Being The Fat Kid
Elementary school in the 80’s was a place where the differences of others were not only recognized, but obsessed over. It was easy to find yourself cast out of social circles at any time for being “Weird”, “Stupid” or “Smelly” (sometimes all 3), but in my experience gaining the schoolyard title of “Fat Kid” was a lonely place to be. Well, that’s not exactly true. If you believe that any attention is good attention, you’ll be in heaven. People will be interviewing you daily, asking questions like, “How much do you weigh anyway?”, “What are you eating that makes you so fat?”, “Are you in training to be a sumo wrestler?” You know, “hard journalism”. What follows are my recollections of life in the “Fat Lane”.
I didn’t start out as a fat kid. Until middle-age set in my Dad would have been mistaken for a college basketball player and my mom was a petite lady, so the chub-factor wasn’t really in my genetics. The truth is that from age 0-9 I was more likely to be recognized as “that tall, spazzy kid” or “that kid who is always singing to himself”. Despite my more eccentric tendencies, I did have a nice sized group of friends to pal around with. I’m not saying I was Mr. Popularity, but I did find myself on the invitation list to quite a few birthday parties and was asked over to play at my classmates’ homes on a weekly basis. Yep, life was good and then in the summer of 1991 something happened…I got fat.
Like I said, it wasn’t as if puberty hit early or something, the 25-30 pounds I put on came purely from stuffing my face in front of the TV and avoiding all exercise. Why the sudden change? Well, the most likely culprit would be my parent’s divorce. I’m not trying to be dramatic here, they split amicably and broke the news to me together in the gentlest way possible, but I think deep down I was more upset than I let on. There were plenty of kids in my town dealing with the same situation at that time and they didn’t react by binge eating while watching reruns of Mama’s Family, so don’t think I’m trying to sell you a sob story. But for a lot of people in my life, the weight gain came out of left field.
For example, I remember stopping by my friend Brandon’s house the week before 4th grade was about to start and getting a rude awakening to my new image. I had been traveling out of state that summer, so when Brandon’s Dad saw me for the first time in 3 months his first glimpse of “the new me” caused him to shout in disbelief, “Dang boy, what happened to YOU?!” I should also point out that Brandon’s Dad was a motivational speaker by trade and as you can imagine, the young me found his question less than motivational. Looking back, that remark was more fitting of a stand-up comic heckling a rowdy crowd member during a Def Comedy Jam than a Tony Robbins seminar and the response in school wasn’t any more inspirational.
See, for years this kid named Bobby aka “Blobby” had been the focus of chubby-based teases and taunts. I never joined in (being a bully wasn’t my style), but his rotund frame left no doubt who shouts of “Lard-O” and “Tubby” were going to be aimed at. Bobby must have breathed a sigh of relief when I showed up that cool September morning looking like Chunk from The Goonies. I remember one kid I had no prior beef with coming up to me and saying, “Hey, did you know they named a board game after you? It’s called Hungry-Hungry-Hippos!” (OOOHHHHH!) Out of nowhere, man. I have to admit, it was pretty clever though. Since I wasn’t a violent kid, it was like the others couldn’t wait for their shot at me, knowing there wouldn’t be any retaliation.
In one instance we had an assembly where a group of actors were putting on a play for us. I can’t remember the message of the piece, but I like to imagine the irony in it being about showing kindness to others. Anyway, there were 2 male actors in the show, one was the handsome, dark-haired prince and the other an overweight, bald guy dressed in unflattering medieval attire. On the way out one of the other kids said, “Hey, that guy on stage looked like you…” Of course I was hoping they meant Prince Charming, but I knew what was coming, “…you know, the FAT guy.” GREAT! Thanks, for nothing! And it just went on like this, day after day.
At one point I told my Mom I was tired of the insults, so she got me on a weight-loss program at Jenny Craig, which she had recently started herself. Like I mentioned before she was a tiny lady, so I’m not sure why she was going there in the first place, but soon I was eating portioned out meals from pre-prepared cans and boxes. The Jenny Craig philosophy was that you’re supposed to eat on a schedule, carefully spacing out those meals and training your body to eat less. Well 10 year old kids don’t have a lot of self-control, so I was chowing down on Chile Con Carne and Raviolis like there was no tomorrow.
As you can imagine, I didn’t see great results. All Jenny Craig managed to do was give me some misguided hope and false confidence that I would soon look as svelt as Uncle Jesse from Full House. I even took to wearing vests and skinny ties! One morning in 5th grade there was a tough guy who decided to take a shot at me in front of the entire class as we were lined up to come in from lunch, “Hey, you’re fat! You need to go on Jenny Craig, man.” To which I confidently replied, “I already am!” Yeah, I’m pretty sure my pasty double-chin wasn’t what Jenny Craig had in mind for their poster child.
Things didn’t get any better going in to Junior High, and P.E. class was probably the worst of it. Running around in gym shorts and making my fat rolls jiggle wasn’t my idea of a good time. It was especially embarrassing when we had to run the mile on the track. The popular, athletic kids would be lapping me during my first time around the track and by the time I hit lap 3 it was just me and “Blobby” with the dirt loop all to ourselves. Don't get me wrong we were walking as briskly as possible, meanwhile the rest of the class moved on to dodgeball. The worst part was going through this in front of the girls I had crushes on. You wanna talk about no action from the ladies?
I always thought I could bypass my appearance and charm my way into a kiss (at least hand holding) by being the funny, artistic guy. I gave some pretty good performances in our humanities class and I have the videos of the laughs to prove it, but as it turns out, girls at that age would rather have muscles than chuckles. Now I know I’m generalizing here, my desperate need for attention probably wasn’t very attractive either, but girls really wouldn’t give me the time of day. Even my uber-crush who I hounded daily with awkward flirting mostly just told me to “shut up!” after trying to ignore me. Dating a girl was so out of my reach that by the end of 8th grade, when a cute girl named Barbara actually wrote her number in my yearbook with the message, “We should hang out this summer” it never even occurred to me to make the call. “Girls interested in hanging out with ME? No way.”
I know it sounds like I’m complaining a lot, but one thing I really appreciated was the grunge fashion that had come into vogue around 1993 through Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The layered look of a t-shirt with a long sleeved flannel over it became my signature style, mostly in an attempt to cover my burgeoning man-boobs. Yeah, the girls in my class were getting training bras and I was worthy of at least an A-cup. Sure I was sweating more in the California sun, but at list it didn’t look like I was living in the slow-motion beach running sequence from Baywatch.
By the time high school rolled around in 1996, I got roped in to playing Freshman football with the logic of, “You’re a big guy.” Never mind the fact I had never even watched a football game, let alone any desire to play. The closest I got to football prior to this was the newly dead team of players from Beetlejuice or that Tombstone Tackle toy from Kenner’s Ghostbusters line. So obviously, I sucked. But I found another way to do my part for the team by forming a “Super-Fan” group with my friends. We did the whole painted faces thing and in my case a painted belly. Our deal with the crowd was that if they really got into the cheer with us, I would lift up my shirt and slap my belly into a jiggling frenzy. I even used the gimmick to ask a girl to the Winter Formal dance during a basketball game and it worked! My fat fortune was finally turning around.
The inspiration for my newfound confidence was none other than funny fat man, Chris Farley. I mean, who else did I have to look up to? Donkey Lips from Salute Your Shorts? Goldberg from The Mighty Ducks? No thanks. Mrs. Farley’s little boy on the other hand, was a favorite nationwide. I had been watching him on Saturday Night Live for a while and Tommy Boy had just come out the previous year becoming a quotable classic. I saw how Farley was using his girth to his advantage and figured I could do the same.
At our school talent show I performed a slightly revised version of the “Matt Foley: Motivational Speaker” sketch getting big laughs by screaming out, “and I live in a van down by the river!” The funniest guy in school was the MC that night and backstage he pulled me aside to say, “Hey Chris (he didn’t know my real name), you’re a funny guy”. From then on he always pointed me out to his friends when we crossed paths on campus and suddenly I got the reputation as a comedian. Suddenly I actually had a social life, which allowed me to slim down and eventually I even landed myself a girlfriend (Well, La-Di-Frickin’-Dah!).
The weirdest part was being elected Homecoming King my senior year. It was like something out of a movie when my name exploded in literal fireworks during the big announcement at the Homecoming game. It was crazy! It was then that I started leaving my old image of being “the fat guy” behind. I had identified myself with my size for so long, it was kind of a weird transition to feel “normal-sized”. I think the real turning point came the day Chris Farley died. I remember the rain falling outside and one of my classmates who knew of my affinity for the lovable oaf broke the news. At first I didn’t believe it, but when I got home that day I saw confirmation of his passing on the news. Though I was sad to see him go, I also saw it as an opportunity to step out from behind his husky shadow and re-define myself.
So yeah, being the fat kid was quite an experience. It gave me an interesting point of view and made me a lot more tolerant of other people’s differences. But it was a pretty odd period of my life. As you’ve seen in the photos, it was like one kid ate another kid. When my wife first saw my mid-childhood photos she didn’t even recognize me. Her instant reaction was, “Wait, that’s you?” So to end this article, may I stand resolute by echoing the heroic phrase uttered by the literal “Fat Kid” aka Horace from The Monster Squad, “My name…is HOJU!”