I once dated a portly gentleman who lived his life by a series of rules, which he called his "fat guy rules." The included some things that he absolutely would not do, like wear athletic gear (too easy a punchline) or carry food for more than one person, lest people assume the big fat guy had bought it all for himself. (He would break that last rule in order to bring snacks for both of us back to our seats at the movie theater; he wasn't a dick.)
I was once on a date with a different (also fat) guy when a kid selling candy approached us where we sat on the museum steps. "No thanks, I've already eaten," my date said to the mouthy 12-year-old who immediately responded with some rude retort, a la "I bet you have."
At that moment, I silently vowed to always, always just buy something from a candy-selling kid lest he say something rude about my weight. I later amended this rule to just giving the kid a few-dollar donation, since buying candy in public was also likely to call attention to my weight, then in the mid-200s. Also, can you even imagine how horrible it was when a kid made fun of my date's weight, and what the hell should I have done in that scenario? (Chubby chaser problems.)
When you are overweight, you face a social stigma so great that you are forced to be constantly aware of it. What fat person hasn't been shouted at in a supermarket parking lot or approached by a stranger who felt entitled to tell you what diet you should try or cringed internally as a group of boisterous teenage boys approached because you knew, just keow they were going to say something mean about you as they passed? So you protect yourself with an impenetrable shield of constant self-awareness, and, if you're like me, you develop little rules to help you navigate your life as a walking punchline.
A lot of those rules had to do with what I would eat and how much of it and when. Anything that could be classified as "junk food" could not be eaten (or even carried) in public. If I wanted to eat something like McDonalds, I'd order to go and then hide the bag inside my purse until I got home and could eat it in privacy. Eating alone, in fact, behind closed doors, was preferable whenever possible.
If I were to go out with friends, it was important to preface my order with a big speech about how I hadn't eaten anything ALL DAY and was SO STARVING. I could never initiate ordering dessert, I could only go along with a unanimously decided dessert plan. (And even then I had to hem and haw a bit about how I reeeealllyy shouldn't.) To this day, I need to know what everyone else is ordering at a restaurant before I can decide what I want although I am now capable of ordering a cheeseburger even if you're having a salad.
I guess I thought that if I followed my own silly line of magic thinking perfectly and stayed very very quiet, maybe nobody would notice I was fat? Like, they'd be thinking about how fat I was, but then they'd see me eating a salad and they'd think to themselves, "I guess she can't be fat after all!" Or at least assume I was trying to get less fat? That I had the decency to be ashamed of my fat? And wasn't just, God forbid, happily fatting it up out there in the world? It's all very silly.
I only bring it up because yesterday, on the way back from therapy, I ran into the drug store to purchase an umbrella and got waylaid by the pastry section. It was nearly 1:30 and I hadn't eaten yet that day (for real!) and the smell of delicious donut hit my gastronomic G-spot as I passed and I scooped up a vanilla frosted before I hit the register. As I was paying, the cashier started to pull out a bag, and I said to him, "That's OK, I'm just going to eat this."
And I took my slightly chubby ass outside and chowed a freaking donut right there on the street! It was great because instead of just walking back to work, which is boring, I was walking back to work while eating a delicious donut, which is awesome!
And the icing on top (besides the icing on the actual donut) was that it was one of those lovely, nothing moments when you realize how far you've come. Personal growth is like this a lot, in my experience. You don't notice it happening, but one day you realize: it's happened. You can be in your house alone without crying, you can walk by a bar without wanting to drink, you can eat a donut while walking down the street.
So if you have rules for yourself that are based on fearing others' perceptions of you, your body or your life? Break them. It feels amazing. Next time I go out to eat, I might even order first.
Yo, @msemilymccombs is on Twitter.