From the ages of 7 to 12, I was a chubby, chubby kid. I don’t know what it was — maybe I had too many cookies and chips at the 1st grade Christmas party, and Mrs. Johnson failed to stop me. Maybe I spent wayyyy too much time watching Pokemon and Digimon after school, and not enough time playing tag with friends that were actually real. Whatever it was, I ballooned from 55 to 70 pounds in half a year, and come 2nd grade yearbook pictures, my parents noticed the difference. And they were having none of it.
“Alex, stop eating that junk food right away. You’re getting too fat,” my mom would say. She’s always been the more brutally honest parent, whereas my dad is low-key and reserved. My dad’s version was along the lines of, “Alex, if you keep eating all that junk food, you’ll run out of breath playing with your friends.” Although I liked my dad’s version better, admittedly I thought both of them were being ridiculous. But in hindsight, how do you expect a 7-year old to completely understand how to take care of their physique? At that age, I could barely tell the difference between a “b” and a “d”, and now you’re telling me that if I torture myself with no Cheetos or Juicy Juice that I’ll experience some magical change? Hold on, let me just send an e-mail on AOL to the former Mr. Olympia himself — me and Arnold are super tight.
Joking aside — at first, my weight never really seemed like a problem to me. Every pound I gained, I was proud of it, like I was unlocking some achievement on Xbox. I’d weigh myself on the scale my parents bought me, exclaim “I’m 85 pounds!” and stare perplexed at their concerned faces. Everything was good until my parents invited my relatives over for dinner once. We had just moved into our new house, and so naturally, my parents wanted everybody to see it #fam. And as the child of a dad who’s the youngest of 11, there are bound to be older male cousins ready to give you hell for every little nuance you possess.
Pizza is the ultimate “feed the masses” food. Easily packaged, already portioned, deliverable, and ridiculously greasy and delicious.
So obviously I go grab a slice of the only food out on the table, and my 12-year old cousin Calvin snickers, “Hey fatty, is that your 3rd or 4th slice?”
It was my first. I said nothing and sat down with my slice of shame, at the “kids” table. At that very moment, my female cousin Alice, who was slightly older than me and also on the chubby side, also sat down with a slice of pizza. Calvin notices and asks the whole table, “Who do you think is gonna eat the most pizza today? I think Alex or Alice!”
… Cue the scolding by his sister Colette, the bawling by Alice, and the whining by me.
Calvin has since matured, and Alice and I have both outgrown our chubby phases. We’re all adults now, and we hardly ever see each other. But I’ve always reflected on this definitive time of my life, because it exposed me to the idea of self-consciousness. I’m not going to sugar coat and say that being chubby doesn’t have its negative connotations, but its portrayal is delicate to someone so young. Calling or implying someone is fat blurs the line between motivation and deprecation. It wasn’t fun feeling like you had to weigh yourself after every meal to meet a weight that others thought was “socially acceptable”, especially for a 7-year old. Paranoia is a very real thing, and to have it manifest in a child is heartbreaking. At that age, a kid needs to have all the self-confidence in the world, not have it taken away by something they don’t know how to control.