by Ted Gargiulo
Adults might have described me as “plump.” But to my classmates in elementary school, I was just plain FAT. That’s when it started: the feelings of inadequacy, the fear that I might never measure up to society’s expectations.
Back in the day, the F-word was “FATSO,” and kids delighted in hurling it at me, especially when they saw how riled I became. “Learn to laugh!” my mom used to tell me. “If you didn’t get so angry, they’d stop teasing you.” She was right, of course. But I wouldn’t hear of it. Laugh??? I was far too sensitive back then, too full of noble indignation to laugh at myself. Pity, I didn’t come to my senses sooner.
It didn’t help matters that I was clueless about sports: couldn’t climb a rope, couldn’t pitch, couldn’t catch, couldn’t run fast, didn’t know second base from a hole in my crotch. When it came to Phys Ed, the other kids were the ones who had no sense of humor. For them, everything centered around being fast, being tough, being the best, and they could not abide a screw-up on their squad or team. If someone was clumsy, overweight or unable to compete, other assets didn’t matter. And this poor humorless schlep took their rejection to heart.
By high school, I’d grown eight inches and shed most of the fat I’d been carrying. I also began to excel in non-athletic endeavors, like drama and creative writing. My classmates respected me now and persuaded me that I’d found my calling! And this former Fatso let their praises go to his head.
Not surprisingly, the conceit failed to sustain me in the years that followed, as I discovered I had neither the stomach nor the patience to pursue an acting career. My literary aspirations suffered similar disillusionment. Eventually I quit listening to all that popular claptrap about following my vision—I wasn’t sure anymore I even HAD one—and settled back into the dreamless blue collar doldrums I’d been trying to escape.
Then one day, I chanced upon the future Mrs. Ted, and everything changed. The lady was genuine, incredibly kind, and utterly devoted to me. In her, I found unqualified acceptance—something I’d never known before—and the freedom to be my complete, unmodified self.
Consider the years a person wastes impressing strangers, letting them define his goals, dictate his standards, stigmatize his failings—constantly trying to fit in where he doesn’t belong. People once laughed at me because I was chubby and easily wounded. Since then, life has toughened me up and opened my jaundiced eye to a world I once took too seriously. After what I’ve seen of this humiliating puppet show, I’m the one who’s laughing!
In recent years, the weight I lost in my youth has returned with a vengeance. I’ve gone beyond “pleasingly plump” and “predominantly portly,” to “ludicrously large.” Instead of becoming all touchy about it, like the oversensitive Fatso of yester-life, I now brandish my doublewide gut shamelessly, and whack out Babaloo with gusto and comic abandon. It’s my way of declaring to this foppish, self-absorbed society: Hey, I’ve worked hard, paid my dues and taken my lumps; I like myself, my wife adores me…and I don’t give a rat’s doo-doo hole what you think about me!