Have you seen that to-the-side men’s speedo? Of course you have; that’s what the Internet’s for. But if you haven’t, just Google—and I shit you not—“one sided grape smuggler.” Yeah: This thing is awful. But it’s been around for a while, so why is it making the rounds so prominently now?
Because it’s swimsuit season! Yay! By which I mean oh god no.
Summertime is when we get to see what’s been hiding under all our dark colors and layers for months. If you’re anything like me, it’s the season you get to look at other people and wish you looked so good shirtless, much less in a bikini. And as ridiculous as the men who wear that Eurotrash banana-hammock look, I’m left with the nagging feeling: “Gosh, I wish my abs were that flat.”
Peeking in through the windows of the metaphorical thin people’s club has been one of the loneliest aspects of my entire life. That’s ironic, really, because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly three-quarters of all Americans are overweight. (That includes, but is not limited to, the one-third who are obese.) Still, as a child, it seemed to me that my peers could fit into T-shirts without bumps or lumps or rolls bulging outward. I couldn’t. God forbid I’d get stuck wearing polyblends, my love handles betrayed callously as the material clung to my true shape. Soccer was a nightmare.
Early on, I figured out that dark colors were particularly helpful. But when I started to hit puberty, my wheezy “Tubby the Tuba” physique was exacerbated by the fact that I did, in fact, play the tuba. In today’s parlance, I suppose you could say I was a hot little (big) mess: braces, parted hair and boy-boobs galore. But hell, I was me, and at least my parents loved me. So there was that.
As I grew body hair and started becoming a young man, I got thin. For, like, five minutes when I was 19. Then, hauntingly, my weight ballooned over a hundred pounds to where, at the age of 23, I tipped the scales at a hefty 317 pounds. I started working out, cutting out the trips to fast-food joints, doing slow and then later fast cardio, and losing weight steadily, healthily. Finally, I weighed in below 200. I told everyone it was a joyous thing to feel healthy—which it was, but that wasn’t why I’d done it. What I wanted was to look good shirtless.
My healthiest “thin” weight seemed to rest around 180 pounds: nearly half the size I’d been at my fattest. By the CDC’s count, though, that meant my body mass index was still considered overweight. Never mind that BMI is a measurement whose efficacy is hotly disputed as an accurate gauge of health—that overweight designation bothered the fuck out of me, no matter how much I got laid.
After years of yo-yoing between 170 and 210 pounds, I’m a little over 200 pounds today. As a single gay man pushing 30, I might as well be on the goddamned moon. I’ve decided to stop using online dating profiles and apps, in part because I just don’t want to lie. North of 200 pounds is nowhere you want to be on the gay singles scene; I can just imagine some spiritually dead queen swiping his finger across my GrindR profile tile with disdain, sneering, “Be gone, tubby! I have real men to fuck whose abs I can see!”
Am I projecting? Maybe. But I wasn’t imagining the well-meaning older gay man last year who told all 185 pounds of me: “You know, Josh, your main liability is your heftiness. You should get thinner.” Gee, thanks, queer community elder. And we wonder why younger gay men and older gay men can’t get along, right? Internalized generational self-hate baggage FTW. So there’s that.
The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, an advocacy organization focused on being OK with fatness, thinks that thin people ought to shut the fuck up. “Our thin-obsessed society,” their mission statement reads, “firmly believes that fat people are at fault for their size and it is politically correct to stigmatize and ridicule them.” If you’ve ever seen a Hollywood comedy, where “Get a load of those fatties being all fat and shit!” is what passes for humor, you’ll know where they’re coming from.
Still: While there’s a lot of natural variation across the spectrum of human bodies, and many people’s self-observed healthy zone does not match up with what the BMI charts would suggest, there are limits to what we ought to accept for ourselves. Obesity is not good for you. The CDC cites being overweight as an increased risk factor for coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems and osteoarthritis.
But then on the other side of the fence, you’ve got self-hating former fatties like me, or Howard Stern, finding ourselves alarmingly prone to knee-jerk nastiness toward fat people. Oh, we disguise it as tough love. We hold hands with fat people who hate themselves so much they hate other fat people, and we all have a good hypocritical time as we sing-together-slash-cry-on-the-inside, “Guys don’t make passes at girls with fat asses!” Some people even do really stupid shit like posting “thinspiration” photos of starving supermodels to keep the insane faith.
This is where eating disorders come from—and those will kill you, faster and more miserably than being fat will. Eating disorders affect up to 24 million Americans, says the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. And it’s not just women who are starving themselves, vomiting up dinner or abusing amphetamines to get thin: The ANAD says that 10 to 15 percent of people with eating disorders are male.
So there’s that, too. And finally there’s this: ANAD says 95 percent of all people who diet will regain their lost weight within five years. Good luck with that fad diet, perpetually unhappy America! Love your hair, hope you win.
At the end of the day, shirtless or not, “accepting” my fatness or not, I feel like obsessing over it is getting me nowhere fast. Here’s the reality: I’m going to be a little fat at least for this summer. And while I don’t consider that ideal, I find it less objectionable than all the alternatives I’ve encountered: yo-yo dieting, eating disorders, giving up and getting even fatter, or devoting my life to working out every day so people can check out these guns (he says, slapping biceps). Because I’m realizing my life is too important to waste carrying around the baggage of insecure people—including, among them, my younger self.
Maybe I’ll join a gym now so, next year, I can rock that one-sided grape smuggler and have guns non-ironically. Or maybe I won’t, because I’ve got other shit to do. In any case, this summer, I’m just going to go swimming anyway, because I’ll be damned if I’m going to let either thin people, fat people or my own neurotic insecurities tell me to do a damn thing.