Why The Word Phat Came Years Too Late
(This originally appeared on my Facebook Page as part of The Facebook Diet)
When I was a kid, I heard the word fat a lot. On the playground, at home, in the doctor’s office, this was a word that seemed to follow me everywhere.
There was one day at school where I had taken a fair amount of ribbing from some cruel little shits on the schoolyard about my weight when I just sat on a bench and started to cry.
A teacher sat down beside me and asked what was wrong? I blabbered on about how much I hated the word fat. It had become so hurtful and incendiary it filled me with the kind of rage that Carrie brought to her prom.
Like any good teacher, she said I should go home after school and find other words that wouldn’t leave me feeling so blue.
I was probably sitting there thinking, “great, now I have fat homework. Thanks for the help.”
But the next day I saw Mrs. Trafton and with a smile on my face I blurted out “ponderous.”
Big word for a little kid, right?
She put her arm around me and said the next time someone called me fat, I should tell them, “I am not fat, I’m ponderous.”
To this day I remember her smile and that lesson and her telling me there were other good words I could use too like “corpulent.” That one sounded so military. It was the Viet Nam era and for some reason I remember liking that word a lot. I am Corporal Corpulent, reporting for duty, Sir!
After that heart-to-heart, everytime I would pass her in the hall or on the school yard, I would whisper “ponderous” and she would chime back “corpulent” and we would share a gentle laugh.
Now as a little boy, I really didn’t get how all this wordplay was going to make me feel any better when some little punk called me fat.
Let’s face it, all I wanted was to escape the ridicule from those three scarlet letters that I viewed as my own little badge of shame.
It’s sad really that “Phat” had to come along so much later in my life, cuz I think I would have had some fun playing fat boy throwdown with that word a whole lot better.
It took me a long time to understand that Mrs. Trafton gave me probably my first life changing lesson.
She wanted to empower and help me take the sting and stigma out of these especially painful experiences, allowing me to take pride and ownership of who and what I was without shame.
Now I won’t admit I saw the wisdom of this important lesson back then. But it did at a very early age give me tremendous insight into the power of words, which brings me to my blog.
A few days ago a very good friend asked me to reconsider this whole blogging thing. What he said was, “you’ve got to stop.”
His concerns were quite valid and they were issues I had considered before making the decision to take this very personal struggle out for a walk in the open air.
I work in an industry where image is everything and perception is reality, and he wanted me to think about the good as well as the unforeseen or unintended consequences that can come from blogging about my private life: weight, warts and all.
Look, I am not sure I will know for awhile whether blogging about this stuff is the right thing to do.
To quote Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius in her most recent extraordinary performance, “I have doubts. I have such doubts”
But by stepping back and writing about how I learned the word ponderous, or pigging out on pickles, I am able to focus, think and even chuckle at my life and my own silly behavior in ways I never have before.
The overwhelming army of affection expressed in notes, calls, and personal emails has been just mind blowing as friends have shared with me their own personal struggles and inner demons – issues that I never knew existed in their lives.
I feel that through my sharing, others have opened up to me in ways they likely never would and I see a new dimension to these friends and colleagues that fills my soul with love and support. And that’s a hard thing to do because Papa’s got a big soul!
All that said, I can relate to the guy who sometimes offers good advice that people really don’t want to hear. So when my friend laid out this very different assessment of what I was doing, I listened.
I have given it a few days of thought and I want him and others following me on this path to know something.
Taking this journey public was not impulsive. I gave this idea quite a bit of thought though I admit there is a huge difference between the concept and the practice – the theory and the reality.
No one can fully expect the unexpected and I don’t have a crystal ball to help me look into the future.
With a lifetime of diets tried and failed, I felt that by informing my social network of my deepest desire, I would increase my odds of long term success.
Yes, it would be so easy to just keep a personal diary of what I am going thru week to week, but I wasn’t convinced that it would help commit me to the kind of life change that is required. So I plan to continue sharing my experiences honestly without oversharing needlessly.
But to that dear friend, who isn’t even on Facebook and had learned of what I was doing from others, I say thank you for your advice. I understand and acknowledge the risks and take your wisdom to heart. I know your concern came from a place of protecting my best interests and thank you for stepping up. Now go away ☺
Copyright, Steve Elzer, 2009