There are two things you need to know about me. One: I’m fat — not husky, not big- boned, not stocky — fat. Two: I’m ambivalent about it. And I’ve embraced the ambivalence; I see the good and the bad, the bad being the health problems and the social constraints. The good is the humor and pointed observations that come from having a fat guy’s perspective on the world. Extra weight is really a kind of privilege. I can say stuff that others can’t and people will just say, “Oh, that’s just how he is. He’s just jolly.”
Just like every “buddy” movie with a fat best friend, the guy who always makes the indecent remarks and does more damage than he’s worth. The Hangover, Animal House, Bachelor Party, Good Luck Chuck are all examples of movies with prominent fat guy characters who act like jerks and idiots, talk about things that shouldn’t be mentioned in front of children and make everyone laugh hysterically — all because they’re fat. For the most part, that’s the fat guy’s function in society: to be amusing, and to make neurotic though truthful insights, always as a kind of outsider looking in. If you’re a fat guy reading this and you don’t think this function applies to you, either reexamine your friendships or put a shirt on at the pool party. And stop telling people how much you benched at the gym yesterday — I know you’re lying and everyone else knows it too.
It’s a fact that media has created an image that fat guys really haven’t strayed too far from in the last 30 years. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for fat guys to create a personality that isn’t comparable to some character from movie. For a while, people told me I was just like George Costanza from Seinfeld, which I guess is true. His neuroticism was perfect for the concurrent Jewish angst I experienced throughout my overweight adolescence, especially when it came to girls. (“Yes she wants me to like her, if she likes me! But she doesn’t like me!”) My friends look at me like: “I don’t know what you’re parents did to you.”
There is something about being fat and being a man that gives one access to a platform of judgment that isn’t available to anybody else. We could insult the president to his face, so long as we did it with our outlandishly fat humor. No one would care, not even Joe Biden. And by the way, Uncle Joe’s political career could really benefit from gaining 40 or 50 pounds — anything that gets him closer to Chris Christie. We have this privilege because we’re creatures of ambiguity. On the one hand, we are rarely taken seriously. But then, at the same time, our words carry weight. We’re modern day jesters.
But it’s time for a confession. As much as I enjoy the high platform of pointed sarcasm upon which I sit, as much as I need a dose of eye-rolling to get through the day, these acts all come from a deep sense of insecurity. Shocker, I know. But I think too many people look at fat guys as these entities that rise above the jokes. The myth is that once guys get past a certain age, body image isn’t that big of a deal to us — like we’re laughing along with everyone else. Let me tell you: that’s just false.
Ladies, you aren’t the only ones that stress and worry and self-destruct over weight issues. Yes, you can practically bounce coins off our bellies. But that doesn’t mean we’re impenetrable. Snarky jabs at our weight, even ones that aren’t meant to hurt our feelings, make us cringe and make us feel a sense of failure to live up to some ridiculous image of physical perfection. It’s a constant anxiety of my own and I’m sure that a lot of guys feel the same way. We loathe the way we look and we think that other people loathe our physical appearance as much as we do. Sometimes, unfortunately, our fears come true. Once when I was 11, my mom told me I was an embarrassment because of my weight — it kind of bummed me out; middle school was bad enough.
Now I don’t want to make this issue sound overly dramatic, because it’s not. But there are day-to-day experiences that are terrifying for fat guys: too many people on an elevator or the BUS, or those desks in CAS that feel like they were designed for Kate Moss. When these situations arise we usually handle them in one specific way: humor. Because if we can turn an awkward situation into a laughable moment, we’ve taken the bite out of the beast.
So this is my goal. I want to educate and elucidate what it’s like to be a fat boy in a skinny world — and I want to do it honestly. I want to talk about the emotional pain that comes with the hilarity of being overweight in a world that is obsessed with looking a certain way. Don’t worry, it’s not going to be as serious as it sounds. I’ll try my best to make my words induce sidesplitting laughter, and if that’s all I accomplish by the end of the semester, I’ll consider my time well spent. But hopefully by the end, I’ll have hit upon some truths.
Sandor Mark is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, and a guest columnist for the Daily Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.