Shopping for clothes always seems like such a chore. Beyond the issues of succumbing to capitalist patriarchal standards of what “looks good,” shopping can quickly become a session of self-loathing, especially when you are “too big” for what you want to wear. You find something that looks great on the rack, but when you put it on, the buttons are stretched out, or you cannot move your arms, or you cannot sit down, or you cannot even breathe properly. You feel like a failure, as though there is something wrong with you, as though you will be judged for just trying on the garment. This feeling only intensifies when you do not realize how hard you are trying to uphold the same errant sense of masculinity that you claim you do not even care about.
I am 24 years old, and I have been big my whole life. I cannot remember a time that I did not feel as though I were taking up too much space, or as though people were going to make fun of me for being big. And they sure did make fun of me – not only for being a fat or chubby child, but also because I was not “man” enough to take their contempt. I would cry a lot, earning the “cry baby” nickname and all of the associated emasculating and homophobic terms – none of which will I repeat here. I fell into an extraordinarily complex cycle of self-hatred and crying. I negotiated with myself for years, trying to figure out why I could not be like the sports icons and the pro wrestlers and the super models I was inherently being compared to by my peers.
The interesting thing about being a big kid is that I wasn’t big for the reasons most people thought. My parents actually never let me eat too much; I would definitely eat more than my two older sisters, but they stopped me from eating to the point that I would get sick. I was also a very active kid and teenager. Even though I spent time playing video games with my family or in my room trying to draw my body idol – Goku from the Dragon Ball series — I participated in many different sports and played outside with my friends on a nearly daily basis. From martial arts, to soccer, to swimming, to skateboarding, to rollerblading, to trying to break dance, to playing Dance Dance Revolution, to riding my bike around the neighborhood, I spent a lot of time on my feet, running around and sweating in the San Diego sun. It did not make any sense to me: if I were just as active as my friends were, why was I still the “fat kid” of the group?
When I look back at myself as a kid and a teenager, so much of it was spent dealing with my size on top of dealing with not being “manly enough.” In one way or another, everything was a contest of dominance and masculinity with my guy friends. I wanted to be the best at 007 Goldeneye or Call of Duty. I wanted to be the best break dancer. I wanted to be the best guitar player and singer. I just wanted to be the best. It was, in all honesty, pretty pathetic, but it was all I knew about being a boy. Combine my masculinity complex with my body dysmorphia, and I fell quickly into bouts of depression and self-harm. I wanted so badly to be normal, to be manly, to be thin, and I could never quite attain any of those things so long as I was the sensitive fat kid.
It was not until I got to college that I started reassessing the way I looked at my body. I began embracing my “sensitivity” and caring a little less about the compulsory masculinity that had plagued me as a kid. I started looking at myself as an okay person – not loving myself completely, but not hating myself either. I distanced myself from the idea that I had to be the most masculine of all, especially as I continued seeing the flawed and problematic nature of the various forms of masculinity I faced.
I would come to a bump in the road, though, whenever I tried finding clothes to wear. My ideals of masculinity shifted from super muscular or fit men on TV and in movies to the supremely skinny guys in the indie, pop punk, and emo bands I listened to. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to wear the skinny jeans. I wanted to wear super tight shirts and small hoodies. Throw into the mix my ethnicity and my tight curly hair, and I wanted to change my body to the point of chemically straightening my hair in high school. But in college, I found more reasons to see my body as flawed and wrong: I was too big to be good enough for the music I loved.
College was also the time that I began understanding the issues of riding a public bus while being “too big.” When I was in elementary, middle, and high school, I sat in larger school bus bench-style seats. Later in high school, I took the city bus for a short period of time between my mother taking me to school and me driving myself in my dad’s truck. But at the University of California at Santa Cruz, I did not have those options. I had to choose between standing after walking all over campus or sitting and hoping I did not make anyone upset over how much space I was taking up on the seats. My shoulders were pretty broad, but it was more than that; my thighs took over part of the seat next to me, and I wasn’t able to let people get by me easily when they tried to move to a different part of the bus. My disdain toward my own body then caused a strange association with the fact that I am a man. I did not want to be one of those men who deliberately took up too much space and pissed off other patrons, but I could not help but be that man because of my size.
It has taken me my whole life to understand the necessity of loving my body no matter what. I still have issues shopping for clothes as I gain more weight. I still have issues with my gender identity that extend far beyond my disdain for conventional masculinity. But I am understanding that my body is not something to be ashamed of. I look back now at my life, at all of the struggles I had with my body and wanting to replicate masculinity so badly, and I wish I could tell my younger self that my body was just fine the way it was.
I did not and still do not have to conform my body and myself to fit any horrible standards of masculinity or normalcy. I do not have to apologize to anyone for taking up space on the bus or on an airplane. I do not have to apologize for wearing clothes that are a little too tight. I do not have to expend the energy on explaining myself to anyone.
If there is one thing I want you to take from my story, it is that your body and your sense of self are defined best by you and only by you. It is difficult, with the various forms of pressure and self-loathing that can occur at various points of your life, but the most important thing you can do for yourself is to find what makes you happy in your body, what makes you happy with your identity and, if relevant, what makes you happy with your masculinity. The most important thing is to find out ways to be happy and to live a life free of self-loathing and full of self-love.[Headline image: The photograph shows a statue of a large bald man. He is sitting on a floor next to a wall. His elbows are resting on his knees, and his right arm is bent so that his right hand reaches the crook of his left elbow. He is not wearing clothes. He is looking down with a serious and somewhat troubled look on his face.]