What I Learned from Growing-Up Fat

Ask anyone who was fat and unlucky enough to experience when they were young, the miseries of a childhood diet and they’ll tell you – perhaps upon a moment of reflection – that it haunts them to this day. I would argue it’s one of the most obvious influences in the person I am today – familial attitudes surrounding food. In pondering this relationship I have with food, and where it began, I struggled to find a general consensus that reflected my own massive appetite. A need to feed those around me, to share food, and to enjoy it. Something that forms the very basis of my relationship with my best friend – the comfort and celebratory nature of food being as healing as any closeness.

Growing up, we didn’t often have any selection of crisps and sweets around the house. Partially, I suspect, my Mother wanted to avoid the shame of having to take us to the dentist to have large chasms in our teeth replaced with metal. Both me and my two older brothers, however, would all come to benefit from an adolescence of braces. If we’d been the kind of family to take holidays abroad, I’d have understood her fears. It makes perfect sense not wanting to get held up in line at security because your five year-old son has a suspicious presence going on in his mouth. Of course, my suspicious oral activities didn’t begin until I was much older.

My earliest memories of dieting hark back to around age nine. The same time my mother told me that she and my father were thinking of getting two kittens. The very same evening, in fact.

“I’ve got ice-cream in the freezer if you want one.” My Grandmother told me, as my Mother dropped me off on one of my weekend sleepovers at her house.

“No, we’re being healthier,” said my Mother, her tone raised so high you’d have thought my Grandmother had just offered to let me jab knives into the toaster. Something I had done, aged 4, to brightest flash of white light – and screams from everyone in the room but me. Luckily my sensible Clark’s and their thick rubber soles had grounded the shock. I couldn’t understand the fuss until I realized I’d broken the toaster.

“Oh, I forgot you were on a diet. One wont hurt though will it?”

“It’s not a diet! It’s healthy eating,” said my Mother. God bless her for trying to turn this already humiliating situation into something even vaguely positive. “We had a big fruit salad for pudding, anyway.” A fruit salad is not something anyone in their right mind learns to appreciate until an adulthood of slowing metabolism approaches. I don’t care what the Change for Life leaflets told you.

It had worked to varying success over the years, although in hindsight to negligible results. It wasn’t until around age seventeen that I finally managed to drop down to a healthy weight for my height. To which I found teachers asking me to wait behind at the end of lessons, asking if I was ill – with a capital ‘I’. My interest in school work had reached zero and my weight was decreasing on a similar trajectory. My clothes, too big and swamping my newly sized S frame. I felt too proud of my accomplishments. I had done one thing with absolute commitment, to the betterment, or so I believed, of my self esteem. Neglecting any awareness for the needs of those around me, especially the one’s as emotionally under the weather as I was.

So what if I found myself self-isolating, obsessed with counting calories, academically a disaster, but I was thin. I was, for lack of a more enlightened point of view, finally accepted as a sexually desirable being. And absolutely clueless as to what I was to do about it.

It’s a personal belief that I hold, that when you experience the real brutality of childhood ridicule, there’s only two options for you to take later on in life. You’re either a far nicer person for having known the personal consequences it has on your own self-esteem, or a far crueler, bitter person for having been subjected to it. I credit it as the sole reason I work well in teams as an adult.

I remember with horrifying lucidity, meeting for a Pizza Hut lunch buffet, organized by a close friend of mine at the time, and ordering a salad. The waitress bemused, having taken such large celebratory orders from everyone else around the table, ecstatic about their AS results, handing me a plate free of charge. “Don’t worry, they all get a salad free with their meal so there’s no point in you paying for one.” Her generosity only further highlighting that I was doing something so remarkably different to everyone around me. That same friend’s home whom I had purged a slice of pizza at a gathering, earlier in the summer. Wandering up to the bathroom while the sound of the television and loud chatter masked my first venture into slamming away extra calories down the toilet bowl. I felt, at every turn, the beginnings of something sly growing at the back of my mind. Each time I got away with something in a social gathering, a confidence building. No one suspecting the former fatty.

Of course, ease like that cannot last. An obsession with exercise and having always conveniently eaten ahead of time at lunch, lead my best friend to a confrontation. The two of us, walking up Bangor high street towards Asda, my hands cramping in my sweatshirt pockets, unsuccessful at holding back the tears. Her own similar experiences with a cousin – albeit different almost entirely – felt as though they were smashing me back into real-life. A life where people ate to survive, and celebrate, ate for enjoyment as much as they did necessity. I felt, for the first time, how cruel this behavior was when heard it spoken from the mouth of someone I loved.

I left school following a summer of disastrous AS results. Picked subjects I felt interested in, in the college down the road. We began to meet up every Tuesday and Saturday after work, for coffee and a cake. Sometimes, just if one of us was having a bad day. Sacrificing our responsibilities for a shared love of food and sugary coffees. A ritual born out of our own needs for healing. No shame in crying with each other, we knew better than that.

Advertisements

Dating Apps and the Pluckiness of the Hook-Up

I’ve always done well with the pensioners. They’re absolutely my crowd. The kind of things they want to talk about, we share those in common. Why is the bus never on time? Why does a coffee cost £4 now? Why does everyone get so angry in supermarkets? I could, on any given day, chat to an elderly friend for hours about where they used to go when they’d bunk off from school. Or their entire employment history and every period of annual and maternity leave they’ve ever taken. The two of us, holding up a Tesco queue, baskets at our feet, not a care in the world.

Post braces and pre university freedom, my eighteen year-old self minced its way, unprepared and filled with adolescent sexual shame into the daunting world of Grindr. Skinny, toothy smiled and wearing bow-tie from the Top-Man on Bangor high street. As the messages flooded in for the very first time, it seemed someone was determined to ruin my aged friendships. I suspected God. Who else would have the power and the time on their hands to be so vindictive? I sorted through the photographs in my inbox. Photos of abdomens, photos of appendages, occasionally a secondary school teacher here and there. Quickly I regaled. Forced to reexamine a lifetime of warm reception from elderly members of the public. Should we find ourselves sat side-by-side at the bus-stop, I might think twice about talking to you now.

I’d heard stories friends having run-ins with revolting old men. Bellies hanging, the only thing protecting their modesty in the full body photographs they’d send. A friend once told me she’d been contacted on a fake facebook account she’d set up to check up on her boyfriend, by the step-father of someone we went to school with. The following afternoon on her way into work, the daughter of the cafe’s cook recounted, word-for-word, the same tale.

Still I’d yet to experience the hook-up, in all of its monstrosities myself. Boring date after boring date, I’d avoid, shamelessly, replying to the poor men who’d paid for us to go to the cinema or bought me a coffee. Until I found myself in a long-distance open relationship. However short-lived it was, it was not a hook-up. I was beginning to suspect my inclination towards the hopelessly romantic was biting me in the arse. Following this fizzling out, I found myself strutting back out there. This time with three times the committal. My next attempt at a hook-up was a newly qualified primary school teacher. Lovely, polite and horrifically boring.

So there we were, trapped in an endless series of unfulfilling dates. Neither of us even hinting towards the vague idea of physical chemistry. I’d agreed to meet up for a drink, initially, because he’d listened to me drone on about cis-privilege in the gay community and even rewarded me with an image of his face for the trouble. No awkward sexual chatter. My only exchange for having boring sex with him being a veggie volcano from Dominos. He taught children how to read, he didn’t deserve this sham. I later managed to finish us off by accidentally sending him a compromising photo intended for someone else. “No! Don’t open that! It was meant for someone else” does not in any circumstance result in a clean resolution. Regardless, I was up a pizza and he’d gotten a shag.

The dating app, in all of its comedy and tragedy has walked us further down the isle towards our inevitable marriage to our phones. Not a night out goes by without the reel of horror stories about unsolicited photographs and the subsequent angry messages should the horrified recipient not dignify the faceless genitals with a response.

The truth of the matter is, some of us, no matter how hard we try, aren’t made for a life of endless Tinder swiping. No matter how much effort we put into seeming non-committal or comfortable with anonymity, we’re hopelessly miles away from realising it. We’re connected now. For better or worse. Those of us not cut out for it better step up or move on. Maybe one day, the elderly woman in the vegetable aisle might just have a grandson she’s willing to palm off on a well mannered boy with a bag-for-life.

As for me? The smartphone is hung-up – pardon the pun, and I hope to never again wade into the murky waters or Grindr. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Lime Street

Two years ago

if I was feeling

north of the boarder,

unable to concentrate

on reading

or showering and cooking

I’d have probably

text a friend

to ask if they were busy

 

but it seems like

even when the opportunity arises

when someone texts me first

I’m already half way

to standing on the

wet grey steps

with coffee

and a cigarette

like I’ve not thought through

that either of us

might have anything going on

besides the two of us together

 

 

I miss it when you visit me

I don’t get to drink coffee

on Bold Street

and walk

‘round the corner to Lidl,

fill your cupboards with food

and make pasta for two.

There’s no fun to any of it

when the balls in my court

and I’m stagnant

and bored

and waiting.

June

Elected in me

above all else

is the newness you’ve impressed.

The 6th day

to forget you,

to leave no boundaries

liable,

without you,

we board the smallest plane

I’ve ever seen

in my then 18 years.

Domestica destroy.

Brave for a little boy

shrouded in

the clothes of a part-time job,

a blouse I saw my co-worker wear,

the trousers

as queer as I could manage

on £6 an hour,

trying to look

an inch of the liberty you exude.

I think

above all else

that the way I tie my hair up

is to replicate

you

the moment I fell in love with the future.