Tales of a Sixth-Grade Fat Boy: A Discussion about Male Body Image

This is a tale of male body image. It’s a thing that society either refuses to acknowledge, or is purely ignorant of. Our culture, and very rightly so, has made a lot of noise about what magazines and male lust have done to damage female body image. Male body image issues are just as real, and have garnered a shameful dearth of frank discussion. This is my side of that discussion.

David called me fat in the sixth grade.

Actually, he called me “fat boy”. I don’t remember what typical sixth-grade smart comment out of my mouth prompted him to call me that. I do, in his defense, remember that I said something to prompt it. But kids are kids, and kids are mean.

And in context, Dave is now one of my dearest friends. I was in his wedding; he, his wife Sarah, and his sweet daughter Emma are three of my favorite people on this earth. And we laugh about it now; it’s a running joke for the two of us.

I remember, too, holding up the line at Field Day 1992 in elementary school because I was slowly traversing a balance beam. From somewhere behind me, someone yelled “Move, fatty!”

I remember both times in my life that someone called me fat outright. Because it hurts; it hurts a lot.

When I was young, I was fat. I wasn’t chubby, or husky, or big-boned, or any other pleasantry that well-meaning mothers and grandmothers use to soften the obvious fact that a child is overweight. I spent all my time indoors reading and eating. That regimen resulted in fat kid who knew the answer to every question in school.

As fat kids do, I stayed fat. Through a move from Alabama to Tennessee, through elementary school, through middle school, and through my junior year of high school. And I was admittedly fortunate that I wasn’t bullied the way some overweight kids are.

The summer after my sophomore year I stepped on a scale and it said a horribly cruel thing to me:

235 lbs

The next April, I went to the football weight room with my friend Scotty. A coach I’d had for a class stopped me:

“What are you doing up here?”

“I…I’m gonna…I wanna play football.”

“…well. Alright.”

Through spring and summer workouts and a full Senior season of rigorous second-string mop-up duty I lost 45 lbs.

And I wasn’t fat anymore.

But then, I was again.

The ravages of college and late night Taco Bell runs and too much beer washed over me, and were unkind. I came back up. A lot. At my heaviest I weighed 260.

And I do have a big frame. I’m 5’10, but I have huge shoulders and a huge chest. But 260 is too fat for a 5’10 male no matter how large the frame.

I weigh, right now, the same as I did when I got on that scale when I was 16. And the fact is that if I weighed the 165-180 that the charts say I’m suppose to weigh, I’d look like Christian Bale in The Machinist. But the 235 I weigh now is in no way related to the 235 I weighed as a fat teenager. Long, long hours in the gym have made me bigger and stronger, but still heavier than I’ve ever been comfortable with.

All that serves this end: I can’t remember a time in my life that I wasn’t insecure about my weight. Or how fat I looked. Or how fat I felt. Even as I write this, I just finished watching the Crossfit Games, and thought no less that 20 times in that hour “Man, I wish I had abs like that dude.”

And I’m not bemoaning that a little hard work in the gym didn’t just magically give me 5% body fat. It takes more work than I’ve put in, and more dedicated nutrition choices.

But be conscious that men, even as much as women, are bombarded with airbrushed, tan, six-packed models on magazine covers. And we hear women wax animalistic about how hot these guys are. And when that happens, just as much as women, even healthy men long to be someone else. Someone with bigger biceps. With a sharp chin with perfect Clooney-esque stubble. A guy with abs you could grate cheese on. A guy with a Superman chest and bowling ball shoulders.

Men, eat smart. Wake up early and go to the gym. Play basketball, go hiking, play on the company softball team.

But for the love of everything you hold dear, don’t sit around staring at the Men’s Health cover that tells you you’ll have better sex, if you could just had a flatter stomach or bulging biceps. Because short of a DNA transplant, chances are you won’t look like that guy.

Don’t sell yourself short, buddy. Don’t get hung up on not looking like a magazine cover model. You’re more than the sum of your measurements. Stop living like that. Unless you want to be in hell every waking moment of your life.

In which case, be my guest.

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