Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Elephant In The Room

I've learned something in the past week:

Nobody wants to agree with me that I am fat.

I'm serious. Last Friday we were out for a going away lunch for a friend who is moving (by now she's moved, actually), and I was debating whether or not I should get a salad. One friend asked, "Why are you looking at salad?", so I answered, "Because I'm fat," and another friend immediately said, "You're not fat."

I'm not? I'm 5'10" and I weigh 295 pounds. It certainly isn't muscle.

The same thing keeps happening in the office. I never noticed before how much food there is just floating around our office, although I had an inkling of it that time I gave up candy for Lent. I went to a meeting this week where there were three dozen cupcakes. I went to Orientation twice, and sat across from a table covered with brownies, cookies, mixed nuts, and fruit. I've been offered birthday cake, granola bars, Pop Tarts, raisins, pistachios (which I am allergic to and contemplated eating because yay, sick day!), and mini candy bars, just because I showed up for work.

"Oh, no thanks. I'm morbidly obese."

No one knows how to respond to this. Shocked laughter, wide eyed silence, uncomfortable giggling... I've seen them all this week, and it fascinates me. Why won't anyone agree with me? I get (and appreciate) that no one wants to be the first to say it, because no one wants to insult me or suffer a possible verbal lashing because they said it at the wrong time, but if I say it first, why are people so uncomfortable? Why won't people agree that I am dangerously overweight? If we're talking face to face, the evidence is kind of hard to miss for a sighted person.

This has been on my mind because I started a diet a week ago, and six days ago I bought a Fitbit flex to help me track and be deliberate about exercise. Some of my friends have asked what brought this on, which is not an unreasonable question given how often I mention that I need to lose weight and I need to exercise without ever actually trying to do either one. Just ask the treadmill gathering dust in my living room, supporting a collection of laundry, jackets, and scarves.

My answer would be that it was a cumulative thing, but the main straw that broke the camel's back is that two weeks ago I went on Ignite Summit. I love Summit, and have gone multiple times. Every time we go, I always get a team photo and a photo with my Team Leaders, and there are always people there taking candid photos and shots of us participating in the activities. When I got home, we all started uploading our photos to Facebook and tagging each other. It's clear that I'm having fun in our photos, but when I looked at them I only saw one thing:

Team 5


A lot of belly.

That's actually a picture where I look thin(ner), because I'm not bending. I can only imagine what the photos of me on the ropes course look like. Possibly no one took any because they were all busy making sure I wouldn't crush a 95 pound spotter to death when I fell.

Anyway, I looked at the photos, and I sighed, and looked around my living room and said, "This cannot continue to be my life."

Something has to change, so I started working on it. I'm still amused by the responses to the obvious fact that I need to work on it, though. Again, why won't people just agree with me?

One of my friends suggested that I was just being self deprecating to be funny.

I learned the value of self-deprecation in seventh grade, in Journalism class. Tina, an eighth grade girl who was very pretty and very popular and dating my friend Reuben (in seventh grade everyone was my friend), and I were working on numbering photos for yearbook pages, and she kept dropping them.

"I'm so clumsy," she sighed. "I make fun of myself for that all the time."

"I don't have to make fun of myself," I said. "Everyone else does it for me."

She made a sad face, and that day at lunch she gave me the cookie from her tray.

As I said, I learned a valuable lesson. Too bad I ended up not liking girls.

That's not what I'm doing when I say I'm fat, or that I'm a large person, or that I'm morbidly obese.

Another friend said that it's just depressing to hear, and that I must be depressed to think that way about myself.

You know what's depressing? The "Big and Tall" section for men at JC Penny's. The one at Belk is less depressing. It's kind of mixed in with the rest of the menswear, so that you're walking along and you sort of stumble into and out of it, like, "Ooops, I wandered into big and tall," and then you're gone. The one at Penny's, on the other hand, is a shame cave. It's in the very back on the men's department, so you have to walk past all of the clothes that won't fit you, and then when you get there, it's in a recessed alcove. If you're not looking at the clothes, you'll immediately notice two things:

1) There are no mirrors.

2) There are fewer lights.

If despair was a store you could shop in, it would be the dimly lit "Big and Tall" section at the back of Penny's.

My friend is also a little right, though. I do get a little depressed when I think about my weight. I cover it with jokes, but it was depressing to have to ask for a seatbelt extender on one of the planes when I went to visit Long Island. It's depressing not to be able to comfortably fit in the seats in the University Center auditorium. It's depressing that the thing I buy most at thrift stores isn't Pyrex or ties, but is instead five dollar 3XL shirts. It's depressing thinking about how I'm at risk for diabetes, and how I can't climb stairs without getting winded, and how I break a sweat just walking across campus. It's depressing that part of the reason why I wear sweater vests in the fall and winter is that I can unbutton the bottom of the shirt under them and no one will know.

It's depressing, but I am not depressed. I'm determined to change.

I need to change because I have a problem: I'm fat.

And politely ignoring my problem isn't going to help it go away.


Anonymous said...

Proud of you Joel! One step at a time and plenty of support around you :)

Dan said...

Hey Joel,

Part of why people disagree with you is because "fat" is often used as a slur, but "overweight" or "obese" are generally more used as descriptors with less judgment involved. Your friends wouldn't call you fat (or any other insult) and they'd take issue with anyone else who did... Including you, apparently :)

The bigger reason is that people don't think of you in any one dimension. Being "fat" is similar to being "seated". That state can change and just because you're seated now doesn't mean you've always been or will be seated. These states don't define you, but the choices you make (like eating healthier) do say a bit more about you.

As for the salad, don't get it because you feel yourself fat, seated or insufficiently green. If you're making changes to your diet in pursuit of better health (not just thinness, but better fitness), just say that. Be proud of the direction you're working in. You'll probably inspire people to do the same.

You're not fat. You're Joel, and you're awesome.

Marcheline said...

Hey Joel, great post. I'm with you on all counts, and very glad you're making health a priority.

Just have to say, though... there is something worse than people refusing to vocalize about your weight. It's when everyone feels it's their born right to comment on your weight.

See, when you're an overweight female, as I am, family members and friends say things like "Hey, didn't you belong to a gym? How's that going?" - when they know for absolute certain you haven't been to the gym in years. They email you photos of yourself when you were younger and thinner. They buy you clothing for your birthday and Christmas, despite pleas and threats and demands that they stop... clothing which a) is not your style and b) is too small, or is so ridiculously over-sized that it's insulting.

There are myriad little stabbing ways that people refer to your weight when you're a woman, even if they don't come right out and say "Hey fatso" when you walk in a room. And let's not even get started on the media blitzkrieg of anorexic models... I also never shop in department stores. I also shop in thrift stores for large men's button down short sleeve shirts, because they are comfortable with jeans and fit without showing bulges I'd rather not advertise.

I think it might be a wonderful vacation to have everyone refuse to mention, refer to, or comment on my weight.

That being said, the only really important opinion on your weight is your own. I'm glad you're taking the bull by the horns and getting active. Way to go!

Marcheline said...

P.S. What Dan said.

nan said...

Good for you with the increased exercise and focus on health. I am willing to bet many of your friends and colleagues focus on the you that "is not your body" ...and somehow they feel that agreeing on what they perceive is a negative body image descriptor ("fat") would mean that they are not focusing where they should. That said, when you know you are carrying too many lbs, striving for the healthiest body possible without regard to size is a great thing!