The other day, my friend – my lady friend, though not in that way – was telling me about a job opening she missed out on due to her sex, and I yawned.
It is not that I am unsympathetic to her plight and the plight of all the new-wave feminists out there; blogging away about the double-standard applied to women and the relative leg-space they consume on a crowded subway train. I get it; I do. At least, I think I do. I am aware that whenever I bluntly interrupt someone to extrapolate on a long, borderline offensive, tangent about the anxiety I feel when I walk out of a Starbucks bathroom sporting a slight pee-stain on my pant seam, having not applied enough thoroughness to the patented “shake,” I am perceived as funny – or, at the very least, quirky. Whereas if a woman were to do the same (or, well, the equivalent), she would be seen as rude and uncouth, as a slut/whore/cunt and quite possibly deranged; mentally-ill and things of that ilk. That strikes me as unfair. On that front, I’m with you, sister.
I only yawned because I was tired. I was tired and I didn’t believe her. The job my friend applied to was that of a Gallery Assistant and the posting listed a preference for three years of prior experience in the art arena. I am merely pointing out that it is possible that her two-month internship at a bar did not qualify her for the position, rather than the rejection being a sole product of unconscious sexism. My friend later conceded that she was twenty minutes late to the interview and the interview itself was conducted by a female.
“You really don’t get it, though,” my friend said. “It’s hard being a woman entering the real workforce.”
True, but if you find that hard, try being a fat person entering the workforce. Try being a fat person just going about his or her day. Now, that’s hard. We do not like to talk about this because we are too polite to admit that anyone’s fat at all, and, truth be told, we honestly see the state of being fat (sorry, overweight) as a health issue stemming from a bad diet and a weak spirit. The plight of the fatty goes largely un-blogged about and un-commented on, as the issue becomes more and more shunned by the general populous – including our fatties.
I used to be fat, though I’m not as much anymore. People that knew me from back in my heavier days will wave at me and comment on how “healthy” I look. I nod and wave back, usually with a hand bearing a cigarette resting betwixt the middle- and index finger. I use that hand because the other one is usually being drafted to stopper the phlegm that my lungs seem determined to jettison.
I lost the weight because I spent a year living in New York City, and – in the early days, before I figured out how to make actual money – often found myself posed with the choice between buying food or buying a pack of cigarettes, which could be purchased tax-free from the Bodega down the street that smuggled in cartons by the truckload from Virginia. Always economical, I tended to choose the cigarettes – and by “tended to,” I mean I literally always chose the cigarettes. The accompanying weight loss being nearly incidental.
In New York, my physical transformation was gradual and my friends hardly noticed. It was not until I moved back to my hometown that I first noticed I was being treated differently. Although thinking back, I now realize that my poverty dissipated in direct correlation to the number of calories I burned. Sure, I usually telecommuted, but the fact remains: People treat you differently when you are fat.
Having had a frame of reference, the difference became apparent the moment by plane touched the ground, when I first flew back, after my year in East-Coast exile, to my hometown. Coming literally out of the gate, I felt like a Syrian Muslim-American who woke up one day to find his skin now white and his hair blonde. People would greet me as I walked past and hold eye-contact during conversation. Simple pleasantries such as opening a door, or an obligatory smile, were novel. Gone was the comfort that feeling invisible in a room entailed. It made me uneasy; being treated this way. I felt the general misanthropy that once came so naturally fade away. I missed it. There’s no other way to say this: During the first few months back, I generally liked other people, and I never used to before. I am sure general maturity played its part, but it is odd to note that no longer being significantly overweight bore such a large role in my change of heart.
I was fat throughout my life, though the degree of which varied over the years. Curiously enough, I saw success in sports, always starting for the selective competitive teams, though that might have had more to do with a generous cut-off date and my late September birthday than athletic ability. What I’m trying to emphasize is that being fat never bothered me. I never knew there was another option available.
But now we are entering the years which historians will dub, “The Caloric Wars.” We have low-cal smoothies, organic options, gluten-free maple syrup, juice cleanses, Citi-Bikes, Food Inc., Michelle Obama, and dimly lit aisles adorning Whole Foods. Outfits like Men’s Fitness make waves when they release their rankings on “The Fittest Cities,” and mayors like Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City leap to the TED Talk stage to share their story of how they pushed their podunk town away from the bottom of that list. I do not know if we have fully recovered from the copious corn subsidies the federal government doled out in the early nineties, but we are certainly more health-savvy than ever before.
It is easy to miss the subtext of this well-meaning campaign. It is easy to miss because it is largely unintended: That your body is pathological. Fat people have received the message loud and clear: They are unhealthy; they are weak. These, especially the former, are true. What is also true is that they will be treated as lesser until they make that change – a change that requires an effort most people will never be asked to muster. Judges will hand out harsher sentences, you will be generally ignored by large swathes of the population, and airlines will consider you a nuisance. Fine. Society is allowed to advocate certain lifestyles and punish those that do not adhere. But why the fuck do we need to actively mobilize against the stragglers? Isn’t it bad enough that the fatty over there is spending another night watching “Friends” alone with his or her two cats?
Paradoxically, I felt my confidence as it pertains to talking to women plummet with the accompanying pounds. When I was fat, I was fearless; par none. I would saunter right up to a girl I was interested in and flash a big idiot grin; bluntly asking her out with abandon. Oh, I would always be soundly rejected, but there was comfort in that too – I don’t know: something to due with the consistency of behavior and the predictability of expectation.
Now that I have lost the weight and put myself together in some semblance of form, I find myself utterly clueless whenever I find myself in a flirtatious situation. I mean, it’s rare, but it happens. When it does, I just stutter, scratch the back of my neck, don a voice so strikingly similar in cadence to Lena Dunham’s that I am almost sure to be thought of as gay, and watch as every clever remark and witty retort I kept stocked in the barrel wash away. I don’t really know what mutual attraction feels like and the fact that I use phrases like “mutual attraction” probably does not bode well for me in my immediate future.
It is not that I resent the girls who rejected me because I was fat. In fact, there were a host of other extremely sound reasons to turn me away that definitely played a role, probably a much bigger role, in the decision. Plus, not being attracted to a human Glad bag of clogged arteries and lethargic wheezes is not cruel. It is logical. It makes perfect sense. Though, as I stand on my soap box, I am loathe to admit, I am the same way.
It is the other things that nettle me more. The fact that a fellow fattie will miss out on a whole other entire range of small human kindnesses bothers me. As for my own past as a fattie, I do not mind. I was a strange, tough, even cruel kid; completely capable of fending for myself, and was never left wanting for friends. I am not going to crusade for fatty rights. I just worry about the other fatties becoming casualties of these often hilarious, sometimes hysterical, but overall productive “Caloric Wars.” What irks me further is that the friendly-fire being issued is largely going by unseen.
We crusade for feminism – we should; we need to. We tear up the fucking streets for the Eric Garners in the world – it would be a large-scale moral failure if we did not. Smart, decent people take a hard-line in favor of pro-choice and as the elderly, misguided, anti-women generations before us finally die off, change will be affected.
Okay, you see where I’m heading: I’m enjoying stoking the proportions to these ridiculous extremes (I could not quite work in ISIS, but not for a lack of trying). But why not say something about the poor, mistreated fatty tearing into a Snickers bar? And he, or she, is mistreated – even if it remains largely unbeknownst to him or her. Maybe we will eradicate obesity entirely one day, although I hope we choose our means wisely and with compassion.
And as a former member of the club, I see the fatties wherever I go: sitting in the corner of the Student Union Building reading a book, or shuffling home from the bus stop, head down, kicking pebbles as they go; or walking, slowly, up the stairs; fists clenched and short of breath.
I notice them, though you do not. Not really, anyways.