Summer Is for Skinny People

This Time of Year Is About Frivolity and Fun and Being Alive and I Hate It

Summer Is for Skinny People

candyboximages / istock

In the popular imagination, summer is the season of mindlessness. Summer films mean big, dumb blockbusters that allow, even require, you to suspend your critical faculties and revel in the exploding superheroes. Likewise with summer reading, summer love, summer jams: The emphasis is always on escape and carefreedom, the joys of indulgence and insubstantiality. Songs about the season, by everyone from George Gershwin to Mungo Jerry, invariably sell this same bill of goods: In summertime, the livin' is easy; two bare feet on the dashboard/young love and an old Ford; everybody frontin' and maxin'/chillin' in the car they spent all day waxin'; we're always happy; a regular free-for-all.

Well, not for all.

For some of us, summer is the season of dread, because, for all its many charms, it's also the season during which taking off one's clothes in public becomes customary, at times even compulsory. While I am spiritually and voyeuristically 100 percent on board with partial and total public nudity among those who choose to engage in it (a segment of the population I envy as deeply as some people envy millionaires), my own relationship to bodily exposure is a joint-freezing, breath-seizing nightmare. To couch it in terms of the ranking phobias in American life, I would rather address a large audience while sealed in a coffin aboard a free-falling airplane infested by poisonous spiders the size of Alaskan king crabs than take my shirt off at the beach.

"Are you ready for the summer?" asks the song from Meatballs. "It's complicated," comes the invariable answer.

If you've spent any time in your life being noticeably overweight, you're likely to know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you're equally likely to have no clue how anyone could be so foolish as to deny himself the birthright of feeling the sun's rays on his bare skin. And of course, both yous are absolutely right. While comment-thread trolls (go right ahead, you worthless dicks; I won't be reading) and identity bloggers might disagree, the issue at issue isn't about cultural norms or beauty standards or privilege or tyranny. It's simply about the hyperconsciousness that permeates every waking second of body shame running aground in the absence of such consciousness.

As long as we're all celebrating independence this week, it seems as good a time as any to spill a few words considering its opposite: not dependence, but bondage. Not bondage to fitness or fatness or the beauty myth or any of the other tropes that attend the public conversation about the American obesity epidemic—which is, I'm only the tiniest bit relieved to acknowledge, not my subject here—but to the ineradicable certainty that one's own form is an encyclopedic aberration. This consciousness infects and infests every interaction with everyone you meet. You believe it is what everyone is really thinking. You see it in everything. It makes you late because you're compelled to change clothes 10 times before you settle on what to wear—and having settled, makes you wear the same outfit for days in a row, thinking you may have finally cracked the code of fooling the world into thinking you, too, are a human being. You get stuck in mirrors, performing contortions to try to discern the angle from which someone might mistake you for a peer. You pick at your clothes incessantly, trying to make them hang just so, the way normal people's garments hang. It makes young guys wear T-shirts in swimming pools (the suckerest bet of all time), turns gym locker rooms into high-speed gauntlets. Dinner parties become minefields. Preposterous fallacies—it's impossible for thin people to have real problems; eating disorders are a blessing—become obvious truths. Your appearance obsesses you, not because you are vain (though you might also be vain), but because you're unshakably convinced that your body is not simply unappealing, not merely unacceptable, but legitimately offensive to behold. You cancel plans because you simply can't allow yourself to be perceived. You feel like you're covered by ants. You would rather be covered by ants. You dream of shitting out your insides to transform your appearance. You fantasize about falling into a coma and waking up wasted away. You know that every time you enter a room, everyone in it is shocked by your appearance, such that your absence would lubricate the social intercourse. You doubt people who claim to be attracted to you and maintain a running countdown to the moment they finally admit it. You think of your body as a misshapen prison and your mind as the true locus of the self. You may even fetishize this misapprehension to the extent that it becomes the cornerstone of your personality, a bulwark against situations (beaches, dance floors) in which physical presence is preeminently valuable. It is the first thing you see in the morning and the last thought you have at night. Worst of all, even when you understand that all these things are objectively not true, you still know them as surely as the religious believe in their deities and gamblers in their chances. The processes are governed by a similar surrender to a malignant form of magical realism. It's an unedifying irony that the word "dysmorphia" is kind of beautiful. Alas, it's not as fun as it sounds.

Some people, regardless of the shape of their bodies, simply don't give a fuck. These people are lucky, maybe even holy. Others, and here I include myself, spend the summer on constant alert for signs that someone in their circle will declare that it's time to go swimming (or indeed skinny-dipping, a whole 'nother discussion), followed by a chorus of cheering affirmation haunted by the conspicuous silence of the one person in the group who can't, who simply cannot, bear the thought of baring his/her physique to the world. Thus begins the countdown to the moment of—well, not truth, exactly... but the crucial moment, when the exposurephobe must make the excuse that allows him/her to remain dressed while everyone else cavorts, revels, and displays. Too much work to do, beach too crowded, too tired, too whatever it takes to not drop the last layer of armor between your body and the disdainful eyes of, frankly, almost everyone else. It's bad enough to be excluded (by choice, by nature, by good old-fashioned prudishness) from one of the sweetest rituals available to humankind, but one thing is worse: being aggressively included.

This is the moment when the thing you're most terrified of becomes the subject before the group, when a gaggle of nearly naked friends, enemies, peers, and rivals begins shouting at you to strip off the only protection you have in the world against the thing you dread worse than death—far worse; death would be welcome. A gang of laughing voices commanding you to disregard the elephant stampede of horrible feelings that assault you more intensely with each "Come on!" and jump in the disgusting murk of weedy, reedy (and always, always freezing fucking cold) lake water while they watch. This has happened to me at least a dozen times in my life, during periods of both relative leanness and full-blown corpulence, with people I know well and love, and who know and love me, and each time was exactly the same as every other: the absolute worst. I have responded to it with explosive petulance, sheepish resignation, fake enthusiasm, sudden flight, and grim silence. In all cases, the people in the water—ironically, the best place to conceal an ignominious form—had no idea their exhortations to be one of them only compounded the paralyzing shame of knowing that I wasn't, and could never be, no matter how much weight I ever lose, or gain, or lose again.

One hears a lot about different kinds of shaming in the current discourse on privilege—body-, slut-, gender-, and otherwise. And while it's probably a good idea for everyone to consider the way they treat other people, I'm not entirely sure the transitive form of the verb applies in this case. To be sure, I have been brutally mocked for my appearance, by friends, enemies, strangers, and family, more or less for my whole life. Still, most people never say a word about your appearance, because they don't notice, don't care. Regardless, the idea that others are in any way responsible for the dread I feel at a crowded shoreline rings false to me. Once you're out of school, it's not the rudeness or deliberate ostracism you're afraid of. My fear is about what people will think far more than what they might say, and no one can be blamed for what he/she thinks. Most of the time, you don't get to know what anyone else thinks, but that hardly matters, because I know what I think, and I don't think I think it because society has conditioned me to via some fascistic beauty standard. (Women obviously experience this on a whole other level, but if you think men aren't held to a magisterial appearance ideal by men and women alike, try taking 20 or 30 extra pounds with you into the palace of privilege sometime.)

It's not about being or feeling attractive. It's about belonging to the class of the objectively acceptable. Scorn-dread follows the fat and once-fat around like the dust cloud follows Pigpen in Peanuts. It originates within, derived from the obvious disparity between our own appearance and the appearance of almost everyone else. The contempt of normals is unmistakable, be it masked by warmth, tempered by sympathy, denied on ideological grounds, or not even conscious. Just as the Jewish character in Chariots of Fire notes about English anti-Semitism, "You catch it on the edge of a remark," so too can revulsion for the endomorph be detected in the disappointed gaze of even the politest company. Bias against the overweight, particularly in situations where the whole point is bodily display, is involuntary, reflexive, evolutionary. It seems to exist on a species level. It's the tolerance that seems learned.

This anxiety, like all anxieties, exists entirely in the psyche of the anxious, and has very little to do with other people. That doesn't mean it's imaginary, however. It's not about self-esteem, or even self-involvement, but it is about the self in relation to the rest of the world. You need not think of your body as grotesque or freakish (two of many negative adjectives I used in the above paragraphs and deleted upon further consideration) to understand that other people are likely to. Here rests the sad corollary to the old Platonic adage about beauty being in the eye of the beholder. I'm sure I'm not the first to understand that the absence of beauty is in there, too, which is all the proof a non-beauty ever needs.

It was tempting to use this space as a critique of the summer industrial complex, comparing it to the mania for acquisition that gets pumped down our gullets every holiday season by the corporate forces that manipulate our collective mood, transforming natural season cycles into different colors of predetermined sentiment, the better to organize our shopping impulses and keep the economy chugging along. "Happiness is, after all, a consumption ethic," wrote Joan Didion in "Notes from a Native Daughter." But let's be serious. I can aestheticize my phobias all the livelong day, and it can't alter the fact that summer is great. It's just better for people who are thin and attractive. Like everything in the goddamn world. recommended


Comments (77) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Oh god, this country is full of whiners.
Posted by I'm fat ... wah, wah, wah on July 1, 2014 at 7:42 PM · Report this
I had a comment.
@1 successfully convinced me not to post it.

Not because I felt @1 succinctly made my point for me, but because I identified with the article.

Sorry I'm fat. I'll try not to think about it for another year.
Posted by xizar on July 1, 2014 at 7:49 PM · Report this
Don't forget, if you're a dude, women will look past your fat ass if you have at least one of the following:



Money & personality

Count your blessings, because a fat chick is always a fat chick.
Posted by Must be jelly cause jam don't jiggle like that on July 1, 2014 at 7:53 PM · Report this
@3: Sorry, nope. If he's still rude and obnoxious, he could be Charles and David Koch's spoiled rotten little Monster Nephew From Hell and I still wouldn't date his sorry, insanely rich, fat ass.
Rude and obnoxious is rude and obnoxious no matter what size.
Posted by auntie grizelda on July 1, 2014 at 8:42 PM · Report this
@2: You have my heartfelt sympathy. I have been struggling with my weight for most of my life. It amazes me what people misconstrue as fat these days!
Posted by auntie grizelda on July 1, 2014 at 8:46 PM · Report this
"I still wouldn't date his sorry, insanely rich, fat ass."

"I have been struggling with my weight for most of my life"

Sorry Auntie, i'm pretty sure with some money, he'd would touch your fat ass.

Posted by He could do better on July 1, 2014 at 9:28 PM · Report this
@6: You've never seen me before, and have no idea what I even look like.
I've struggled with watching my weight. So what? How do you know I'm fat?

And once again, my answer to rich pigs and trolls is NO.
Posted by auntie grizelda on July 1, 2014 at 9:37 PM · Report this
Hey, Sean, you should get out of the city or go to different beaches. I mean, I'm a small, fit person and even I get disgusted looks from the 20-something jerks at Madison probably for being older, who the fuck knows, but all they seem to do is stare at everyone with shitty looks on their faces over there. If you go out to Seward Park or pretty much any suburban beach, you'll usually find way more of a variety of sizes and ages.

Posted by virginia mason on July 1, 2014 at 10:22 PM · Report this
Being totally awesome and hot I feel sorry for you bitches.
Posted by kbatku on July 1, 2014 at 11:10 PM · Report this
This is pretty much why I'm not going to the beach this year. And wow, the trolls are out in force
Posted by msanonymous on July 2, 2014 at 2:20 AM · Report this
11 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Stewie Griffin 12
I don't know who I hate more: those who attack fat people simply for being fat or those who defend being fat as somehow being out of their control.
Posted by Stewie Griffin on July 2, 2014 at 7:16 AM · Report this
"You fantasize about falling into a coma and waking up wasted away"

Yes! and when I wake up, a gorgeous doctor is looking down at me, adoring me....

Doesn't have to be a coma; a nice, wasting illness that I totally recover from works...
Posted by abrock_ca on July 2, 2014 at 8:12 AM · Report this
14 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Bias against the overweight is not "involuntary, reflexive, evolutionary" or we would have no explanation for places like Maritania
Posted by tal on July 2, 2014 at 8:50 AM · Report this
Sometimes being overweight is caused by a health issue and is outside your control. A few years ago I couldn't figure out why I was gaining weight and it turned out to be a thyroid issue. It took a year to get on the right medication, get my metabolism working again, and loose the weight. I had always been fit before and was amazed that I was treated so differently.
Posted by AudreyHorne on July 2, 2014 at 9:07 AM · Report this
Sure, if you choose to make summer all about the people in the advertising instead of the people being advertised to. Open your eyes and look around you sometime. There are people of all shapes and sizes walking around this time of year, wearing whatever the hell they want and nobody cares because they're also doing the same thing because it's so damn hot out.

So just chill out and enjoy the nice weather, jeeze.
Posted by treehugger on July 2, 2014 at 9:22 AM · Report this
Also: Paragraphs. Use them.
Posted by treehugger on July 2, 2014 at 9:23 AM · Report this
quit crying and hit the treadmill
Posted by Doot on July 2, 2014 at 10:07 AM · Report this
kitschnsync 20
Some people, regardless of the shape of their bodies, simply don't give a fuck. These people are lucky, maybe even holy.

There is nothing lucky or mystical about it. Everybody can learn how to not give a fuck, after they give up vanity.
Posted by kitschnsync on July 2, 2014 at 10:14 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 21
The number of people who honestly can't control their weight is such a small number it can't be seriously used as an excuse.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on July 2, 2014 at 10:20 AM · Report this
fletc3her 22
I had an interesting experience recently. I went to the clothing optional night at a performance of To The Naked Eye at the Cornish/Intiman. It was in the smaller performance space, not the full theater.

Walking in I followed a man in a bathrobe and a woman in a wrap. Excellent, I though, someone will be naked in the audience. The sponsor was a club for nudists and the rep was naturally naked. Some more naked people came out of the bathrooms after changing.

What I wasn't prepared for was going into the performance space where it was a sea of naked flesh. Ninety percent of the audience was naked. I had to scan, quickly, furtively, to find a couple empty seats where I thought I could perch my clothed self. The theater filled up and the previously clothed couple next to me even took their shirts off just to feel more in with the crowd.

I considered taking my shirt off, but even with the panoply of bodies in the space including many with guts like mine and some which were quite obese, I simply felt less uncomfortable being in a weird clothed minority than joining in.
Posted by fletc3her on July 2, 2014 at 10:53 AM · Report this
please make this into a book
Posted by WHYTOO on July 2, 2014 at 11:05 AM · Report this
please make this a novel. thank you
Posted by WHYTOO on July 2, 2014 at 11:08 AM · Report this
So many things wrong with this article...

If you're overweight and feel "shamed" exposing yourself in public, then do something about it! Losing weight isn't that difficult. It all boils down to calories in, calories out. Diet and exercise. Simple.

If you're overweight and don't want to feel "shamed" exposing yourself in public, but don't care to lose the weight (or can't for medical/genetic reasons), then ending that shame starts with you! Get over it! Who gives a fuck what other people think? They aren't you.

If you're overweight and don't feel "shamed" exposing yourself in public, then great for you! Do your thing and own who you are. You're probably a happier and better person than 50% of the suckers out there.

My point is- Don't complain about shit you have the power to change. You can either change your body or change your mindset.
Posted by mdsf on July 2, 2014 at 11:30 AM · Report this
marymc 26
"Some people, regardless of the shape of their bodies, simply don't give a fuck. These people are lucky, maybe even holy."

Holy?? Hardly. I just figured out a long time ago that I have more important things to do with my life than worry whether I'm providing acceptable eye candy to people I don't know and don't give a damn about. If I want to wear something skimpy because it's hot out, or my sweetie likes it, or it just pleases me, but you don't like looking at it--look at something else. Problem solved.
Posted by marymc on July 2, 2014 at 11:37 AM · Report this
While I notice the ridiculous reactions paranoid thin people have to my body (OMG, what if it is contagious!), my general feeling is "if you don't like it, don't look". Sometimes I will go out of my way to interact with the most uncomfortable, just because it is fun to see them all squirmy and freaked out.

First of all, no one has the right to tell you what to do with your own body other than yourself (and I do mean yourself, not the voices in your head from the billions of dollars of advertising spent on making every person feel unattractive and desperate to get higher in the imagined hierarchy by buying their shit). Secondly, if people keep hiding and avoiding life, those with more socially-approved body builds will never be comfortable around fat people and your shame/paranoia/reclusiveness will just add to their sense of wrongness and negative stereotypes.

I am not going to wear heavy clothing in hot weather just to please some asshat who doesn't want to see my arms. Stop avoiding people, stop avoiding life, stop avoiding photos and do what pleases you. People you never expect to be happy that you are doing that will surprise you when you stop hiding in the shadows and anyone having issues with you not wallowing in the darkness can go find a shrink to deal with their own insecurity issues (usually what is going on). Stop giving your power away.

Yes it is a pain to have so much nastiness working against us in our dysfunctional society, but showing them who you are and not letting the negative folks get to you really is the best way to go. And if anyone is enough of a jerk to give you grief openly, give it back to them--they are expecting you to buy their garbage and oftentimes totally are shutdown by someone not giving them the reaction they expect/want. You have a mind, you have a heart and neither are made of fat, so stop viewing that as your primary identity and go have fun.
Posted by cawingcrow on July 2, 2014 at 11:40 AM · Report this
Come over to the side of not giving a fuck.
Posted by Bigwave425 on July 2, 2014 at 11:42 AM · Report this
So, I was out of the States from 2007-12. When I got back to Seattle a lot had changed. One of the first things I noticed was that being fat is the new "chic", like some kind of fashion statement. Not sure how that happened, but happen it did. Maybe it's all about more surface area for tattoos.

Sometimes it just plain creeps me out. Someone who is 70 pounds overweight SHOULD NOT be wearing "leggings" (or whatever they call those things that look like leotards). I mean, c'mon.

From what I understand from friends around the country, this looks to be a "Seattle" thing perhaps. Remember kids, gluttony and sloth are two of the 7 Deadly Sins. Ye shall reap as ye sows.
Posted by kalakala on July 2, 2014 at 11:52 AM · Report this
Even when I was skinny I thought I was fat. It's all about your head space.
Posted by 321 on July 2, 2014 at 11:52 AM · Report this
"Some people, regardless of the shape of their bodies, simply don't give a fuck. These people are lucky, maybe even holy. "

I used to be where you are. Now I'm one of the holies. I worked hard to get here, as hard as all the assholes thought I should be working to lose weight. It was the best thing I ever did. As Virgie Tovar says, lose hate not weight. xoxo
Posted by Uncumber on July 2, 2014 at 11:58 AM · Report this
26-28, *highfive*. OP, dude, you must get to a point where you do not care about the constipated, narrow opinions of people who otherwise do not care about you one bit. Yes, jump in the water, and enjoy it to the fullest. Yes, get out on the beach in your swimsuit, and leap into the waves. Don't deny yourself pleasure or wonderful experiences just because of your body's size. Do not let haters drive your life.

No one is entitled to see only thin, symmetrical, or conventionally-attractive people. No one.

Those of you who feel so entitled to have no one but the thin, young, healthy, and whole fill your field of vision--so entitled that you are angry and disgusted when you see other kinds of people (#29, I'm talking to you)--please STAY OUT OF PUBLIC PLACES. Don't get on planes. Don't go to the beach. Don't go to festivals or concerts. Because really, the problem is YOU and YOUR fucking closed mind. Stay the F*** home in front of your TV, where you'll see nothing but the thin, telegenic people you apparently feel entitled to see all the time.

Guess what: it's a big, diverse world out there. All kinds of people in all kinds of bodies, for all kinds of reasons that are none of your fucking business. All ages and abilities, all levels of health. If you can't accept that, the problem is WITH YOU.
Posted by DealWithIt on July 2, 2014 at 12:17 PM · Report this
ScienceNerd 33
Oh wow, I think I might have written this. :/

I have always (as long as I can remember) considered myself ugly and fat, and here I am wearing the biggest sized clothes I have ever worn in my life. I try to tell myself that I'm healthy (I work out 3 - 4 times a week and eat sensibly), but I also want to puke whenever I see myself in the mirror. Anyway, some days are better than others, and my mood has a lot to do with just how strong the compulsion to puke is.
Posted by ScienceNerd http://stanichium.tumblr.com/ on July 2, 2014 at 12:47 PM · Report this
Cleogrrl 34
Losing weight and keeping it off are two radically different metabolic challenges. Diets fail for 93% of us. Diet cycling is damaging to one's metabolism, and if diets actually worked, there would be no more diet industry.

Please consider these suggestions: read Health at Every Size & start incorporating the suggested practices, try dropping your food anxiety and eat what you wish when you want to. As you begin to listen to how you feel physically, your satiety, hunger, and fullness signals will get more noticeable. Your appetite will self-regulate. And, stop hating yourself. It is actually possible.

Finally, food and body size are not moral issues! Being fat is not an "epidemic"!

a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.
"a flu epidemic"
synonyms: outbreak, plague, pandemic, epizootic

Fat is a description, like tall or old. It is time to stop moralizing body size, even those who hide behind the "health" argument do this. I've got news for these folks: "health" is a dynamic state, and changes all the time. Your judgements about another's "health" status is none of your damn biz, unless your opinion has been specifically invited by that person.

Body size does not equal health, no matter what that size is; except at the two most extreme ends of the spectrum, and even then, those impacts are between an individual and their chosen medical consultants. Gratuitous BS comments about health is just so much fat bigotry, so stop it.
Posted by Cleogrrl on July 2, 2014 at 12:48 PM · Report this
#32, THANK YOU. You said all the stuff I wanted to say, and you said it brilliantly.
Posted by imaginaryfish on July 2, 2014 at 1:02 PM · Report this
Sean, I know you said you're probably not going to be reading the comments, but I really wanted to thank you for writing this. I was overweight throughout all of middle school and high school and was one of those boys who wore t-shirts when swimming. I suffered from anorexia towards the end of high school and became unbelievably skinny. Now, I am lean and fit, but still feel the dread that you so accurately captured in this article. Fuck the basics and bros that made me feel like shit growing up to the point that I can't take off my shirt without feeling dread ten years later.
Posted by t-shirtboy on July 2, 2014 at 1:21 PM · Report this
mr. herriman 37
Thank you, Sean. I can identify with a lot of this.

And as expected, a lot of you commenters are real dicks and/or completely missed the point.
Posted by mr. herriman on July 2, 2014 at 2:03 PM · Report this
Due to a genetic quirk I get a lot of scars. Very unsightly scars that attract attention by colour and shape, and stubbornly resist treatment. Fortunately most of them disappear under a shirt and pants. As a teen I could have written huge chunks of his article, especially the part about fearing swimming and wearing tee shirts in the water. I would deeply envy the normal and would have told you to shut up, you can lose weight. In my 40s I have a loving wife and kid and don’t give a Crap. Hang in there and consider children ; it breaks the cult of the self
Posted by Stowe on July 2, 2014 at 2:24 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 39

Isn't Madison lousy with hipsters from Capitol Hill in the summer? Many of those guys seem to exhibit a hate-on for anyone who doesn't fit in their little clique. Although I'm going to laugh forever if it turns out those pretentious douches don't/can't recognize Sean Nelson.
Posted by keshmeshi on July 2, 2014 at 2:26 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 40
After years of struggling with my own weight, I've come to realize that accepting my body even at its worst is vital to bringing it back to where it is when I'm at my prime physically. Every time I've managed to pack on pounds, it was a period of deep depression and self-hatred, and overcoming that was *vital* to eating better and getting back to the gym. I couldn't have done the latter without the former.

All of you assholes proclaiming that all Sean needs to do to feel right with himself is to get in shape have it so fucking wrong I can help but suspect that you know you're wrong, that you know a fat person can't ever hope to get in shape without finding some degree of body acceptance *first*, but you just can't keep your vicious bile from spewing out of your piehole and/or you *want* Sean and the rest of the fatties to stay fat.

P.S. You all will eventually be old, ugly, and infirm. I hope that drags you down into the depths of despair. You fucks deserve it.
Posted by keshmeshi on July 2, 2014 at 2:33 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 41
#12 OMG that was well played. Wonderfully put.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on July 2, 2014 at 3:03 PM · Report this
I love how all the skinny people keep commenting that all we have to do is lose weight, easy right?? Gosh if I knew it was that easy I would have done it years ago!

Seriously, if you think we can just lose weight, like it's nothing, you're sadly a moron. It's a plight that many people deal with and is much more complicated that just "eat less, get skinnier".

That's called.... wait for it.... fat shaming!
Posted by Eckstein on July 2, 2014 at 3:19 PM · Report this
seandr 43
I won't comment on the subject matter - there's really nothing more that needs to be added.

However it must be noted that Sean's writing is absolutely amazing. So smart, original, and alive.

@1: Pearls before swine.
Posted by seandr on July 2, 2014 at 3:23 PM · Report this
seandr 44
@kithnsync: Everybody can learn how to not give a fuck

Not true. People are born with varying degrees of sensitivity to what others think. It's as much a part of their personality as, for example, introversion vs extroversion or the ability to empathize with others.
Posted by seandr on July 2, 2014 at 3:29 PM · Report this
seandr 45
@Cato the Younger Younger: The number of people who honestly can't control their weight is such a small number it can't be seriously used as an excuse.

What a bunch of bullshit. When you look at the population of people, their natural, healthy weights are going to be normally distributed along a bell curve, just like height, shoe size, IQ, etc. The idea that we all should or could be all "average" weight is as stupid as the idea that we should all be average height.

And there's no way that you, personally, could gain or lose 50 pounds relative to your natural weight and maintain that new weight indefinitely. It would take far too much effort, probably consume your life, and eventually, you'd wear down and return to your natural range.
Posted by seandr on July 2, 2014 at 3:37 PM · Report this
I have 4 different clothing sizes in my closet. It occurred to me, after looking at some photos of myself 40 pounds ago, that even then I thought I was fat (so not true!), and I was uncomfortable wearing a swimsuit because I wasn't "perfect" yet.

So now, in my middle age, I decided life is too short for that crap. My somewhat-fat ass was at the Colman pool yesterday along with a hundred other skinny, chubby, and fat people, and I really didn't see anyone giving a shit about what other people's bodies looked like. And it was glorious to feel the sun and water on my skin. I hope you can move past this anxiety, Sean. It makes for a very sad life.
Posted by Escapee from S. Idaho on July 2, 2014 at 3:41 PM · Report this
Pro tip: spend less time writing about being fat and more time eating healthy and hitting the treadmill.
Posted by lawdawg on July 2, 2014 at 4:14 PM · Report this
@25: Sure, everything is "simple" in your simple mind.
Posted by bigyaz on July 2, 2014 at 4:41 PM · Report this
i found great relief in burning man offshoots, coloquially known as burn events, which were clothing optional. until then i had felt exactly what the author describes, a self-loathing that has little to do with the way adults talk to me and everything to do with the way middle schoolers talked to me. seeing other humans naked under the sun in all their boney, pudgy, wrinkly, saggy, graying glory gave me a sense of kinship and belonging to the human race that no amount of dieting or exercise ever could. even people you may view as conventionally thin and attractive are not perfect and many feel their flaws as keenly as you do. you are one of us, it's ok, we are all like this under our clothes.
Posted by anon93874834 on July 2, 2014 at 4:58 PM · Report this
I was trying to be nice. However...

Glad I'm not one of the statistics about the percentage of obese people around here.

Know why? I freaking CHOOSE not to be and DO WHAT IT TAKES. I'm no slave to the gym, but I'm in fairly good shape. You can be, too unless there's some genetic/medical reason you're not.

In the end, we reflect the choices we make in life. Call me whatever you want, but in 90% of the cases people that are fat are that way because THEY CHOOSE TO BE and I'm all for live and let live.

So, sure, I'm just tickled pink that fat people are bonding together to bolster their self-esteem. Knock yourself out. But think twice before choosing spandex, would you please?

And Speedos are just wrong, no matter who.

I do have a question, though. I can see a girl with pretty hair or pretty eyes or whatever and say, "Wow...look at those eyes!" which is an observation of reality, but if I say to a fat person, "Wow...look at your fat!" I just insulted them even though it's the reality of who they are and have obviously spent a lot of time and money to be that way.

Why is that?
Posted by kalakala on July 2, 2014 at 5:22 PM · Report this
It isn't a question of being fat or thin or in shape or out of shape. It's a matter of feeling comfortable in your own body, and this mostly disgusting comment thread is a prime example of why some people simply can't be in public.
Posted by veganmonster on July 2, 2014 at 5:40 PM · Report this
Yeah, this comment thread is gross. But it always intrigues me how some people (e.g. Sean Nelson) can make art and share all these quite personal emotions and bare themselves figuratively, yet when it comes to baring themselves literally, they freeze up with apprehension. Not really making a judgment on this, just an observation.
Posted by Rern on July 2, 2014 at 6:31 PM · Report this
I now refer to myself as "Big Daddy Ken" My grammar has gone to shite so I apologize. I TOTALLY RELATE to this article. Totally, it's me through and through.
I really dislike feeling this way but for now it is what it is.
Thank You So Very Much for writing these words.

Big Daddy Ken
Posted by Big Daddy Ken on July 2, 2014 at 7:09 PM · Report this
I think a lot of commenters are getting this wrong: it's not a matter of "fuck other people's opinions" because the author clearly states its something internal. When you really dislike yourself, you only fear other people's opinions of you because you're afraid they will echo your own.
Posted by pajamasamwich on July 2, 2014 at 8:05 PM · Report this
This is a well-written article. Thank you, Sean Nelson!

Sean, @16 (re: inherited thyroid issues, recently detected, made a big difference in weight loss for me, too!),
@30, and @40:
Wow, can I ever relate to what you're all saying!
Shit, I get eye rolls from teens and twenty somethings--mainly because I live in a college town. Actually, it's a double-whammy--sometimes I get disapproving looks, too, from those over 55 because the yoga pants I'm wearing have gotten loose on me now.
It is internal (as @54 said), but also combined with "fuck what others think"---we're all as beautiful as we feel, and most of us will grow old one day.
At this point in my life, I'm living for me, and am out to have fun, dammit! If I don't take care of myself, who will (both my parents are deceased)?

Thanks, too, for the memories, Sean----I was a heavyset 15 year old when Meatballs came out in movie theaters. Add to that my being the one tall, broad shouldered female among small-framed, thin, petite women--left to feel like a St. Bernard among dachshunds for years.

Posted by auntie grizelda on July 3, 2014 at 12:15 AM · Report this
56 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
I've had family members struggle with their weight. Most have dealt with it by changing their diet and exercise. I'd be interested to know the number of people who actually suffer from thyriod issues. It can't be large.

Other than the presumed minority of people with a thyriod issue, being overweight seems to be an issue of not being in control of your body. When I go to the gym I certainly don't see the same cross section of people I see on the street. I know there are issues of shame involved with that, but honestly, when do we stop making excuses?
Posted by Kenzo on July 3, 2014 at 7:58 AM · Report this
58 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
It is even worse than you describe.
Beyond the subjective prison of your self-loathing, there is whole world of freedom in the natural world that is only available to the aristocracy of the fit. Vistas you will never see, green glades and unpeopled magnificent landscapes you will never know. The ability to stay comfortable in conditions of cold and heat and wet that is foreign to you.
I bring it up not to rub it in, but to emphasize our culture doesn't have the means to talk about it. We are optimistic, positive, ironic and that just doesn't serve us well when we inventory our loss and hopelessness.
Posted by kallipugos on July 3, 2014 at 8:12 AM · Report this
Oh, and one other point, a quibble really... but I believe that Plato's view would be that beauty is NOT "in the eye of the beholder". Theory of forms and all that.
Posted by kallipugos on July 3, 2014 at 8:15 AM · Report this
I know you said you're not going to read comments on this post, but I hope this one makes it to you.

You do not deserve to feel this way, no one does. There is a community of body acceptance and body positivity proponents (of whom I am one) that would be more than happy to embrace you and help you learn to love yourself. Your body is not wrong. Society is wrong to poison us against ourselves and others based on whether or not we fit into a narrowly defined physical "ideal". Bullshit to that, man! Life is too short!

I just want to reach out to you and give you a hug. I know how you feel, because I've been there myself. It is possible to feel better and it doesn't have anything to do with a number on a scale. Life is beautiful on the other side! I hope you join us :)
Posted by KaraokeKitty on July 3, 2014 at 10:36 AM · Report this
I used to feel that way, to the T! But after a lot of tumblr therapy I have ultimately decided that I refuse to let those fears and anxieties run my life. I literally force myself not to care about being a 200 lb woman because I am healthy, I am happy, and I am loved. Yesterday I went out to Cal Anderson and laid out in the sun in my bikini and silently dared anyone to say anything. No one did! :)
Posted by bailique on July 3, 2014 at 1:30 PM · Report this
Good lord. Americans HATE their bodies. It doesn't matter if you're skinny or fat. We just fucking hate our bodies. It's depressing and pathetic.

And yeah it's hard to lose weight. Really hard. People here not getting that are assholes. the point is to prevent people from getting there in the first place - and one way or another we had better do that or we're are going to have entire generations of twenty somethings with diseases that used effect adults in their 60's.

Look. I was exceptionally fit for most of my adult life. In the upper 10% athletically until I was forty. I boxed and kickboxed competitively. I lifted. I ran. I swam. I am intimately and professionally familiar with diet and cutting weight. I know exactly how hard it is.

Then I started coaching. I coached every type of person. Athletes. Fat people. Skinny people. I know pretty much everything you need to know to get people in shape. And everybody is different and everybody looks different being "in shape." There is no perfect body.

I stayed pretty fit until accumulated injuries - including a bad back injury - that wore me down. At 45 it forced me into about a two year layoff from any hard training (and 8 months of nothing at all but Yoga).

I didn't gain that much weight. In fact, not doing any lifting, I lost weight. I gained fat. Lots of it.

My metabolic rates and overall vitals were still on average much higher that most Americans my age. And Damn. I felt like SHIT. I wondered what's it like for everybody else?

In two years I went from a very fit 206lbs (at 6ft) and 11-13% body fat to 198 lbs 26-33% body fat. I lost lots of muscle. And gained lots of fat.

Yes. For a while I was still eating calories at the close to the rate I was when I trained. Only briefly. I am very careful about what I eat. Like extremely. But like everybody else in America I got fat.

When I got a hold of my calories I'm still WAY heavier than I feel comfortable at.

It has had deleterious effects to my overall health. Less muscle mass more fat means more joint issues. Then there is GERD, digestion issues. Sorry but getting fat is not healthy. This is settled matter in medical science.

And now that I'm training fairly hard again (though of course, at 50, not nearly like I was at 30 and no longer boxing), running, cross-fit — most of the negative health effects of the extra weight are under some control. But not all of it.

Getting rid of that extra 10% body fat? Really, I got an extra 20lbs of fat on me. It's not going anywhere. I can't build muscle like i used to. I can't lift heavy anymore. Best I can do is maybe hold steady. The damage I'll do my fifty year old self cutting down that much will just make everything worse. So this is the way it is.

And yes. Obesity is an "epidemic." Sorry. But epidemiologists study obesity just like they study gun violence in America. They are easily described and the data tracked as epidemics and with epidemiological studies.

One fat individual is not a moral issue. One single fat person is not an epidemic. But populations? Aggregates? A huge increase in children with type II diabetes in populations where that didn't occur before?

That's an epidemic. That's worth describing in scientific terms. And since it's life and death, worth some moral consideration. On the societal level at least.

Posted by tkc on July 3, 2014 at 4:05 PM · Report this
I know you're not reading the comments (per awesome, hilarious statement in one of the first paragraphs), but thanks for writing this. It was beautiful (kinda like the word dysmorphia).
Posted by Anonomouse on July 3, 2014 at 5:16 PM · Report this
#63, please read the Health at Every Size research. Body some does not predict health status. The science I far from "settled", as is true for most science.
Posted by Fat!so? on July 3, 2014 at 7:55 PM · Report this
This doesn't have to be about being fat.

I'm a white dude with dark hair on my back... a huge patch right above my hairy ass. And I fucking hate it.

I would rather have only one testicle than this back hair.

I don't think it's attractive at all. I don't think it's attractive on anyone. Ever.

None of this thinking comes from near-universal advertising with hairless white dudes. I have no problem with my copious chest hair.

It's just that I know, I KNOW!, that back hair is fucking ugly. It's as certain as the sky is blue or that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west.

And as a result, if I don't have proper opportunity to shave (I'm far too embarrassed to get it waxed), then I'm NOT taking my shirt off.

That's what Sean's getting at. (Yes, yes, of course it's tougher when it's something like fat that you can't just get rid of that morning. But my point is it doesn't have to be fat; Sean makes that most clear when talking about dressing in the mirror, etc.)

Posted by Try it out for free on July 3, 2014 at 8:58 PM · Report this
@56: See my comment @7.

You can always move back to Kansas if you hate it in Seattle so much.
Posted by auntie grizelda on July 3, 2014 at 10:46 PM · Report this
girlinseattle 68
I completely relate to your words. Although the my words would have been much worse, being a female and even more critical of my body. I hate summer. It gives me more reason to hate the flesh on my bones.
Posted by girlinseattle on July 4, 2014 at 8:18 AM · Report this
girlinseattle 69
"To couch it in terms of the ranking phobias in American life, I would rather address a large audience while sealed in a coffin aboard a free-falling airplane infested by poisonous spiders the size of Alaskan king crabs than take my shirt off at the beach." -- As a female, it's wearing a t-shirt or even worse, a tank top. And no, I never have and never will own a swimming suit.
Posted by girlinseattle on July 4, 2014 at 8:53 AM · Report this
Lost 50 lbs: don't eat refined sugar, dessert, no starch carbs, no alcohol. Only meat, fruit, and veggies. Start walking, a couple miles at first, then 6-10 miles daily, no vacations from regimen. Once you drop 10 or 20 lbs start jogging. A 1/2 mile, then a mile, 2,3,4. You will a big difference in 2 months.
Posted by Lose it on July 4, 2014 at 11:18 AM · Report this
@70 that's not bad, but not realistic for most people. Most people don't actively have the time to walk 6 to 10 miles a day without a tremendous amount of willpower. I'm not saying willpower is bad, in fact I exercise precisely to keep my own willpower up, but there are ways someone can get fit without having to spend that amount of time.

A decent lifting schedule three days a week, doing compound exercises that only take 30 to 45 minutes per workout, with decent but realistic cardio on off days, plus a diet similar but not exact to the one you outlined will see a marked improvement in their body in the same span of time and will be sustainable in the long run. That said, this is a SUGGESTION, not a requirement.

The bottom line is this: It is everyone's responsibility to themselves to do their research--serious research--if (and only if) they want to get in shape. If they don't want to get in shape, nobody is holding a gun to their heads forcing them to get in shape, but they should not be surprised at incurring societal consequences for that. I'm not saying negative social consequences and shame are fair for fat people, simply that they are a reality. I'm overweight (and fast losing that status, thank you free time & gym access! Thank you, middle class white college student privilege), I'm no stranger to the feeling, but I refuse to be helpless or to reject the opportunities that I am presented with. Obviously not everyone has gym access, and not everyone has the money to pay for the ideal diet, which is not fair, but is an issue of economic privilege first and foremost, and does not justify excuses by those with the opportunity to get fit, who want to get fit, but who lie about their habits. You know who you are. You don't have to be ashamed of your fat, just don't lie about it.

The bottom line is, there is no quick dieting fix. There is no diet that takes only X number of weeks, or diet of just X foods or "this one weird trick that really works!" There is no such thing as a diet & exercise routine which will get a person fit and then keep them fit once they've stopped doing it. Lifestyle changes must be realistic precisely because they absolutely MUST be permanent or else it will be nothing but a brief and underwhelming temporary break from poor health, and yes, being overweight IS a health problem, it is a public health problem and there are the studies to prove it no matter what people on Tumblr claim, no matter what someone's feelings are. Fat people do not deserve scorn, and they rarely deserve pity unless it is coupled with economic or educational barriers. They--and skinny people right along with them (being skinny is no guarantee of nutritional health or proper exercise)--deserve education and access to the opportunity to permanently improve their eating & exercising habits, because until then, it is not entirely their fault. It's just that it's killing them either way.
Posted by Enatai on July 4, 2014 at 4:24 PM · Report this
Kudos, Sean Nelson, for SUMMER -- especially the three closing sentences!
Posted by cheko on July 5, 2014 at 3:22 PM · Report this
@21 "The number of people who honestly can't control their weight is such a small number it can't be seriously used as an excuse."

Saying everyone can control their weight is like saying everyone can graduate from college. What, for some, is quite easy, takes tremendous effort for others, for reasons not of their making.
Posted by TheOtherWoman on July 7, 2014 at 12:59 AM · Report this
@73 -- can't you read? he or she said there are SOME who can't control their weight.

I lost 50 pounds. It was hard. Many things in life are hard, this is not to say it's beyond your control.

It is a scientific fact that you, and anyone of X weight eating 2500 or 3000 calories a day, will lose about a pound a week if you reduce the intake and increase the outflow of calories by about 500 per day. 3500 per week. This is science, like the fact the earth is not flat; or hello, climate change.

Many people have this mystical belief that somehow not being able to do this is "reasons not of their making." This is baloney --
anyone can get off the bus and walk the last two miles to and from work, anywone can eat less calories. What, you live in a food desert and your grocery only serves junk food?

throw out half that bag of chips and cut down the intake by 500 calories.

guess what else is hard. being married. saving for retirement. studying to get in to college -- that's only partly analogous as college slots are limited while "Being a normal healthy weight" isn't. you don't want to be 180 pounds or 190 pounds as a male 6 1 or 2? you think 230 is okay? okay then, you may think that, but don't combine that with saying you just can't lose the weight. if people aren't putting guns to your head to eat, you can. if you are in jail you can do situps and jog in place hours a day. the what to do is not hard, and yes, many people find it hard to do, but this is for reasons largely within their control. to conflate easy to do with in my control and hard to do with not in my control is a huge phallacy. If this writer told us his weight and what he eats each day and what exercise he does I guarantee you there would be like 100 choices to note he is making that are causing his weight. because it's basically science of calories and energy. I often eat half a bag a large bag of chips and it feels gross but you know what? usually when I do I just did 900 calories at the gym so I am not in bad shape. Did this writer do 900 calories at the gym? Does he do it five times a week? Why not why is that impossible?
Posted by not buying it on July 7, 2014 at 9:59 AM · Report this

Yes, I can read. (lame assumption #1)

"he or she said there are SOME who can't control their weight." (opposite of OP's point)

I have ALSO lost 50 pounds too. Yes, it was hard. (lame assumption #2 that I'm just an excuse making fatty)

Your "scientific fact" example of rate of weight loss disregards individual metabolism (as well as fat loss vs. muscle loss and muscle gain) You're just plain wrong about that. It's nowhere near that simple. Look up the research.

Actual scientific knowledge about the very real challenges of weight loss, both physiologic and psychological is easily obtainable for free on the internet and yet you have chosen not to seek it out.

I think everyone who is overweight would be healthier if they lost the excess weight. However, since I'm not their doctor, I'm not going to assume I know what caused the extra weight or what they need to do to lose it. Furthermore, I don't consider it any of my business.

In fact I don't waste much of my time judging people on that weight, or on physical appearance, because I find it doesn't have any bearing on the quality of a person.

Like almost everyone, I have a number of weakness and shortcomings that I need to work on. I find that focusing my attention on self-improvement is far more productive than thinking about other people's imperfections.

Posted by TheOtherWoman on July 7, 2014 at 4:05 PM · Report this
I always find it interesting when I hear (read) a male express himself on this topic. Sometimes, in this society, I think we forget that men too have struggles with body image, and while it's just silly to think that men are subject to the same degree of unrealistic expectations as women are when it comes to what it seen as sexy or attractive, it's definitely there, and it's something that guys have to deal with too.
I also find it interesting that it almost always boils down to "fat vs. thin" when for guys, it is not at all that simple. I think that fat women have it toughest, by far. They are bombarded by cruel stupid hate and judgement... And I imagine that it is tenfold during the summer months. Fat men have it rough too, but it definitely takes a lot more fat for a man to be considered fat than it does his female counterpart. I think that it is much easier for an attractive guy to be overweight and still be considered attractive than for an attractive girl. They just get stuck in the "It's too bad! She has a really pretty face." category. It's really not that unusual for women to be attracted to somewhat overweight guys, partially because women tend to be less critical of men's appearance, and partially because being big is a generally accepted as a masculine trait.
Now what most people don't seem to realize when this topic comes up is that being thin is not always akin to being dipped in magic, rolled in awesomeness and toasted to golden warm sexy superdupercality... If you are male. While it is very difficult for chicks to be too thin (provided they are healthy) being a skinny scrawny little dude blows donkey cock. Big time.
Now I'm not suggesting that small, thin men are treated as horribly and unfairly as big, fat women are... Because large, obese women are regularly dealt the most heinous, fucked up, soul crushing bullshit ever, and still they so often manage to be some of the warmest, most wonderful human beings ever. Kudos large ladies... I just don't know how you do it, but I can tell you from personal experience that one sure fire way for a guy to be sexually invisible to girls is for him to commit the unforgivable crime of being five foot five inches tall and weigh 100 pounds. Because that was me in highschool. I was constantly informed that I was inadequate, and being inadequate and sexually invisible isn't the most fulfilling way to spend one's formative years. It never once occurred to me to just love myself and embrace my scrawniness. Alas, there is no scrawny empowerment movement, and scrawny shaming is totally socially acceptable, so I was left with very few options. The option I chose was to go to the gym and eat a lot. I worked out hard, and I ate A LOT.
Nothing happend. Except that subjecting myself to being surrounded by bigger, buffer, more masculine young guys made me feel even more inadequate. So I worked out harder, and ate more. I knew that I wasn't acceptable, or normal, and that wasn't fair. It wasn't ok with me, so it never occurred to me to sit on the couch all day and play video games and learn to embrace my physical being (or lack thereof) I was a pretty unhappy little dude. Pretty disappointed at the cards I had been dealt, until when I was 17 or 18 years old, I grew 6 inches and gained 75 pounds. Of muscle.
By that point I was resigned to busting my ass in the gym to no avail, so when I actually started to get results, it felt really good, and looked pretty good too. Very suddenly, all of the girls who regarded me as the nice, funny, totally invisible little guy who was such a good listener whenever they needed someone to agonize to about the trials and tribulations of dating the captain of the lacrosse team, noticed that I was a person... A male person.
I will never forget what it was like to be a non-person though, even though that was just my immature, teenage interpretation of what it was like to feel, and to be viewed as, physically inferior to my peers. As a result, through my adult life I prioritize physical fitness, even though now, since I am pushing 40, I am far more likely to be mindful of staying trim, rather than desperately trying to build myself out of thin air, and I benefit more now from feeling healthy by staying in shape rather than just frantically trying to find a way, any way, not to feel like a misfit freak anytime the sun comes out and the clothes come off.
Some people, not most, but some, cannot ever ever ever get anywhere near what our society deems physically attractive, and some of those people are amazing, fascinating individuals... Some people are really really really pleasing to look at, and also manage to be amazing, fascinating individuals. Some people are worthless fucktards who get off on degrading and insulting others because of the way they look without clothes on. Wouldn't it be cool if as a society, we were less tolerant of worthless fucktards than we are of fat people? Or scrawny people? Feeling inadequate and unattractive isn't just a problem for fat girls... It's not just some paternalistic mysogenistic blah blah blahhhh... Judgemental ignorant worthless asshats can have a negative effect on anyone.
Posted by Eamonn on July 8, 2014 at 3:54 AM · Report this
Do something about your weight problem. If you're unhappy with how you look- do something about it- you know what's more unattractive than an over weight person- any one who has accepted limitations on their own life.
Posted by Bobhhhh on July 8, 2014 at 1:55 PM · Report this

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