The fat boy left standing

Paul Savident
5 min readJan 19, 2023

I’ve always been fat, apart from a very few brief occasions when I wasn’t, and even then, I was big-boned.
There are varying phases of fat one passes through as one ages: when you’re a baby you’re bouncing, when a young child you’re chubby, as an adolescent you’ve puppy fat to lose, as a late teenager you’re stocky or thickset, and then when you’re an adult you’re simply fat as a) it’s factual, and b) the endearing euphemisms have largely disappeared. Agreed, there are other terms that get used for us grownups: big-boned (as mentioned), plump, obese, podgy (or pudgy if you’re British!), corpulent, weighty, tubby, lardy, overweight, stout, blubbery, sturdy, burly, and hefty are just fourteen of the name attributes I remember being called in my time… there’ll be many more if I put my mind to it, though oftentimes it’s best not to…
The thing is, I really don’t remember how old I was when I understood I was fat. Maybe that’s a good thing, as it left me untroubled in my childhood; certainly, I was well into secondary school before my fatness became an issue, mainly for other people more than me and then mainly in terms of my health.
I think I must have been around eleven or twelve when I, alongside mum, visited my first weight-loss ‘club’ — I’m sure mum didn’t need to go, and went solely to support and encourage me! This first fat club was in a hall at the top of the road. Everyone was lovely and the regime was all about counting calories, and I do remember a rather splendid All Bran & Orange cake that I ate rather too much of with disruptive lower gastrointestinal consequences. Weight Watchers first saw me pass through its doors a year or so later. The meeting room was in a windowless basement of a local leisure centre, as if we’d been purposefully hidden from the Gods of Fitness above to save our shame and keep at bay prying eyes of those that might wish to gloat on the Devils of Fatness below.
I guess my first real understanding of me being fat was in my pre-teens, and it would usually come to the fore during PE class, or Physical Education for those unawares. These were the days when I realised that coloured bibs were my friend, as they were infinitely better than being in any ‘topless’ team.
PE for exercise is one thing, though when it comes to team sport and team building, I’m the guy that would rather build with sand on the beach than with sweat and manly shouts in a school gymnasium or upon a muddy playing field. The changing room for indoor PE was above the school’s gym. It was a musk-ridden musty smelling sort of minstrel’s gallery the length of the building with stairs at either end; to be clear the only music heard was of bottom trumpets and the choral delights of much shouting and goading.
I didn’t really mind the exercise. It was the build of fear I hated when, after coming down the stairs and entering the gym I’d see the reality of no bib boxes in attendance. Occasionally, my fear would abate when the PE teacher would pop into the office and drag out two boxes, though if he didn’t then it was not teams of reds against blues, or greens, or yellows… the teams were the ones wearing tops against the bare skinned.
Now, I was never really into sports, or rather I was never into competitive sports. I loved swimming, though not competing in swimming. I loved cricket, though not competing in cricket. I loved hockey, though not competing in hockey. I loved tennis, though not competing in tennis. You get the drift… Where others really got off on the team engagement thing and competing to be the best, an afternoon sea swimming or walking the cliffs would have suited me far better and done me a world of good, both physically and mentally!
However, team sports it was, and herein lies the crunch. On 99% of occasions, I was the fat boy left standing.
Whether at the gymnasium or a playing field, we’d all line up: a motley bunch from the fit to the fat. The teacher would pick two team captains — of course, always the sportiest in our year. The captains would then separate from the remnants and move to about twenty feet away and them ten feet apart… and then they’d begin to pick their teams, whilst the long wait for me would begin.
Now, I was never really bothered whether I was picked first, or second, or twelfth, or seventeenth, or twentieth as I never thought I’d ever be picked until last, and when I say picked, I usually mean deployed as no one really wanted me on their team. I wasn’t competitive. I didn’t care who won. I wasn’t in the in-crowd. And, of course, I WAS fat.
So, on 99% of occasions I was the fat boy left standing — waiting to be picked by a captain who didn’t want me. What was galling for the captains was when the numbers on the teams were even and I was the only one still standing, as I’d be put into the strongest team by the PE teacher to balance things out a bit: a momentary smile would cross my face though I always thought best never to smirk. And of course, if there were no bibs about it was always the team I was in that would need to go topless, bare skinned, exposing our adolescent bodies to our classmates and my fat to the cold of the world.
Now, over forty years on I look back on those times with completely non-plussed feelings. I know at the time I felt awkward and embarrassed, and to this day on occasions I feel that young me’s angst and pain, though I am who I am and am made up of all the good, bad, and indifferent experiences I’ve had over almost six decades. I bear no malice against any of my teammates, nor to our PE teachers. Why should I? Then, bare naked chests were simply what happened, just like jumpers for goalposts and red stains on cricket whites.
I found this Polaroid last year whilst going through old photo albums at mum’s place. I think I was about ten or eleven at the time, and already in love with growing and gardening. To me, I don’t seem particularly fat, or chubby or have a load of puppy fat to lose, and it’s made me ponder more about my ‘fat story’, as certainly for decades I’ve been on that ubiquitous journey of being on and off the wagon of diets and discipline. Though I’ll ponder on more of that another time.
One thing’s for sure — that fat boy’s still standing; on his own two feet, generally content, mainly smiling, and with further tales to tell…

--

--

Paul Savident

Allotmenteering, food, life & environment - plus YouTube channel RichardAndPaul with partner chronicling our daily lives & what happens weekly at our allotment.