Fat and All That is a weekly column by Editorial Director Mickey Boardman in which he discusses his lifelong battle with weight issues and society's views on overweight people. He'll discuss fat-shaming, body positivity and everything in-between, while also taking us on his current journey to get healthy and find the ideal weight for himself.
We all have things we obsess over about our appearance. For me, it's my double chins. A picture of me can be a total horror show, but if I look like I don't have double chins, that photo is golden in my eyes. Another thing that horrifies me in photos is having my rather large gut exposed. One of my signature Instagram videos is me doing a series of twirls in all sorts of epic locations. If my Lacoste shirt rides up while I spin and flashes my fat stomach, I cringe when I see the video. I know this sounds melodramatic, but it's honestly how I feel. Well, let's say, how I used to feel.
Photo by Katie Levine
The two photos in this story represent important crossroads for me. The black and white portrait is by a photographer friend I really love, Katie Levine. She's taken so many great photos of me, and every time we shoot together we have an incredible time, because we're good friends who love hanging out. We're both from outside Chicago, so we have that in common. Plus, she's a talented photographer who always captures my personality and makes me look my best. The fact that we have fun together means that I'm often smiling broadly or laughing in Katie's shots, and there's nothing like an enthusiastic smile or guffaw-style laughter to really bring the double chins out in a big way. So, this photo has always caused me to have conflicted emotions. It's me obviously being happy, wearing one of my favorite outfits and photographed by one of my favorite photographers. Sounds like a smorgasbord of winning, right? It should be, but it's not. The long-time dieter in me looks at that shot and only sees the fat man double chins, which eclipse all the good stuff.
This other photo is another one of my all-time favorites that also causes me trauma. It's me with my good friend Mihir on our vacation to Srinigar in Kashmir, India. It's one of the best trips I've ever taken with one of my favorite people in the universe. Mihir isn't only my dream man, he's my yoga teacher who's helped me so much on my fitness journey and also taught me so much about life. You can see in the photo that we love each other and how much fun we were having together, but you can also see my gut hanging out over my neon green adidas shorts. I was so torn about the photo that I almost didn't post it on Instagram because of that flash of paunch. Luckily, my joy at our obvious happiness at being together in the photo triumphed over my fatphobic self-loathing and I posted the picture. But even then, I still felt a gnawing discomfort looking at it because my eyes went straight to the exposed gut.
A real turning point for me in terms of accepting my fat bits came from the Instagram feed of actress/activist Jameela Jamil. She posted a photo of herself with her boyfriend and the following caption:
"I used to hate the top picture so much because of my "double" chin, and now I realize I was such a dick for that. I'm so happy in that picture and I'm so glad that wonderful day is documented. And I love my chins for being such faithful friends to my biggest laughs. My inner bully is such an arsehole and every day is an exercise to murder it."
Meanwhile, I think Jameela looks like the gorgeous young woman she is in this photo. And the thought that a beautiful TV star is hung up about her chins shows you just how insane we are as a society. It's a miracle we ever leave the house or get anything done, we're all so busy obsessing over our imagined imperfections! The thing that really spoke to me in her caption was how her chins were "faithful friends to her biggest laughs." By simply reframing those chins as a positive thing instead of something to be ashamed of, I saw that there was a side door into loving myself, double chins and all. The funny thing is I've always been able to do this 'focus-on-the-positive' trick when thinking about my life. Even though I had a pretty crazy childhood, I don't remember the drama or the trauma, I remember the laughter and the fun. And now I finally see that I need to do the same with my photos; see the good times and joy in the photos, not the flabby parts.
So now I just try to focus on the positive of what these photos represent, and remind myself that no one except me cares that I have a double chin or my saggy gut is exposed. Everyone has their own fears and insecurities that cause them stress, they don't have the bandwidth to obsess about my physical imperfections too. I tell myself that I have my most extreme double chins in photos where I'm laughing uncontrollably and super happy in the situation being captured. So, the bigger the chins the happier the situation. Those chins are indications of joy! What could be more wonderful?
And as for the gut, in that photo I'm so busy being happy with someone I love and feeling so lucky to be in that gorgeous location, that I wasn't concerned about flashing my paunch. So, I should focus on the magical parts of that photo. This doesn't mean that all my insecurities about those two flabby areas have magically disappeared, but progress has been made. I'm able to see the good in the photos and share them which is liberating in a way. And if the voices in my head start the old unhealthy dialogue about exposing my problem areas, I'm able to talk myself down off the ledge instead of letting it turn me into the crazy lunatic of days gone by.
Falling in love with my gut and double chins has not been a whirlwind romance and it for sure hasn't been love at first sight. It's taking a while, but it sure as hell feels good to be moving in the healthy direction.
Lead photo by Katie Levine