Although you wouldn't know it to look at me today, I used to be a total boob man. But the difference between me and that guy who Googles Dolly Parton is that at the time, I had boobs that could give Ms. P a run for her money.
This was back when I weighed well over 400 pounds and was approaching the dreaded 450-pound mark (at which point my scale quit me -- but that's another story for another post). During this time period, I was somewhat terrified to leave my apartment. Mainly because I was worried that the world was judging me. By just stepping out the door, I felt like everyone could figure out my weakness (food!) and see my Achilles' heel (well, my Achilles' belly, in any case).
Of course, a lot of this thinking was ego-based. I mean, inhabitants of Tallahassee, Fla. (where I lived at the time) were likely too busy living their own lives to really care that my girth was close to being assigned its own zip code. And yet, sometimes, their stares told me differently. Usually, once I would catch someone staring, we would both look to one another, acknowledge mutual shame and then look away. This would usually be followed by me making fun of their outfit (silently in my head) -- anything to combat the torture I was sure they intended for me to suffer.
Again, a lot of this was drama I was creating for myself. And this drama was paralyzing. This is why I would usually shop for groceries late at night. After all, I knew the sight of a 400-plus-pound man shopping for food might be too much for some onlookers to bear. Luckily for me, there was a 24-hour Albertsons nearby. So late at night I would sneak out of my apartment and scurry over to the grocery store, trying to stay hidden from the world. And from myself.
But there was a reason this market was open 24 hours a day. It turns out other people liked to shop around the clock as well (although I was sure their reasons weren't as important as mine).
I'll never forget one late night, while pushing my cart through the aisles of Albertsons. My bounty thus far included my usual picks: half very healthy, "diet"-type food along with half binge-worthy treats that I would use as a "last meal" before beginning that week's diet. Thus, I would quickly wheel past anyone who happened to be in the same aisle as me.
This particular night, I found myself in one aisle that was very crowded. It was the breakfast cereal aisle and I was picking out one "healthy" and one "unhealthy" cereal. When turning my cart to leave the aisle, I saw a bunch of shoppers on one end. Abort mission! I quickly turned my cart toward the opposite end of the aisle, horrified to see it was just as crowded. "Why must everyone like cereal as much as me?" I wondered.
I then swallowed hard, looked down at the floor (eye contact with anyone seeing my girth was forbidden, after all), and pushed my cart toward the end of the aisle. At one point, I passed a mom and her daughter. The little girl (around 6 or 7) made eye contact with me. There she was, this sweet, innocent cereal lover. So I risked everything and smiled at her. Much to my chagrin, she stared back blankly. I continued past her and her mom. But as I did, the girl screamed out to her mom, "Mommy! Mommy? Why does that man have boobs?"
Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- in that crowded aisle turned to look at the man with boobs. (I was sporting facial hair at the time, so there was no denying I was male.) I quickly made my way down the aisle, my hands gripping the cart while I held my breath, determined to slink away before every shopper saw my 44Bs. Or were they double Ds?
After rounding the corner, I abandoned the cart and quickly left the market -- getting into my Chevy Chevette and speeding home like a vampire fearing dawn's first light. Once safe in my apartment, I wished that I had said something equally mean to the little girl -- something that would have scared her and kept her up at night or, at the very least, made her pee her pants in front of all the other shoppers. I never did see her or her mother again. But I still went even further into hermit mode for the next several years.
I share this not to demonize -- or even excuse -- the little girl's behavior. I share it because I know the agony of stepping into public with added girth. It's our embarrassment and shame that keeps us not only from heading into public but also from actually taking the weight off. This is all part of the cycle of abuse that society offers and that we participate in. Looking back, I can see that the little girl wasn't my worst enemy at the time. I was.
Nowadays I think back on my man boobs with pride and a healthy dose of humor. When appearing on The Today Show to discuss my weight loss, I joked that I felt like I was nursing America when the producers flashed one of my shirtless "Before" pictures onscreen. It's this kind of humor that can free us. No matter what size we are, it's nothing to be embarrassed of. And it's nothing that should keep us from shopping in public -- or, for that matter, doing anything else in public (perhaps even exercising)... And it's nothing that should keep us from loving and accepting ourselves. This kind of acceptance can be so freeing -- and can help unblock the path to weight loss and good health once and for all.
Today, I have slightly-defined (emphasis on slightly) pecs from my years of working out. But look closely and you'll see scars under my nipples from when I had loose skin around my chest (and elsewhere) cut away after losing and keeping off the excess weight. So I still think twice about being seen in a bathing suit in public. But then again, so do most people I know (even those odd "thin all their lives" types).
So wear your boobs proudly -- no matter if you're male or female, no matter if you're in a "before," "during" or "after" phase. And for God's sake, keep your sense of humor. After all, I may not have actual boobs anymore, but I'm still one of the biggest boobs you'll ever meet.
Have you experienced something like this? If so, I want to hear about it. Not to be horrified. Not to be frightened. But to acknowledge, smile -- and hopefully laugh -- with you... One boob to another.
For more by Gregg McBride, click here.
For more on weight loss, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.