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Sunday 26 August 2018

A Three-Letter Word

(Content warning: what follows will be a frank monologue that talks about body issues, weight, self image, self esteem, depression, anxiety, bullying, trauma and suicide. If you really don't want to read any of that, no judgement whatsoever. I understand. Feel free to check out one of my other blogs which are less heavy. This one is about Blade Runner. If you're into that sort of thing.)

Hi folks. My name is John, and I'm fat.

Here's a picture of me at Nine Worlds this year.

Yes, I am the one on the left, har har har. (This person cosplaying Ellen Ripley was really cool. Very friendly. Many thanks to her!)

I am fat. I use that word to describe myself, not to take the piss out of myself, not to disarm people who weaponise it against me, but because it is true. I am overweight. Obese, is the term. The BMI chart - if anyone even thinks that is a thing any more - doesn't go up far enough to account for my height or my weight, but I probably sit in the red bit.

Ever since I hit puberty I have been this shape.

Like, you can look at kid pictures of me and I've got pudgy little cheeks. You can look at teenager pictures of me and I am, yes, fat. I am fat, have always been fat, and will remain fat until such a time as I actually decompose or am otherwise reduced by being dead.

As you can imagine, this has led to my certain life experiences. I lucked out in many other areas of my life - I recognise that I have the privileges of being white-passing, straight-passing, cis, and coming from an only slightly poor household. This thing, though - this thing is something that can affect just about everyone.

Being generally treated like shit by half of the people I ever met was a strong motivator toward changing something. So I tried.

This is where a lot of people are going to roll their eyes and close this window, but stick it out, because this is the literal truth.

None of it worked.

I can understand your skepticism, trust me, because for all my life I was surrounded by people telling me I was wrong, and I was lying, and I was doing something wrong. To the point wherein I actually started doubting myself. Doubting whether or not I remembered how things went, properly.

It goes like this: I try to lose weight by just reducing my calories and doing more exercise. Two months pass. I put on a few ounces. I reduce the calories more, do more exercise. Doesn't work, again - this time I put on four pounds, which is absurd. My mother and father are confused at this, because mum's the one making my meals, and there's only so much snack food you can buy on £2 a week pocket money. So they assume I am sneaking food elsewhere, I promise them I'm not, I get the "Alright then" with the roll of the eyes which basically tells me they don't believe me at all.

So then, I am put into the care of the health services. Referred to a dietitian. I am issued a rather strict eating plan. Everything not on the plan gets lobbed out of the house and my pocket money goes away so I can't spend it on food. For six months I am on the first plan, and my weight actually - this time - doesn't change at all. It remains constant. I AM miserable, but - you know. Constant. The dietitian, who predicted the loss of three stone in those six months, throws up her hands and declares that I am either not doing enough exercise (har fucking har) or I am cheating on the plan. Except this time my mum is on my side here - because I haven't been.

We see another dietitian. This one swears by the cups-of-rice diet. Like all your food is measured in cups of rice. The idea of which actually made me burst into tears when I was in the back of the car on the way home. Nothing but rice, forever. But hey - at least I wouldn't be fat any more. Right?

I lost a pound in the first week.

I put on three in the second.

I had monthly weigh-ins. I was meant to be referred for six months but after the third the lady didn't want me to go any more, because I was half a stone heavier,and her heavy hints of "something else going on" pretty much told me she thought I had cheated on this diet, too.

Which I hadn't.

My food had basically been plain rice, for three months. It killed me. It absolutely killed me. I like food, that is no surprise to anyone. I like food, and here I am, eating basically plain rice. I got sauce sometimes, that was a luxury. Carrots, too. I love carrots. Maybe I love them because they were the only interesting thing I got to eat in that period of my life.

It was during this three months that I was written out of doing PE classes at school, anything high-impact like running or basketball, because my knee joints were already deteriorating. But you don't get Arthritis when you're young, so it can't have been that. That was because I was fat, too.

Now, there will be a lot of people shaking their head at me. "John," they will say, a knowing smile on their lips, an understanding hand on my shoulder. "You don't need to justify yourself. Everyone tries and fails to diet. Everyone does. You just need to try again, and you need to stick to it."

I mean, right, I fully agree.

The idea of not sticking to it was alien to me. I was highly motivated to make this work, and that was why I never cheated - because I was tired of being beaten up for it. Literally being physically assaulted for being fat. I was tired of being called names constantly, of always being self-conscious of myself, of always flattening myself against corridor walls and taking seats that people couldn't move behind me. People made my life an absolute hell. As a child, many times, I considered doing something very drastic about it. I must have been broken. There must have been something wrong with me. Didn't you just eat less and then the fat went away? Didn't you just jog and do the exercise bike and play the stupid football and eat the boring stuff and then it went away?

Except it never, ever fucking did.

It flies in the face of common wisdom, I know. But then a lot of actual facts in terms of weight loss don't actually marry up with common wisdom - here's a Time article on the topic. What it comes down to is that nobody loses weight the same way, and some people can lose it easily, and some people find it difficult to put any on, and some people find it nigh on impossible to actually lose it.

You will find it difficult to get any hits on actual science for this on Google, obviously, because dieting is an industry and a lifestyle - and it is one that is primarily fed by insecurity. Nobody in that industry wants one of the first ten results on Google to be "Actually Maybe You Are Already An Okay Weight, Just Eat More Veggies".

The notion of someone being a size and being okay with that size is an alien one. If you find it very, very hard to lose weight, that is your body pushing back. If you enter starvation mode and stop burning calories the moment you cut out your daily snacks, then that weight is probably not going anywhere. Nobody cares about though, because just wanting it bad enough and not drinking Coca-Cola any more worked for their uncle Derek, who put on eight stone when he quit his job, but now he's managed to lose seven, so literally anyone can lose weight, right?

Medical fat-phobia is such a common thing, too. Relatively recently, I talked to a doctor about joint pain. He didn't even blink, just suggested that if I lost weight it would help. After an awkward silence, I explained to him that I meant my knuckles. He cleared his throat, looked at my medical records, found the word Rheumatoid, and told me he couldn't do anything. Well, glad we sorted that one out.

For a long time I hated the word fat, because it was a knife that was stuck in my back constantly.

It carried a lot of hostility in it, and a lot of my own hang-ups. It carried the hatred and derision of my peers (and hell, just normal people who didn't even know me), and it carried the feeling of failure of constantly trying without any success. It also carried the constant accusations of being a liar. A treble-whammy of shit.

...if people weren't actually shit to me, though, I don't think I would have thought twice about it.

While I was fat, it didn't stop me doing things. It didn't stop me riding a bike or playing football - though I wasn't very good at the latter, I still did it, and did it every single school day and most Saturdays. I would walk a lot of places. I was still capable of every physical task in front of me, aside from winning any running races. Even if I hated doing it, I could still do cross-country races. We played cricket, and rugby, and (against my doctor's advice) basketball. While I was told my knees were in serious trouble, I kind of ignored that, because they didn't hurt unless I jumped around on them or dropped down on them - though when I got to fifteen they started crunching whenever I bent them. They still do.

It's as I got on in life, and I paid less attention to people that don't matter, and I found my confidence and my capabilities in the outside world, that I started using the word fat again.

Yes, at first, it was to disarm people that would use it against me as a weapon - but then I started to think, why should it be a weapon? We're not in school any more. Is fat really a bad thing? Is fat really a thing I shouldn't be? Is it a thing that you should scold me for being, in the street? Is it worse than being a racist, a sexist, a bigot, a thug?

The fact is, no. It isn't a thing that is inherently bad in and of itself.

Some people will throw up their hands at this, tell you how bad it is for you to be overweight, so on. If any of them had a similar childhood to me, or anyone that knew me, then I understand why.

Anyone remember the Two Minutes Hate from Nineteen Eighty-Four?

That one.

I will never use the word Fat to describe someone else unless they have told me I can or should. Just because that's my word now, doesn't mean it is theirs, and that's because the word still carries the same trauma, the same pain that it carried for me. And it carries that pain and trauma because we got to be the target of the two minutes hate.

I've talked before about insecurity, and how it drives people to turn on others. When Person A decides they need to lose weight because that will fix the hole they have inside, they go out and do so, but they find that Person B is apparently happy without having to do the same. I mean, I've also - in that same mini-series - done a blog about how high school never ends, which is also relevant, so...

So this word. This three-letter word. Fat.

We don't hate it because it is what we are.

We hate it because of how it was used on us. We hate it because people told us it was the reason why they treated us badly. We hate it because out parents and other people told us it was a bad thing to be and constantly, constantly pushed us to not be that thing any more. We're told from an early age that fat is mutually exclusive to beautiful or attractive or handsome, which leads to me being told, when I use the word to describe myself, to sometimes be told: "No you're not, you're lovely!" Which usually results in a snarky comment along the lines of: I didn't say I wasn't, did I stutter? But in these people's heads, fat is a definite negative. It precludes everything else.

You can probably replicate the same effect with any other word, with a concerted effort. If any school-age brunette was beaten up for being a brunette, and the word Brunette was spat at them from across the room as a term of abuse and hatred, and their parents constantly told them that, actually, it would just be a little easier for them if they just bleached their hair...

It's got so little to do with our own weight, and so much more to do with other people. With the fact that this was how other people were raised, how they get their kicks, how they make themselves feel better. Sure, they might be powerless in a sea of confusion in a world they don't understand and surrounded by people they have no empathetic connection with, incapable of illustrating their thoughts and hopes and dreams, and feeling like they will never achieve the things they aren't even sure they actually want to achieve...

...but at least they're not fat.

People want to make sure that chronic illness can't happen to them. It's why they offer such insipid solutions if it ever comes out that you suffer from one. They are just the things they cling to as reasons why it can't happen to them. It's the same with being fat - they don't like the notion of having to suffer from how society treats you, so they make themselves feel better with the thought of "Well, if you didn't like it, you could just lose it really easily".

Insecurity made manifest. And the easiest and quickest way people find to deal with it is to dump it on someone else.

Well I'm not letting that happen to me, any more.

I'm fat. I've always been fat. It's the shape I am, it's a shape I tried not to be and failed at. In the failing, and in other people's treatment of me even while I was failing, my mental health got very seriously snarled up. At least part of the reason behind my attempt to kill myself was tied to it,and to the clinical depression and generalised anxiety which was probably fed by it.

Except I wasn't depressed or anxious or suicidal because I was fat, if I am at all honest.

I was depressed, anxious and suicidal because every other fucker that I knew decided to punish me for being fat.

And I'm not taking that bullshit. Not against me, and not against anyone else I know.

This three letter word is my shape, and fuck you if you don't like it.


  1. Hell. Fucking. Yes. All the love.

  2. This is amazing, and true, and humbling. I think of myself as being relatively free from prejudices, and I'm aware of myself when I discover one that i had without noticing or thinking my way out of it, and I try not to be smug about my god luck, unlike so many people I encounter, and I know how imperfect I am, but you nailed it here, and you should be proof of yourself, and yourself, and proud. I'm proud of you, and I'm sorry if I ever gave you a whiff of that prejudice. Our anyone else.
    Why do we take it for granted that children are inevitably going to be cruel to each other. Why do we not have zero tolerance for bullying? Because that's what this is.

    1. Honestly, you haven't given me any such prejudice - or if you have, I haven't noticed. It's just a thing that I think more people should think about themselves - that we should realise this isn't our problem, that it's the prejudice of others that torments us so much.