’s been beaten raw, and you’ve only been around for a few years, so as far as you know, the rest of your life is going to be just like this.
So you adapt, and by nine or ten, you learn to fight back. You start name calling in response, but you’re no good at it because they’ve had about five or six years of practicing on you to perfect their insults. Now you have an entire repertoire of nicknames: elephant, fatso, gordo, fatty, slowpoke, etc. All you can come up with is “stupid-head, dummy, and idiot”. Juvenile at best, but at least you feel like you’re fighting back. In a year or two you’re a genuine sailor-mouth, cursing up a storm because you’re a quick study and have learned a ton of words that can insult your attackers.
By high school, you learn to stick to you cliques. You either go to a high school where the groups stay away from each other, or one that they attack you even more mercilessly. In the latter situation, you become cruel with your insults. You’ve had a lifetime of crap and you’re going to dish it right back out. Maybe you get into a fist fight or two. You graduate, though, and realize that these days are over. You’re finally happy.
Except they’re not over, and so you’re not.
You go to work, where you need to wear a uniform that the job gives you, but it doesn’t fit right. Your boss suggests going a size higher, but oh wait, they don’t make that size. Your boss chuckles and gives you a half-hearted, “sorry,” pats you on the back and walks away while your legs are chaffing and your genitalia feels like it’s in a vice grip, being strangled between your cellulite and the cheap material that might as well be your own self-loathing.
You go to a new doctor, since you’re no longer a child and need an adult check-up. You’re pretty happy with yourself; in the past 2 years you’ve lost 20 pounds and you’re feeling good. You’re still morbidly obese but you walk in with your head held high, thinking that at least here you’ll be treated with respect and with an understanding of your weight. Except you’re not treated with dignity and understanding, so you’re still not happy.
“You need to lose weight,” he tells you, eyes never leaving his clipboard.
“I know, I’m working on it, I’m already down 20 pounds…” you stammer out. He’s not directly insulting you, so you’re unprepared for this. All of your insults and defenses are useless against the onslaught of science he’s about to bring forth concerning facts about diabetes and heart disease.
“Oh and your pressure is slightly elevated, so you’re going to want to start losing weight as soon as possible.” The final blow. The scary thing that everyone who has been warning you about has come true. They’ve all been right and no amount of defending yourself verbally can change that you’re now in the actual danger zone. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting bleaker and bleaker, and you remember thinking at five that this would be exactly how it would end.
Except it’s not over, because you can adapt. You’re in control of your life, and you fight. You fight harder than you ever have before. This time you’re not fighting the bullies. You’re not fighting someone who can run circles around you, mostly because your enemy is you, and you sure as hell can’t run any distance. You start eating less. You sign up for a gym membership and actually go every day. You’ve seen your family’s health decline due to obesity while growing up and you’re scared shitless, but you’re not broken because, DAMN IT, you adapt and that’s who you are, no matter what.
You’ve been called thick, but it’s only your skin that’s thick, and this is your weapon. You use it. You not only defeat your enemy, that vile gelatinous blob of body you call your old self, but you kill it. Within a year, you’ve lost over 100 pounds and you’ve won. You’ve managed to flee the nickname Fatso permanently.
Except, maybe you haven’t escaped it. Your co-worker, who only just met you as skinny-you and has never seen fat-you, tells you that maybe you shouldn’t be so obsessed with the gym. Maybe you should just eat bad foods, because putting on some pounds won’t kill you.
But you have your response now, and this is how you know you’ve won. You don’t get bothered by being called the skinny version of Fatso. You don’t experience depression, or self-loathing, because you’re prepared for this your whole life. Instead, you notice their comments aren’t an attack. Their comments are an expression of their own personal struggles, whatever they may be. You understand that your weight loss struggle was one of you fighting yourself, and that her comments reflect only her own internal dichotomy between jealousy at your progress and contempt for herself. You simply, and appropriately, tell your co-worker,
“I’m happy the way I am, as well as with who I was, and who I’ve become. Are you?”