The Terror of Obesity
Excerpted from a longer essay. Inspired by the hilarious Samantha Irby’s “The Terror of Love”
Content Warning: Body Shaming, Fatphobia, Disordered Eating
Weight gain always begins with one or two pounds, then becomes ten, twenty, fifty—and before I know it I’ll be bedbound. That’s the thought that really terrifies me, being bedridden, because I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I’ve reached that point in my life where my survival is no longer my own and is instead tethered to another person. Imagine needing someone else to bathe me, feed me, wheel me to the bathroom. Codependency as a result of my inability to govern myself. The concept of self-care rendered obsolete. Loss of my self-autonomy, identity, freedom. A regression so stark I revert back to infanthood. The shame I’ll feel from willingly imprisoning myself! And how will others judge me? Will they think I’m a slob, a freak, a bum? I’d need to have my shades pulled down all the time because I don’t want my neighbors staring into my window—or else they’ll inevitably see that I can’t get! my! fat! ass! up! and think I’m a moral failure.
On my worst days when I feel unmotivated and lazy and the only thing I can manage to do is watch trash reality TV in bed while polishing off two family-sized bags of From the Ground Up butternut squash pretzels, my inner-downward-spiraling mechanism kicks in loud and hard, screaming “You got Fat Bitch Mentality!” I believe it: for salvaging the broken pieces and crumbs that have fallen into my cleavage and eating them off my chest, I offer no other justification for the slovenliness of my behavior than my FBM. I watch “1000-lb Sisters” on TLC and laugh, even though there is nothing intrinsically funny about a TV show following two morbidly obese sisters named Amy and Tammy on their weight loss journeys. If they don’t get help for their food addiction, they will soon literally eat themselves to death. I’ll look through every sordid corner of Youtube to find free clips because watching “1000-lb Sisters” makes me feel good in a perverse way. Seeing Tammy’s literal growth throughout the seasons reminds me of how far we can push the limits of the human body: hidden somewhere inside of her is a skeleton the same size as mine, holding up all that weight. Quite an impressive biological feat, I daresay. I’ll start to think about that Annie Dillard quote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” and envision a future where I’m stuck in bed every day for the rest of my life. The momentary pleasure we get from indulging and then pitying ourselves is immense, so to hell with the consequences of binging. That’s what tomorrow is for—dealing with the shame, guilt, and regrets of today.
A few weeks ago I was talking to my friend Gloria about her grandmother, Nana Bessie, who loved eating salami. I say loved, because Nana Bessie is no longer alive—she died at 75 of a salami addiction. The old woman got it bad with salami, and I mean bad like Usher “You know you got it bad, and if you miss a day without your friend, your whole life’s off track” bad. Her doctor warned her of the dangers of salami overconsumption, saying she needed to keep her salami habits in check or else all that sodium intake would lead to heart failure or a heart attack sooner rather than later. Still, her faithfulness to those speckled salty sausage slices remained steadfast as long as she stayed alive. Salami in every meal with a side of death was preferable to the alternative of no salami at all, which she saw just as bleak as death itself.
I want to believe I’m nothing like Nana Bessie and that I have enough self-discipline to change my bad habits when they become so evidently self-destructive, but I’d be lying given my track record of impulsivity. (In the time it takes other people to decide whether moving across the country is a good idea, I’ve already bought my plane ticket for next month’s departure, packed my bags, picked out which restaurants I want to dine in for Sunday brunch, and browsed home listings on Zillow because it’s never too early to start manifesting my real estate dreams, especially in today’s ridiculous housing economy).
I drew on Samantha Irby’s “The Terror of Love” as inspiration for this essay because I remember being struck by her use of capitalization for entire sentences, which was the first thing I noticed when I flipped to the first page of her essay. It’s a glaring and obvious feature of the essay, one that’s hard to avoid because it jumps out as soon as you start reading. In the first two paragraphs of her essay Irby writes “I AM YOUNG AND I AM GOING TO LIVE FOREVER BECAUSE HOT POCKETS ARE TOTALLY NUTRITIOUS,” followed by two more phrases also written in all caps, which are “I had stupidly rented at the insistence of my then boyfriend who SWORE TO GOD that he would come over and spend the night more” and “GAH, fuck that guy.”
We’re told that the usage of caps in our writing is an amateur technique and that there are stronger ways of communicating the same sentiment without making it seem like you’re shouting at the reader. In Irby’s essay, however, the impression of her shouting actually worked well and gave an extra dimension to the voice of her persona. It helped me see the persona as this unapologetic, self-assured, and grounded woman with quirks that came alive in the essay. I loved how casual and comic her tone was, and found myself literally laughing out loud as I made my way through the piece.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Joey is currently attending Boston University. She is so excited to be a part of Girls Write Now and is looking forward to the professional development and vantage point this program will provide. She enjoys creative non-fiction writing and would like to experiment with different writing forms. She’s also hiked Machu Picchu.