By Nikolas Reda-Castelao
Depending on when we are reading this, I have either just begun or am in the halfway point of or nearing the end of an important and testing facet of my life, a ritualistic endeavor that recalls Sisyphus. I am losing weight.
I am forcing myself into a size. That size is labeled “acceptable”. I have been that size before. I have been the size where you walk down the hallways — this was high school — and you receive the approving glance from your peers that you’ve done right by them, where your grotesque visage and fleshy cummerbund don’t offend them. Or perhaps I wasn’t. I remember one day being offended when a classmate questioned me as to whether I really needed to wear form fitting clothing, as in whether I thought it appropriate or not.
I was really offended by this, because I did want to wear those clothes. I did, because beforehand I couldn’t. I grew up obese. I was healthy by many different standards, but by the metric of how far my flesh protruded from my jean like some sideways Tower of Babel mocking the demand of God himself, I was not. I lost 60 pounds my freshman year of high school. It was then I realized the difference between being that guy, the obese unappealing person, and being slim and acceptable. People regarded me with more than just a nervous glance. It was as though the person I had already been was just saved from this beast before.
My first year in college, I lost 30 pounds, but that’s OK because I gained 40 throughout my senior year of high school. I did these things because I was desperately afraid of becoming that guy again. I have a picture of that guy that I used to show around to people in high school, so as to demonstrate that I was no longer that guy, and that they should look at me not as someone who wasn’t as lean as their worshipped football false idols but rather the man who fought to exorcise himself of an uglier human with a double chin.
Myself as an overweight person was a different person, actually. I stuttered and didn’t look people in the eye; I lingered in the back of class and pulled food from my trench coat pockets because the duress of the daily social experience frayed my overstretched brain. I wanted to read and to bike and to be alone in my imagination, but I wanted to be acknowledged and cared about. I, almost to this day, refused to shed my shirt in public, and I always changed in the locker room bathroom stall, and sweated profusely at the mere glimpse of a woman. But this was because I was aware that I was deemed unworthy due to my weight. It was made clear. In media and in people’s interactions, it was clear as atmosphere.
My thinner version wasn’t exactly Shaft, but I had this eccentric charm to myself, apparently. Truly, I wasn’t a different person, I was just coaxed into thinking that I had more charm because all of a sudden I was “attractive.” I was voted Class President and Class Favorite. I was also a constant vacuum of the self-loathing that fueled me to exorcise myself of, well, myself.
People with eating disorders or body dysmorphia don’t just heal, the broken thoughts don’t leave the body in sweat. It collects in tears. My loathing was internalized so much that it burst and I began leering and harboring an inexplicable and unwarranted anger at the people who made me feel inadequate, hoping they’d melt like I had to. To this day, I have a complicated relationship with food and fitness, and jump between either eating too little or punishing myself with horrid binge eating. I jump between two people at the slightest flick of a number.
People with nice faces and nice bodies say, “be confident,” and you reply, “easy for you to say. You don’t have to wage war on your own body.” I am trying to find a worth that exists beyond physical desire, one that transcends all that ephemerality for something I’ve always wanted, to be content in my mind, and my mind alone. It’s also odd, because I’ve been called attractive maybe once or twice even when I was a heaving beast of burden, and so I wonder how many other people think that they’re not attractive for the things they hide under their “fat clothing” when the reality is we can’t expect them to look a certain way. So we should stop asking them to fight themselves.