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Outside of my depressive episodes, the only time I am self-conscious is when I’m with my family.
Its hard enough feeling worthless when the actions of people you love seem to validate those feelings. I’ve gone back and forth for years caring and not caring about what my family feels about me but being home for the summer has seemed to both heal old wounds and open new ones. The latest obsession my family has with me is my weight. Now, I’ve always been big. I was always a fat kid and for awhile, I was the “oh, I just want to eat his cheeks” fat. Then I was the “damn, what are you feeding this kid, he’s gonna make a great linebacker” fat. By the end of middle school I was “kids make fun of him because of his size” fat.
Consistently being the biggest kid in class was tough, especially when often times I was also the only black person.
Every black kid has “the talk” with their parents about what blackness means for their image and ultimately their safety but my talk always had the added mention of my size and how compounded with my race, I became a bigger threat to others whether I meant to be or not. I think back on some of the times I got in trouble as a kid and it was always assumed that I was the aggressor when I never was. I got in so much trouble for reacting to someone verbally or physically bullying me because like a large clumsy bear cub I didn’t know my own strength but those kids never got in trouble for poking the bear…or tripping the bear in the hallway…or talking about the bear’s mother. The running joke (typically among people that really didn’t know me) was that no one would ever pick on me because of my size, but that was never true. When it came to my bullies I never stood up for myself because I was too afraid of being punished for finishing a confrontation I didn’t start.
Somehow, by the grace of Beyoncé, I learned more or less to love myself.
By high school I didn’t have a problem being the big guy, that’s just what I was. I found ways to seem less intimidating. I kept a smile on my face and tried my best to present a spirited and welcoming personality bigger than my stature. I learned to lean on counters and tables so that I didn’t tower over people. And because of toxic masculinity, being gay softened my image a little…a lot, whatever.
When I left for college I lost control of my weight.
I wasn’t as active as I was in high school and I had uncensored access to whatever foods I wanted, My freshman 15 was more like a freshman 75. I was in a space where nothing made me happy and I was clinging to anything in my life that might give me a moment’s happiness and food was that thing. All of my friends loved it when I cooked so I did it all the time, in abundance. Cooking for others and for myself gave me a brief period of time in which I felt important. I could argue with the demons in my mind that were saying I had no purpose. My purpose was to entertain these people around me, to show them a good time through a good meal, cheap alcohol, and lots of laughter. Then the pounds started to pack on very noticeably and I started to dread mirrors, scales, and going home.
Gaining so much weight was one of many signs that my life was completely upside down and it made my depression even worse. I remember disgustedly laughing at the thought of hanging myself from the exposed pipe in my dorm room. There’s no way the pipe would hold my fat ass.
I mentioned my family earlier specifically because of an incident that happened last night.
Its been a few months since I’ve been home and my parents have been on me about adopting a healthier lifestyle. I keep declining my mothers’ invitations to Zumba because why would I volunteer myself for the judgement that could come out of that? My grandfather has had the loudest voice when it comes to my weight and when it comes to that subject he tends to go overboard. He really lacks tact and the things he says sometimes can be hurtful. I finally decided to start a meal plan this week and of course because I’m finally trying to do better when it comes to food, shit hits the fan.
If you’re not familiar with a meal plan it is really simple. You typically prepare all your meals for the week by choosing options from a list of foods that vary by meal time. It is very specific about what you can eat, when you can eat, and how much of each thing you’re supposed to eat but, for whatever reason, my grandfather is convinced that I’m eating too much food. His ENTIRE basis for this opinion is that he overheard my mother tell me that I bought the wrong type of yogurt. Admittedly, I did buy the wrong type of yogurt but it was by mistake, not apathy. Also, yogurt is only one of five meals I have to eat in the day, something else he takes issue with. So in the last 48 hours we’ve had three separate arguments about this meal plan which, despite some minor errors, I’ve done my best to follow.
Our latest back and forth started while my brother and I are lying on his bed, talking. My grandfather walks by and immediately tells me to get off the bed because its not “made for people your size”. It's a queen size bed that I’ve slept in every time I’ve visited until this summer because technically it is my brother’s room now (and more importantly because, for whatever reason, none of the outlets aren’t working in that room). He tells me that the bed, in addition to the mechanized recliner in the living room (again, a recliner that I’ve both been in before and would know if it were stressing underneath my weight) are off limits to me.
The rant segued into his feelings about my meal plan. He accused me of eating two meals at a time and totally disregarding the instructions. Again he cites my mother, who has since refuted his assertions, despite not hearing all of the conversation I had with her. I offer him my meal plan sheet and his response is appalling even though, at this point it definitely shouldn’t be.
He tells me nothing will convince him that I’m not overeating and that he’s not interested in reading my meal plan sheet to which I reply not to be interested in any of it. What’s the purpose of taking all these outlandish jabs at my weight if you’re still going to bully me when I try to lose it? It’s upsetting that he’s “interested” enough to have an entire opinion about what I was eating and about how much I was eating but too stubborn to hear a rebuttal supported with facts.
This takes me back to a conversation we had just weeks earlier in which he tried to shame me for not coming to him, my mother, or my grandmother about the issues I had in school and my depression.
This shaming was presented under the guise that I should’ve known that I could tell them anything. To him, apparently I was more interested in shutting them out than being honest about my struggles. When I try to explain to him, for what may be the tenth time, that admitting I was thinking about killing myself was harder than he makes it out to be, he stops me and tells me he doesn’t want to hear me talk about my suicidal ideations. The irony is completely lost on him.
Back in the middle of this debate I realize that its time to give up because at this point I’m just a punching bag.
It's like he says the things that he does just to make fun of me because implying that I’m going to break a bed made for two people is honestly ridiculous. Telling me that my weight or lack of fitness somehow equals me not caring about his furniture and disrespecting his house is ridiculous. Trying to legitimize his claim by assuming that if I broke something I wouldn’t tell him and then bringing up something of his that was broken and replaced when I wasn’t even home is what? Ridiculous. But these are things that happened before we even got into the argument about this stupid fucking meal plan.
I don’t know if the problem is not that my grandfather cannot accept logic, or if its that he can’t accept it from me but at this point in my life I don’t know how to deal with it anymore.
I thought becoming an adult would somehow validate my opinions and my voice but it hasn’t. In that aspect my family is like a bad parody of a 60s patriarchy in that my grandfather has always been the be-all and end-all decision-maker. No matter what, he is always right and his opinion outweighs everyone else’s. Even with a room full of people contradicting him, he can never admit when he is wrong and growing up this stubborn behavior often negatively affected my brother or I. When I was younger I never questioned this dynamic because in the black household, kids don’t question their parents but now that I’m older its harder for me to bite my tongue.
In situations like these, my mother and grandmother would never tend to stand up for me, even when they would disagree with my grandfather.
They always tell me to accept whatever it is that he says even when he’s blatantly wrong for the sake of keeping the peace. I was always told to chalk it up to him not taking his medication or him being in a mood but it seems like he is the only one allowed this accommodation. For example, I guess one could say that I have a tendency to be a little sensitive and I don’t take jokes well. I got bullied at school too much to subject myself to it when I’m at home. But no one in the family has had to adapt to the fact that I have too many feelings. I’m just told that I’m being too sensitive. This duality always hurt me, especially when it came to my grandmother because we were so close when I was younger. She protected me in every aspect in life, except for with my grandfather.
I don’t want this rant to make it seem like I think my grandparents are awful people because they aren’t.
I love them and we butt heads like a lot of people do with their parents but our relationship is weird because they’re the ones who taught me to speak up for myself and to be impervious to negativity. They told me to love myself and to be unapologetic about being myself but the one place I can’t do that is at home. I don’t think I could have a marriage like my grandparents’. In moments like the ones I've been having lately, I’m too outspoken and combative to be my grandmother and too interested in pleasing other people and (hopefully) too considerate to be my grandfather but I am those things because that’s what they taught me to be. Maybe its a generation thing. Social norms do seem to be the point of much contention in my household, especially between my brother and grandfather. Maybe its the fact that I’m a grown ass man who’s used to answering to no one but himself. Maybe.
Honestly, the weight debate is a symptom of a larger illness.
My weight has become another thing that I’m uncomfortable about because I feel like that’s what my family sees before they see me. I hear criticisms about my weight more than I love you’s. I feel small, surprisingly. I am that college freshman again who already hates himself because he’s lost all sense of self-worth, plus he’s fat.
I’m grateful to my grandparents for all the things they’ve done for me but it makes me think about what our relationship has to be for me to keep my own sanity.
The more things they find in me that they dislike the more I feel pressured to distance myself. My weight, my hair, my depression, the degree I still don’t have, my homosexuality. Those are parts of a whole and I have to ask myself is there anything in me they’re proud of? When I came out and they told me to hide that part of myself away I realized that one day my life, a husband, a home, what could be their first great-grandchild, etc., would be an obvious manifestation of my gayness and they would have to make the decision about what was truly important to them. I could and still do take comfort in the fact that those things are long off so maybe I have time for their attitudes to change. But there a parts of me that are a lot less easier to hide. So what do I do?