by Jason Frerichs
I hate being fat. I really do. It’s the bane of my existence. It’s incredibly frustrating when just two years ago I was extremely fit. I won a triathlon and completed two more. I was exercising two hours a day as I had lost 185 lbs. Then all my progress was derailed. I had some turmoil in my personal life. I was too macho to reach out for help. My ego refused to allow me to admit to myself that I was in trouble and going through a rough time. I don’t like to talk about my feelings and I don’t like to feel vulnerable. I regained nearly all the weight I lost before I worked up the courage to get help. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and was going through what counselors call a “major depressive episode.” I explained to a friend why I had regained the weight and about my depression. His response was, “Your life is great. What do you have to be depressed about?” Depression doesn’t work that way. It’s a chemical imbalance of the brain chemistry and it happens to run in my family. A lot of family members take anti-depressants. In regards to my friend, he couldn’t see me.
When you’re fat, everyone feels it’s appropriate to comment on your body. I get all kinds of unsolicited advice about workouts, diets, exercise routines, etc….I know all this stuff. I’m a former college athlete. I lost 185 lbs. in a year because I have an extreme advantage over most people struggling with their weight. I wasn’t a fat kid. I was always involved with athletics. Being a college athlete taught me how to train at an intense level and that your body can do a lot more than you think it can. Food is my drug of choice. I eat too much because I’m unhappy and I’m unhappy because I eat too much. It’s a vicious cycle. Fat people are the only group where it’s still socially acceptable to openly mock and discriminate against. I hate the concern trolling. I hate the unsolicited advice. Some days it takes every ounce of strength to get out of bed and go to work. Some days it feels like I’m barely hanging on. They couldn’t see me.
Yesterday I was walking my dogs. I was walking down the street minding my own business. A truck full of people drives by. One of the passengers opens the window and yells out, “Keep walking fat ass. Maybe you’ll lose some weight.” He couldn’t see me. He just saw an easy target to unleash his aggression on. A doctor at work saw me heating up my breakfast. It was oatmeal with blueberries and protein powder. He condescendingly told me, “Hey good for you. Not eating a bunch of junk food like some others.” He may have thought it was a compliment but it wasn’t. He couldn’t see me. Fat people put up with daily microaggressions. Passive aggressive comments about what we eat, questions about our work ethic, and insults to our self-worth are a regular occurrence. One memory that sticks with me is from my freshmen year of college soccer. I was obviously in phenomenal shape and was hanging out with a few players with both the men’s and women’s teams. One of our goalkeepers made the comment, “I’ll kill myself if I ever get fat.” At that point in my life, I had never really struggled with my weight but I found that comment very disconcerting. I thought to myself, “If I was fat, would he want me to kill myself?” He couldn’t see me.
This is the second time in my life being fat. The first time was after my divorce. I felt like such a failure. That same year, I had 5 friends die; including someone, I was very close to. I ate my feelings and after a while, it showed on my body. I decided that it was time to leave Texas/Mexico and come home to Iowa. I came home and enrolled in college. There was a ten year gap since the last time I attended. I fell in love with being a student again and started making friends. I developed a crush on one of my classmates. Unfortunately, expressing my feelings led to the end of the friendship. I had written a poem that was shared with others in order to make fun of me. I get it. No one wants to be the girl the fat guy has a crush on. It sucks, but I understand. People have the right to be attracted to who they like. No one is entitled to a friendship or a relationship. It just hurt to put myself out there and lose a friendship in the process. Our culture has demonized fat people and we see them as less than human. We see them as a moral failure and a puzzle to try to figure out what is wrong. She couldn’t see me.
Today I’m once again losing weight. So far it’s a success. I’m down 16 lbs. in just 6 weeks. I’m still fat and I’m going to be for a while. Once again, I have a crush someone. This time I’m keeping my mouth shut. I don’t want to lose another friend because I was honest about my feelings. People who don’t know me already assume I’m stupid, lazy, and lack will power. It doesn’t matter that I have a college degree, I’m still fat. It doesn’t matter that I hold multiple leadership positions in the Democratic Party, I’m still fat. It doesn’t matter that I’m a published writer, good with kids, a good friend, etc….I’m still fat. I probably won’t be spilling my feelings to my crush. Past experience makes me fear being vulnerable. Past experience has taught me that I’m going to be rejected so I better start losing weight faster. Past experience has taught me that my weight defines me and it’s okay for others to judge me. When a person is fat, more than likely there is some sort of extreme sadness that stems from it. When you’re depressed, finding the motivation to do things is hard. I believe that in order to keep the weight off long term, one must fix in their head too. I’m in therapy and am surrounding myself with supportive friends and family. I hope that one day you will be able to see me.
Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party Progressive Caucus