When it comes to reality checks, you can't do much better than a visit to a beach or pool.
You see all types there: sculpted men and women, exposing all but their naughtiest bits; vacationing Europeans in Speedos, even those who should opt for more coverage; leather-skinned sun worshippers soaking up UV rays, and older folks in Cuban shirts and dark socks sitting beneath tents and umbrellas.
I spent hours at the MGM Grand pool in Las Vegas recently, and I saw it all — all those types of people, plus one more.
People like me.
There was the 50-something woman who'd obviously lost a great deal of weight. Her legs were saggy, but she walked among the young goddesses with pride. A guy with a belly twice the size of mine looked around nervously as he headed with his kids toward the pool, but once submerged, he swam like a seal, at ease in the water.
Other obese folks wandered through the pool complex, too. They had less confidence, and I felt bad for them. To me, the worst was a plump boy, maybe 12 years old, who kept his T-shirt on when he entered the water.
I wanted to tell him that he didn't need to hide, that he didn't need to be embarrassed, but I couldn't. It wasn't my place to tell him that, for one thing, but for another I simply didn't know if it was true.
Adults are cruel enough. Children can be worse, especially to each other. I didn't know what he had hidden away beneath that shirt, if it was just his protruding tummy or if he also had burn scars or something more. But I did know that he seemed insecure at the pool, already uncomfortable in his own skin. I didn't like to see that.
It made me think about my situation. I was shirtless by the pool, and while I wasn't awkward about it, I was certainly aware of my belly. Each time I stood up, I found myself sucking in my gut, as if that alone would be enough to make me look "hot.” I measured myself against the other fat guys out there.