Scott Sonnon has a mission to speak out for all of what he has seen.
I was invisible; and the only times I had been seen were the uncomfortable moments of public shaming and violent abuse. Is it any wonder that I began to prefer my invisibility over recognition?
I had been fat. And the differences between how I am treated today with how I had been treated in my youth, I still find extremely uncomfortable.
Please don’t misunderstand. I am healthy now, and rarely ill, like I was as a boy. My joints no longer constantly ache from the condition which had once plagued them. And with a family history of diabetes and heart disease, my path was being carved for the same, had I not departed from carrying so much excess fat, into the fitness I am now blessed to have for the time it remains.
I remember precisely the day when I had returned home from yet another humiliating beating that I had decided I couldn’t become any more invisible unless I committed suicide. So, I tried. Calling a friend, I divulged what I had done. She called the police, and I had been saved, thanks to her and God.
The next morning, I realized that invisibility couldn’t serve me if I were to remain alive, and more importantly, LIVING. That day, the changes in my nutrition and fitness began.
The path that I had adopted wasn’t the best, as I didn’t know anything about how to diet and exercise at the time, but it achieved external results. Within a year, my physique made obvious changes. Within two years, most people no longer recognized me when we passed each other.
As my fat melted, so did people’s demeanor toward me. The fights virtually disappeared within months. Many more people began to smile at me, start conversations and even make gestures toward friendships like inviting me to parties and events. Girls began to flirt with me, an artform that today I still remain incompetently unaware of.
I had thought, “Was this some new type of invisibility? Do they not realize I’m the same person?”
Guys would slap me on the shoulder and ask me about my exercise routine and ask me to join their team for a game of… anything. Girls would linger their eyes upon me, something that had never happened before. I had felt enamored with the lavish attention, the sudden rush of validation; an extreme contrast with the prior horrifying periods of unwanted visibility.
As a fat kid, I had grown familiar with being picked last and begrudgingly, “Okay, we have to take Sonnon.” I had been acquainted to sitting alone at the school dances watching everyone snicker at my exclusion. I had learned to not be heard or seen. And I had learned to be thankful for that invisibility for fear of the repercussions its opposite held: public shaming and physical violence.
I had come to understand those behaviors were “normal.” So, when I had begun to be treated like someone whose presence was not only acknowledged but DESIRED, I was completely overwhelmed, unprepared and socially uneducated.
At first, I held my guard expecting that it would again be one of the jokes pulled on me of pretending to be my friend or girlfriend in order to humiliate me, but it didn’t have a punch line. They just continued being friendly and affectionate. Of course, I basked in that warmth. And the more I had changed my physique, the more the affection grew. I had become a very willing captive of social conditioning.
But then, I saw the injustice committed against other fat people, and my new “friends” began to invite me into their “humorous” atrocities against them. I became livid with anger. I was ONE of those fat people, even with my bodily changes. Didn’t these people understand the terror and depression they were creating?
No, they did not. Every time I spoke out against their mistreatment, they’d turn in surprise, like I had taken off some sort of mask; they realized again that I was one of “those ugly people.” Whenever I had removed my mask by standing up against those unjust remarks and behaviors, I was excommunicated out of the “cool” clique.
The fights began again as I let my anger take control of me. But by that time, I had become a champion fighter, and I found myself a vigilante to the bullyism once committed against me.
I came to my senses one day in college. I had pulled two thuggish students off an overweight boy they had been pushing back and forth like a pinball; his carefully prepared papers flying in the wind, presumably lost in those years before memory sticks. Throwing one of the bullies against the wall, I took the other down to the ground, hovering a fist above his face, cocked to unleash my vengeance. The bully flinched his hands over his face, squinting his eyes to avoid watching the impact, quickly muttering, “Dude stop! We were just having some fun!”
I wish that I could write that I had had some moral epiphany at that moment, that I had stayed my hand and realized I had become the thing I had hated. But I didn’t. That word “fun” undid me. His nose exploded in a pool of blood, and I stood to check on my fellow fat kid; my fist uncurling from its wrath.
When I saw him, he was terrified. And his words rattled my brain, “What the hell, man!? Do you know what they’re going to do to me the next time they see me and you’re not around to pull your Captain America routine? Thanks for nothing!” He stormed away running after his still flying papers.
What had I done? I had become the monster; only one of a different breed – one with pointed, skilled malice, camouflaged as one of “them.”
The affection of girls at my changed physique began to lose its luster, as did the members-only guys club of athletics I had willingly joined.
I couldn’t hold them accountable for the social quicksand into which even I, with my fat aware perspective, had fallen. There was a very distinct social stratification: fit was SOMETHING and fat was NOTHING.
I was only physically different but mentally and emotionally the same. I had been something before I was fit. I had had dreams, ideas, goals, loves and fantasies. They were dismissed by others because they had learned to define fat as nothing, but once fit – my ideas had gained aknowledgement.
Today, when I write, I find a few students of mine sending messages. They ask me why I talk about past hardships, philosophies and advocacies for issues not regarding elite fitness. They plead with me to “just be the coach that once” helped them change their “shape” and they ask me to stop wasting my time advocating for severe cases when a coach of my “level” should dedicate himself to “the best athletes.” I recognize that they are teetering where I had once stood: inside the door to the cool kids club.
Our culture lionizes fit and castigates fat. But fit or fat is not who we are. It is only how we appear. Myamoto Musashi once wrote, “You can see the shape by which I am victorious but you cannot see the form by which I guarantee triumph.” Our form, who we essentially are, cannot be defined by our shape. Who we are is shapeless, beyond any transient state of our bodies, beyond our illnesses or our vitality, beyond our disease or our health, beyond our fitness or fatness.
Make no mistake, as I walk down the beach here in Costa Rica vacationing with my family, I see the reaction men and women have toward my athletic, tattooed shape. But they don’t see my form.
This shape WILL pass, but my form will remain.
My walk in life may be more visible on the surface now but my thoughts, hopes and dreams for a better future together remain invisible if I allow my current appearance to mask my true form.
I may be a fit adult man now but I will always have my awareness of the world from a young fat boy. I will take this shape I currently have while others will choose to make it visible, and bring light to the invisible world we are missing by its distraction.
Sharing that awareness might help others realize that they can choose to change their shape, improve their health and enhance their physical capacity, but acknowledge that they are already perfect in form, beautiful and wondrous in nature. And sharing that awareness might also break down the gated prejudice of the cool kids club so that we can improve our insight into the transient nature of our physical bodies, that the world is rich in shapes and sizes, beautiful and wondrous in each…
Photo by author
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