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, myAchilles’ belly, in any case).

Of course, a lot of this thinking was ego-based. I mean, inhabitants of Tallahassee, Florida (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, often times, 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+ 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 evening, while pushing my cart through the aisles of Albertsons. My bounty thus far included my usual picks: 1/2 very healthy, “diet”-type food along with 1/2 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 evening, I found myself in one aisle that was very crowded. It was the 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 (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 speedily racing 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 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 not only keeps us 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 big sense of humor. When appearing on The Today Show, I joked that I felt like I was nursing America when they 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 doing anything else in public for that matter (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 pecs from my years of working out (emphasis on slightly — LOL!). But look closely and you’ll see scars under my nipples from when I had excess 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’ people).

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.

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32 Responses to “Confessions of a former boob man”

  1. Tommy Strouse says:

    WOW! I’m crying and laughing at the same time! Gregg you have no idea how much a unhealthy body image causes extreme anxiety (sorry, I do know you know!) – I am always too big or too small; Wth! Thank you for putting it into perspective. Love you much!

  2. Gregg says:

    I’m glad this posting stuck a chord with you, Tommy. It’s all about being able to laugh at ourselves — and being able to do a little crying, too (when absolutely necessary). I find the laughter can free us. And when we admit to being somewhat of a boob, it’s something we all can relate to and bond through. Thanks so much for your comment. Much appreciated, my friend!

  3. Eve says:

    I can relate to slinking away from people out of feeling ashamed. If only slinking made one slinky! That pride that you encourage people to have is so difficult when your own body is the source of your low self-esteem. It’s one thing to feel insecure about your ability to do a job or whether people will like you. You can hide all that inner terror behind a smile and fake your way through but, when you carry around the source of your shame on your back – and your front, and your thighs – it’s out there for all the world to see. And judge.
    At least your moobs were kind of perky. Mine point to the Antarctic. It’s only through the valiant engineering efforts of the bra making industry that I can mold them into something resembling Dolly’s. The only time I have been in a bathing suit in the last three decades was around two of my closest girlfriends, and only when the husband of the one with the pool was out of the house. Actually, I think I waited until he was out of the state.

  4. Gregg says:

    Eve, I laugh and cry (like Tommy) as I read your commentary. You are such a gifted writer and so in touch with the inner agony that can accompany extra poundage. Thank you for sharing. I can relate to everything you wrote. And I still carry the mental weight of being obese even today. Venturing out into the world can be really trying for the overweight. But becoming hermits is the very worst thing we can do to ourselves. We’ve got to live out loud and proud. And I’m not advocating not getting healthy. Let’s work on our curves. But that doesn’t mean remaining in hiding until the curves are more what “regular folk” would like to see. We have got to build up our self esteem from this very moment. Only then do we really care about healthy change — be it physical, mental or both. So please, next time you leave your abode or (gasp!) sport a bathing suit, remember that me and all the other Just Stoppers! have your back (and your front). You, my dear, are the very definition of pure beauty — poolside or otherwise!

  5. Eve says:

    Honey, I have been a hermit for ages! I don’t even wear shorts or a tank top outside. Not even when it’s a 100. Thank goodness for the Internet or I’d be a total social reject.

  6. Karen Wheat says:

    Gregg, you did a masterful job of explaining the agony of one who loathes themselves. Although my weight has leveled off, I am still 40 lbs away from the “ideal” that my docs tell me I should strive for. The thing is, I am actually okay with my weight, I mean, there are many more critical issues I contend with health-wise. It’s funny, when my husband and I are out somewhere, and I see an overweight female, I immediately ask him “is that what I look like?”. He rolls his eyes and says “NO KAREN…you are nowhere near that size!”. I still feel like a size 22, although I’m a 14.

    I remember when in high school, my best friend, you-Gregg!-I honestly never noticed a thing about your weight. Once I got to know you, it was all personality and friendship that I saw. You are still a great personality and still my friend, and I would bet, you don’t notice MY weight, either. Love you dear friend!

  7. Gregg says:

    Love your comments, Karen — and your dedication. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. They are so rich with ‘knowing.’ You are indeed a gift — not only to me and your husband, but the world. Size 14 or Size 2!

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  9. Sharon says:

    Greg thank you so much for sharing this like Tommy I am laughing and crying at the same time.. Knowing you personally I wish I had been around for this time in your life.. The support of a friend could have made all the difference for you.. I would have gladly shopped for you so you wouldn’t have had to face such times..although I know those times make us who we are today. You are an awesome beautiful person inside and out big or small.. Much Love to you <3

  10. Gregg says:

    I appreciate your thoughtfulness, Sharon. Can you imagine if you came by and I gave you a shopping list? LOL! Better yet — we could have just shopped together — man boobs and all!

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