The Big and the Small: Confessions of an Irregular American
For thirty-one years I’ve lived in a country that doesn’t fit me. I’m not alone.
“We do not live long, the big and the small.” — Andre the Giant (1946-1993)
The world was not designed for me.
I’m almost 6'4" and I weigh 400 pounds. I’m a huge fucking guy. I always have been. I was a professional athlete and a combat instructor many years and many pounds ago. At the peak of my physical conditioning, when I was either training, instructing, or wrestling every day of every week, I weighed 275, had vastly more stamina and a stronger heart than you do, and I was still a fat fuck.
In many ways and much of the time it sucks.
Most of the hassles are First World shit. I can’t do airplane seats, amusement park rides, restaurant booths, clothing stores, theaters or arenas. It’s unlikely I’ll fit in your car, at least comfortably. You can’t take me to play laser tag.
Being big in this world is a major inconvenience.
Of course, if you are too big or too small you know it’s a lot more than that, for reasons that have nothing to do with modern engineering.
I’m a writer now. It’s a sedentary job, and one in which I invest many hours of my day. I spent ten years destroying my body and exercise is increasingly harder for me. I’ve never cared for it besides. I go through long periods during which I eat like a fucking garbage disposal, especially when deadlines loom large and close.
I need to lose weight, for me and for my future. I’m working on it. But when I do, I will still probably be a fat fuck to most people.
I’m fine with that. They’re not, for some strange reason.
Because that’s always the worst part. The people.
The worst part is how they treat the big and the small.
I’ve always felt a kinship with little people. I knew a little person wrestler once (they are always called “midget wrestlers,” and while in that context it is strictly an industry term I chose not to employ it here). You probably think of it as a degrading profession. It is and it isn’t. Little person wrestlers traditionally command a much higher rate of pay than “normal” wrestlers because they are a rarer commodity. Backstage they are treated as men, as professionals, as part of The Boys.
This particular little person wrestler was a hell of a guy. He was a classically trained actor and singer. He’d read books I hadn’t. He pulled women a lot hotter than most. He’d climbed a mountain once just to prove to himself he could.
He told me when he was a boy he was particularly small, even for a little person. And people liked to kick him. Not all of them, of course. But it happened a dozen times a year. People seemed to have an almost irrepressible urge to punt him as hard and as far as they could.
And that was why they did it, he said. Because they could. Even if they weren’t terrible people, they knew he was impossibly tiny and weak and something in the human character loathed that weakness and wanted to destroy it and they knew they could.
Of course, little people have it immeasurably tougher than big people do. It’s no contest. We are often treated as less than human; little people are treated as subhuman, or not human at all.
That knowledge does little to lessen the impact of being big day-to-day, however.
When I was a kid in school buses were the bane of my existence. No one wants the fat kid sitting next to them. You got there first or you were screwed. I ran off a bus crying once because some skinny bitch called me a “fucking refrigerator” when I failed to find a seat and wound up blocking the aisle. Everyone laughed. Hard. Even the bus driver.
That moment more or less sums up my entire scholastic experience.
At age fifteen I took control of my life. I quit school. I started training to become a pro-wrestler. These were extreme measures, but they were necessary.
I stopped being a victim. I stopped thinking of myself and identifying as a Fat Guy. I stopped letting it limit and inhibit me. Confidence will carry you as far as you allow it to. It won’t widen commercial airline seats or add a shelf of larger sizes at a clothing store, but you’ll find once you have it there is no job you can’t get, no crowd you can’t hang with, no member of the opposite sex you can’t woo. Whatever.
Other than those First World problems, I haven’t fretted over others’ perception of me in a very long time.
In point of fact I don’t give a fuck what people think in general.
I was at a con several years back, in a hotel bar, pow-wowing with authors Mur Lafferty and JC Hutchins. I was off the job for a couple of years and I’d ballooned considerably. I was sitting down, hunched over, and my fat rolls were good and bunched and poking through my shirt.
A dude named Rich Sigfrit, meaning no harm, snapped a photo of us unawares and after the con fashioned with it one of those de-motivational posters. The tagline, written with no intention of malice and a genuine if exaggerated respect, read:“You’re not as good as they are. Accept it.”
My every subatomic particle hated that fucking poster.
I was being tagged as hanging with the “cool” kids, one of the elite, being praised by a guy who’d never done anything but show me respect and admiration, and I kind of wanted to pop Rich’s head like a tick.
It wasn’t him. I hated it because I looked like a fat guy.
It never really goes away.
Americans have an interesting dichotomy with this whole deal. We’ve come to be known as an obese nation. We have more fat people than any country in the world. Yet no one covets a slim definition of physical beauty as we do, and virtually every physical construct of our society is designed with that ideal of ourselves in mind.
I had a very good friend who was raised not to respect fat people and saw it as a sign of low culture and class as a result. She said these things to me once, not lamenting, not regretful, but as an explanation. As if she were explaining why her Jewish beliefs wouldn’t allow her to get a tattoo.
I know two things to be true.
The reason you shouldn’t be obese is because you’ll die sooner than you otherwise would and you’ll live a shitty uncomfortable life on your way to that fate.
You shouldn’t not be fat because of what anyone else thinks.
Anyone. Ever. Under any circumstance.
When you’re big you get a lot of people who always want to dump what you deal with on you. You have no self-control. If you don’t like it, lose weight. All of that.
And you know what? There is truth there.
Most of us, the big, are in fact fortunate. We have the ability to lose weight. We have options. However difficult we may find them, we can improve our relationship with a hostile environment.
However, the small can’t choose to be taller or less petite. The same people treat them with the same contempt, pity, disgust, and malice with which they treat fat people.
The condition does not create the response.
We are an inherently cruel species. We maintain a hostile and cruel culture of jungle mentalities. We like it that way. We need it to be that way. Anyone who’ll tell you to “just” lose weight will stare cow-eyed at you if you tell them to “just” be nicer.
So, what can you do about all of this?
I have a few suggestions.
If you’re a fat kid I strongly recommend knocking a few people the fuck out. Don’t stab, shoot, or bludgeon anyone (seriously, don’t), but before you can be prosecuted as an adult it’s worth establishing a level of physical dominance and psychological intimidation. Don’t be a bully. Don’t prey on the weak. You have more in common with them. Daily life has more in common with the yard in a federal prison than any of us will admit. Treat it like one. Pick the biggest d-bag all the kids in your school fear and lay into them like a fucking hurricane made of pasty flab.
It doesn’t matter if you lose, as long as they know damn good and well they were in a fight.
If you’re a fat adult my quickest note is this: dress better. Being fat is no excuse for looking like shit. Take some goddamn pride in your appearance. Finding clothes sucks, and good clothes are twice as expensive. I know. It’s worth it. It matters. And groom yourself. I rock a neatly trimmed and maintained fat guy beard to conceal my double chin. It works.
If you’re dating a fat woman don’t treat her belly as if it doesn’t exist. Don’t ignore it and/or “tolerate” it. They either hate that or it teaches them to hate it. A soft belly is fucking amazing. It can be sensual, comforting, and intensely erotic. Make it your friend. Love it. Treat it as the additional curve it is.
Find fat idols. My earliest was Dusty Rhodes, who was the loudest, flashiest, ugliest, sexiest, most fabulous, most amazing fat dude of all-time. Uncle Phil, Carl Winslow, and Dan Connor were the holy trifecta of awesome fat TV fathers. There are more fat idols out there than you’re generally allowed to realize.
Most of that applies to the small, as well. It’s all about taking yourself seriously. That’s the biggest thing you can do.
And you know what? It won’t always be enough. It may often not be enough. You’ll still be rejected. You’ll still be laughed at, crapped on, passed over, pushed aside, and maybe even have your head stoved in on occasion.
What do you do when that happens? Give it back to them. As hard and as well as you can. It doesn’t matter whether you show them up or whether they just laugh louder and longer at your attempt.
It’s not for them. It’s for you.
That’s the other biggest thing you can do.
The world was not designed for us. You’re not alone. Neither are you relegated. You decide your own role. No silent judgment from a stranger conveyed in a reproaching gaze may cast you thus. It doesn’t mean anything to you, and if you knew the worst thing you could know about the person throwing that look at you it really wouldn’t mean anything.
You can’t redesign the world. You can’t reengineer the people. The only raw material you have to work with is yourself.