Who you calling fat?: a memoir

I received a text today that read, simply: We are starting a fatty challenge. I reckon you can take it!

I take umbrage at this. One, the assumption that because I look fat, I am fat. And two, the equally presumptuous assumption that I could win easily. It’s like the opposite of ‘You have nothing to lose.’

So, I’m going to accept the challenge, even though to do so will cause me great distress. I am not one for exercise. If truth be told, I am not one for movement. 

I used to move. Before marriage. I even walked. I was known to kick a ball. I could swing a bat.

It all changed one night when I came off the court early after having had what the English call a turn.

‘What’s up?’ my new bride asked.

‘I’ve had a turn,’ I said.

‘I know you’ve had a turn. I’ve been watching.’



With no translator in sight, we drove home. On the way, I either lost all feeling in my fingertips, or I imagined that I had lost all feeling in my fingertips. It was impossible to say. It certainly felt very real, so real, in fact, that I was also mumbling incoherently.

‘Eh?’ said my wife.

Unable to answer, I staggered inside the two-bedroom flat we had called home for little more than a few weeks, and I crumpled into her large wicker papasan, whereupon the feeling in my fingertips, which was actually the absence of a feeling, rose up my arm like a rapid toxin, and within seconds my entire limb had gone numb.

‘Carolyn, I’m having a stroke,’ I said.

She understood me for once.

‘How do you know?’

‘Because I’ve read about it, and this is what happens.’

‘You’re not even speaking funny,’ she said.

‘I will be in a minute.’

’So what do you want me to do?’

‘Ring an ambulance.’

‘I’m not ringing an ambulance. There’s nothing wrong with you.’

‘I can’t feel my …’ 

I never finished my sentence. I had begun to speak funny.

But in our heated exchange, a phrase had been introduced to the marriage that would plague me down through the years like a crocheted doily: ‘There’s nothing wrong with you.’

And she was right. Because the truth was, I was a hypochondriac, and this was its first manifestation.

The second was some weeks later, when I went to the doctor to complain of a heart condition.

‘What’s it doing?’ he said.

‘It’s thumping,’ I answered.

‘In the medical fraternity, we call that beating.’

‘Okay,’ I responded, quickly taking a dislike to my doctor. ‘But it’s beating more than normal.’

‘You mean it’s beating fast?’

‘No. It’s beating loudly.’

‘You can hear it?’

‘Only in bed.’

‘Only in bed?’

I was no doctor back then, and yet I worked out very quickly that the art of medicine was more about repeating statements than it was about actually diagnosing illness.

‘When my head is on the pillow, I can hear my heart beating.’

‘Hmm,’ he said. Finally. That’s all I wanted. The medical HMM. ‘The problem isn’t your heart.’

‘It isn’t?’

‘No. It’s your ears.’

I swore never to go back to that doctor. However, within weeks I was there again.

‘I think I have breast cancer,’ I said.


‘Because I can feel a lump here [in my breast] and it’s very sore.’

‘Do you keep doing that to it?’ he said, for I was pushing my fingertips into the breast tissue to show him where it hurt. The skin was red and bruised.


‘Don’t. That will heal the soreness.’

‘What about the lump?’

He palpated my breast with the palm of his hand.

‘It’s your muscle.’

I went back to see the doctor just one more time before he died. I had a black dot on my right knee that had been concerning me.

‘It’s a black dot,’ he said.

‘Not cancer?’

‘Not cancer.’

‘You’re sure.’

‘Look,’ he said. ‘You might want to do something about your general obesity.’

I wasn’t even fat. To prove it, he went and had a heart attack and died not a month later. 

His death hit me hard. He was a young man, even if he wasn’t a very good doctor. So, taking him at his word regarding my overall rotundity, I joined a gym. A personal trainer gave me a thorough going over.

‘You’re very lucky,’ he said.

‘How so?’ I answered, thankful that he had a more positive demeanour than the doctor.

‘All your fat is on your belly.’

Regardless, I pressed on, I suppose in an attempt to shove my gym prowess right down that little muscly man’s throat. My training regimen expanded by the day. Treadmill, 20 mins. Pushbike, 20 mins. Weights. Swimming. One kilometre, two kilometres.

But one morning after a work out, I was getting dressed when my fingertips went numb …

And that was it. That was the moment my minimal movement mantra kicked in. Actually, ‘kicked in’ is too energetic a picture. I suppose it rolled in, like a sloth, from its front to its back and to its front again, until it lay there at my feet, looking up at me with its anxious eyes. 

‘Don’t … ever … exercise … again.’

And it’s a philosophy — NAY, a theology — that I have adhered to, with some measure of success.

Until today.

Until that text. 

That text that reminded me of a certain doctor, who refused to so much as give me a blood test whenever I asked for one, but dared, with his dying breath, to call me obese.

Yes, I will take that fatty challenge. And in six weeks’ time, I will be fatty no more. I might be podgy. I might even be slightly tubby. 

But fatty? 

Stick it up your hooter baby, fatty’s going bye bye.

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