Sometimes I hear people who want to lose weight talk about how they have a skinny person inside who is just waiting to get out. No offense to anyone who uses this phrase, but I’ve never liked it, and not just because it sounds like you’ve swallowed a Lilliputian for lunch. It’s like you’re saying “Don’t mind me! I’m not really a fat person. I’m just a skinny person in disguise!” (Coincidentally, this is always the vibe I got from Kirstie Alley during her well-publicized weight loss campaign.)
This statement also reminds me of a quote from the 1980’s movie The Breakfast Club:
“There are two kinds of fat people: there’s fat people that were born to be fat, and there’s fat people that were once thin but became fat… so when you look at ’em you can sorta see that thin person inside.”
The character of Bender is just saying this to provoke the skinny girl he’s talking to. However, he is essentially saying the inverse of the first statement, that some people have a fat person inside just waiting to get out.
I don’t jive with this philosophy. I think it reflects our inability to recognize that people are multi-dimensional. We like to quantify people as one thing. She’s a bitch. He’s a jerk. She’s really sweet. He’s a romantic. It’s easy to forget that people can be all of these things, which was actually the theme of The Breakfast Club, so hopefully Bender learned the error of his ways.
A couple years ago, I got into a flame war with a girl online. I’m pretty sure she thinks of me as an asshole, and in that situation I probably was (though I wasn’t the only one). However, that doesn’t mean I’m always an asshole or that I have an asshole inside just waiting to get out. (That does create an interesting visual image though.) It just means that in certain situations around certain people I can get bitchy.
Similarly, I’ve noticed my brother will act one way around his family, but when he’s around his guy friends he gets more bawdy and prone to dispel gases from varying orifices. That doesn’t mean he’s really one way or the other, it just shifts slightly depending on the situation.
It’s like when you draw a circle with a compass. You have a center point that you started from, but there is also a certain amount of room around that center where you’re still in the circle. We all have a center that could be defined as our core personality, but there’s space around the center to move around in that’s still within the circle of our self.
The phrasing of that sentence “I have a skinny person inside waiting to get out” implies that you have this one true identity, that of a skinny person, and it’s just being subverted by this fat person who has somehow possessed your body. But I don’t think it’s as mutually exclusive as that. You can be more than one thing. I’m equally capable of being a skinny person as I am of being a fat person. One or the other isn’t my “true nature.” They’re just two different extremes of how I could be given different circumstances.
It’s hard to accept this concept. We really do want people to be just one thing. It makes the world easier to understand. One of the stages in child development is learning that something can have two different names. For instance, a “goldfish” is a gold animal with gills that swims in the sea, but it can also be a “fish.” It takes kids awhile to grasp that it can belong to two different groups and sometimes they may get the words flipped. This is why you might see a kid in the grocery store pointing at a cut of salmon and saying “Goldfish!”
So, it’s not that I am inherently a fat person or a skinny person, or that I’m really a jerk or a sweetheart. I’m just whatever I am right now. My “real” self isn’t hiding anywhere underneath. I can certainly decide that I want to make changes in my life to highlight certain qualities and sublimate other less desirable characteristics, but that doesn’t make them any less or more real. No one is hiding inside of me, fat or skinny. I’m just me, whoever I might be today.