I‘ve been fat pretty much my whole life. And people have been making fun of me for that to varying degrees. It wasn’t constant bullying, just the cruelty of kids every so often. The odd nasty comment, unflattering comparisons, nothing like a full on campaign to psychologically ruin me. Being smart and funny certainly helped in that respect. When you make self-deprecating jokes about yourself it hurts less because you’re controlling the narrative and you know these self-directed barbs aren’t as serious.
I’m not the most confrontational person, which leads to some negative things, like inclinations towards passive-agressive behavior, something I really need to work on. But it’s also made me shy when it comes to matters of the heart. I’m well aware of the general perception towards fat bodies, that we’re not deserving of love and that no one will ever love us until we lose weight.
When you’re fat, these are the little indignities that become the background radiation of your life. Often they’re not meant to inflict harm, some folks just don’t know better. I try not to hold it against others, but it can be hurtful and often I just don’t have the wherewithal to have that discussion. It’s stuff like speculating about the health of someone because of their size or average-sized folk saying they feel fat.
And I realize a lot of folks struggle with personal image at any side. But my point is, when I hear stuff like that, I wonder, “If that’s how you talk about fat people, what do you think of me and what do you say about me when I’m not around?”
At minimum it’s kind of rude and the health others isn’t our business unless they invite us into a discussion regarding it. It’s best left to the doctor’s office. Fat people can face discrimination there. I’ve been fortunate in that my doctors have treated me like a human being and have generally been very supportive of me and as a result, I feel pretty okay about going to my GP. There are studies that indicate that harassing people about their health doesn’t really do any good. A good rule of thumb is try to avoid hurting others. Easier said than done, I know.
I’ve never really dated all that much, partially that’s because I had other priorities or being interested in people who weren’t interested in me. Some of it’s shyness and fear of rejection. When I was in elementary school, there was this group of girls who’d come up to me at lunch. They’d be giggling and one of them would inform me that a member of their group liked me. I’d never spoken to them before, but I knew not to believe them, that I was the butt of some joke. Looking back, it’s kind of messed up that even then I’d internalized that pretty girls didn’t like fat little boys.
There’s a book that came out last year by a health-policy reporter that examines the love lifes of overweight and obese individuals. The author, Sarah Varney, discusses that those folks are more likely to enter early adulthood without experience with intimate relationship experience. That’s something that’s rung true with my experiences. It’s a lonely experience, watching your peers form relationships.
You wonder if you missed out on the class they attended that taught them the intricacies of intimacy. It feels like Bart’s dream in “Bart Sells His Soul” where his classmates are crossing the lake in row boats with their souls. Bart can’t make it to where they’re headed because he’s sold his soul to Milhouse. It’s a lonely experience and sometimes you wonder if it’s just not meant to happen for you.
I tend be a little guarded when it comes to that sort of thing. Some of that might be due to my parents splitting when I was young and my dad essentially abandoning me. Some of it’s shyness and some of it is from negative experiences, such as the aforementioned elementary school incident.
I’ve tried my hand at online dating and it’s mostly been unsuccessful. One woman lost interest in me completely when she learned I was fat. That sucked. Usually the first thing I’ll do when browsing a profile on a dating site is to look at their stance on dating overweight folks, so I’ll know if I’m wasting my time or not.
I mention all this not out of some desire for pity, but because I want to show that there is a human cost to this sort of thing.
Obviously, we all have preferences of some sort, but these are shaped by the culture we grow up in. It’s worth a little self-examination and thought to consider why we reject someone.
In my experience, the older we get, the less hung up we get about what other folks think and we’re perhaps less superficial. I’ve had conventionally attractive women express an attraction to me. And if dating didn’t work out, it was more a matter of other things not lining up and not my physical appearance. I’m usually surprised when that happens given some of my experiences and the general perception regarding fat people. I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised, I have a decent face, a killer sense of humor, and I’m a pretty thoughtful and good friend. There’s a lot of good reasons to date me. I don’t tend to promote myself as such because of concerns with being arrogant, but that’s for another post and another day.
I think we’d all be a lot happier if we more readily bucked some of the sillier conventions of society, such as placing the onus on guys to pretty much initiate romantic interest. I’m sure a lot of great relationships have been missed out on because of that.
Flirting generally goes over my head, like Homer in that scene in “Cape Feare” when he is given his new identity of Homer Thompson. Some of that’s because I always assume friendly rather than flirtatious intent. I’m sure that’s tied up to fear of rejection and being made to feel ugly. It’s something I’ve tried to work on with mixed success.
My point in writing all this is we should try to be kinder to each other and extend everyone a little empathy, even if we don’t quite understand an aspect of them.