The Great Body Debate is not a new one. For centuries, some stigma or another is attached to being too big, too small, too… ‘something’ that is considered undesirable at the time. The age of the internet encouraged body shaming and cyber bullying on both ends of spectrum, even sparking a debate about being ‘too fit’… or more specifically too arrogant about one’s fitness. Exhibit A: Maria Kang. When the mother of three asked ‘What’s your excuse?’ while showing off her toned body surrounded by her three sons… she caught major backlash by those who accused her of fat shaming.
For the most part, the shaming culture is stereotypically rampant among the female community. So imagine our surprise when Pro Baseball Player Prince Fielder bared all for the body issue of ESPN Magazine, only to to ‘fat shamed’ across the social media universe.
Twitter exploded with comments that ranged from mildly humorous to flat out mean. Fielder, for the most part, doesn’t seem to care. But it did spark the debate about ‘men’ and body image… and how that image can inform every action from professional ambition to romance.
*Patrick has been overweight his entire life. He’s not surprised by the Fielder controversy, because he’s been living with fat shaming his entire life. “My siblings were all a ‘normal’ size/wight, so I was very aware of my larger body size from an early age.” And in case he wasn’t aware, Patrick was reminded of his body by everyone around him. “When you’re a big boy or man, people have nicknames for you. ‘Big Boy, Bubba, Chubs, Heavy (insert your first name here).” And even those who didn’t know him assumed that because of his body size, he was prone to certain actions. “The Girl Scouts are always happy to see me walk by, because they just KNOW they’re in for a big payday. One girl said out loud to me once: ‘I KNOW you want some cookies!’ People assume all I do is feed my face.”
For Patrick, this kind of behavior is his normal. “Being overweight is one of the last acceptable societal discriminations. You can crack a fat joke with less repercussions than if you say something racist or sexist.” So he copes by diffusing the joke before anyone can say anything. “I learned early on to crack the fat joke before they could. Make them laugh, and then they can’t hurt your feelings.”
Patrick survived most of his years as young man by becoming a cynic. He was quick with snark and sarcasm. His defenses were always up when it came to his own image, but they also shifted the focus to the other person. Patrick says in some ways, removing the discomfort of his weight from an exchange with another person helped him. “It benefitted me because I became more outgoing, and was able to focus on everyone around me. Having a sense of humor can be an icebreaker in many situations. It also helped me to become more sympathetic to others.” Patrick says he’s easily able to take himself out of any given equation, and be there for another person selflessly. “I can fully understand what people go through. Most of the time, folks just want someone to listen to them. That sounds so simple, yet it’s one of the hardest things for people to do because everyone has problems and everything’s relative. At the end of the day, all most folks want is to be understood and to know that someone cares. I’ve found the easiest way to do that is to just listen.”
But that gift has a double edge. Patrick also found that more often than not, he was always in the ‘friend zone’ with the opposite sex. And when someone was interested in him, he had trouble relaxing about what the other person might think of him. “I’m very self-conscious of my body. I know that people say that’s more of a woman thing, but I am very aware of how I look and it makes me very nervous when it comes to being intimate.” He says that stress has not subsided with time. “Sometimes I’m so nervous about how I might look to a woman, that it can be a disaster.”
Patrick is honest and realistic about his expectations in a relationship. “I would say that being overweight has affected me the most when it comes to relationships. Women don’t give me a second glance most times, avoid eye contact, that sort of thing. I was never one to “step” to a woman in public.” The internet has been both a blessing and a curse. While Patrick interacts a lot more, there’s still the chance that he’ll have to commit to a face to face interaction. “Behind the computer screen, you don’t have to worry about physical appearances, so I could relax and be myself and be judged for other things like my personality. I feel like people can really see what kind of man I am, without pre-judging me based on my outer appearance.”
He says media imagery of the ‘big guy’ doesn’t exactly help. He’s takes particular issue with the image of the fat man with the hot girlfriend/wife that he sees consistently portrayed on television (from King Of Queens to According to Jim). ” In real life, fat dudes don’t get happily married to the likes of Courtney Thorne-Smith, Leah Remini, Jamie Gertz. Women say that a sense of humor is key to getting with them. I say that’s bullshit, right up there with “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Stop lying. Initially, it’s all about appearances. Some movies get it right, (Marty, Only The Lonely, Fatso and, more recent, My Mad Fat Diary) but, for the most part, Hollywood expects fat people to be jolly, happy, gluttons who are forever the sidekick to the lead and content with eating and making others happy.”
Patrick says he’s considered drastic measures, like gastric bypass, but ultimately decided against it. “I don’t like the idea of being ‘cut’ intentionally.”
He says he’s in a healthier place about his body, and less consumed with what others might think of it. “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me at all but I also no longer allow it to define who I am.” And he’s taking active steps to be in a healthier place on the outside as well. “I’m trying to make changes and break my co-dependency with food. My longest dysfunctional relationship has been with food. It had made me feel better than any relationship I’ve ever been in. That’s a sad comment, I know but I can’t lie. It’s been there long after others have moved on. Over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten better when dealing with it and eat much much healthier than I have at any other point in my life.”
*Patrick’s name has been changed to protect his identity.