“I don’t have boobs anymore,” I told Jaime in disbelief while looking in the mirror after showering, the once-too-tight bath towel wrapped neatly over my hip bones, which I can now locate by sight and don’t need to bore my fingertips into the fat hanging from my sides. Recognizing I was no longer mansierre-worthy–or bro-worthy, if you prefer Cosmo Kramer’s moob pun–was a revelation, one I am extremely proud of because, like most fat boys, boobs weren’t just an indication of my fatness but an invitation to publicly shame me with titty twisters and purple nurples, one of the reasons I never enjoyed swimming or playing any team sport involving shirts and skins.
But it isn’t just my chest that’s more barrel than bosom–my entire body is dramatically changing. When I walk, my shoulders are squared and back, and I can feel my muscles bulge with each step. All of my t-shirt sleeves fit like skinny jeans, creeping up my arms, unable to keep covered the loaded guns beneath. My pants, whether belt-fastened or with waistbands made of elastic, sag like I shit myself, yet fit snugly around my thighs, two taut sausages ready to rip through their intestinal casings. My chin has abandoned its double, and the space between it and my chest, known to skinnys as the neck, is visible without having to tip my head back like I have a nosebleed. Also, that new world, my neck, formerly the area of my body covered by my second or third chin, doesn’t require intense scrubbing to clean the dirt from between the folds.
My body doesn’t feel like mine anymore. I am more muscular than I have ever been, even when I lost all the weight the first time. I can run long distances without losing my breath and at multiple speeds, like the part of my brain controlling my legs is a stick shift, letting me push into another gear when catching a bus depends on it. I see people at the gym, who weigh far less than I do, not able to keep up with me, and I wonder if, when they were younger, they were the predators, the purple nurplers, or the prey, the purple nurplees, and where we both fit on the spectrum now.
Sometimes I don’t feel like myself anymore. I look in the mirror and don’t see the same person. Something happens and I don’t react in anger, reflexively, out of instinct and then gorge myself to cope with my stress, emotions and poor choices. Exercise is how cope now, and I have an immense, almost unrelenting amount of energy for it, making my recovery days torturous, not restful. Ten years ago, recovery days were for hangovers, for the mornings after I ate myself into a state of pain that could only be forgiven through severe acts of starvation and self-degradation. Then I never thought I’d be anything but fat, that I’d always have boobs, a minimum of two chins and cankles, that I’d break a sweat just getting out of bed.
Am I no longer fat if I don’t have boobs? This is the question I keep asking myself.