Before this unfortunate realization, there were simply some things I noticed about my own body, things that stood neither for “fat” nor for “skinny.” The extra weight under my chin, my rounded, pudgy hands, my stomach, which stretched just a little further out than the rest of me, my calves that grew in such a way that socks would never stay pulled up. They made up my body. I believed them to be nothing more than personal traits.
These same things began to bother me, I remember, when the playdates ended and school became more of a social atmosphere. I went to a small middle school. Of the thirty or so children, I was one of only a handful of those who were overweight. Those things began to bother me when I could use them to see myself as separate from those who were not overweight. At eight years old, healthy kids seemed to have neither fat nor muscle. Their knees were bony, their arms and fingers thin, their stomachs flat. At least, that’s what it seemed like, compared with my own roundness, the shape of my brother, my parents, most of my relatives. All this time, my family was what I called normal, what I deemed healthy. I was proven wrong.
It was the first time that I called myself fat. There wasn’t much else for me to do, in all honesty. Almost everybody I knew was thin. Childhood obesity was not as apparent in 2002 as it is today, nor was it as common. An overweight kid here and there didn’t alarm anybody. In every kid movie I watched there was always a chubby one among the main characters, the one who cracked the jokes and did cannonballs into the swimming pool. Even at six years old, watching a movie as silly and benign as ‘The Sandlot,’ I knew it was true. Ham, the wisecracking umpire of the group of kids trying to get their baseball back from the monster dog over the backyard fence was one of those kids, and even if he himself didn’t seem to care, he was still ‘the fat kid,’ and the butt of a lot of jokes. When you’re overweight, you don’t get to be a real person, that movie seemed to tell me. You don’t get to be strong, or brave, or the one they root for. You got to be the comic relief, something they pointed and laughed at. And I believed them.
I used to wish every night for a thinner body, one that people took for normal, for correct, instead of one that would forever be the first thing anybody would ever notice about me. I used to go long spells pretending to eat my lunch at school so the teachers wouldn’t notice, drinking glass after glass of water at home hoping it would fill me up.
I was too nervous, perhaps even too ashamed to ask my parents for help. Try as I might, my starvation schemes never paid off. It would come to be such torture that I, at only eight or nine years old, couldn’t help but start eating relentlessly. I weighed a hundred pounds by the time I was in the sixth grade. I hadn’t gone swimming at a public pool in years. I didn’t just dislike my body; I despised it. I would’ve given anything to change it.
It pained me every time to see my own stomach sticking out, tight against my shirt when I sat down, to see the flesh under my chin or hanging from my arms. For many years, it felt like there was nothing I could do. I was too young to have a clear enough understanding of the ways in which my unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise were contributing to my weight gain. The only thing I saw was my swelling stomach and face, and in drowning my shame and hiding my emotions, I ate more, and I did less.
Weight problems run in my family. Diabetes on one side, heart disease and cardiovascular disorder on the other. It is all but guaranteed that if I do not change my current habits and maintain a certain weight, I will die at 55 of a heart attack. Given my slow metabolism and the 19 years, more or less, that I have spent overweight, I don’t think it will ever be easy. I am only about a year into becoming acutely aware of the danger I am in and the steps I will have to take to a healthier life, but I am praying it will at least be a little less difficult as time goes on.
My greatest fear is that twenty years from now, I will have given up, that I will have gone so many years trying, exercising, carefully watching my food intake without any results, that I will have just resigned myself to this body that has felt so cumbersome and alien to me for longer than I can remember.
It’s a scary thought, but it nevertheless reminds me to be vigilant. I don’t know how long it will take until the healthier eating and exercise become habits instead of just a phase, but I am sure one of thing: that if I am to fight so hard for the same long and healthy life that many are simply given by their genetics, I will be sure to live it well. I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t.
Jinwoo Chong is a junior in the College. Party of Four appears every other Monday at thehoya.com