The Black Binger: The Reboot
Towards the end of September 2020, I was barely married, teaching high school English to a bunch of blank black screens, and simultaneously trying to mother an eight-month-old baby and a two-year-old labrabull named Boo. I was
supposed to be content: married with a child, canine, and career. And yet, I routinely forgot medication, skipped showers, and struggled to sit inside of myself. It was like I felt the dirt of everything beneath my skin and between my fingernails, and I needed to get it all out. So, wild and wide awake at night, I started writing again. I wrote anything and everything, desperately and awfully.
I actually had the unmitigated gall to write a YA play about domestic violence called something something in purple. Think of the high school touring theatre show The Yellow Dress but written by a person who skips over stage directions when reading scripts. Forgive me if you are ever unlucky enough to find it on Wattpad. And, it is embarrassing to admit but at my lowest moment, I considered creating a blog. I thought: Samantha Irby has a blog, and Julie and Julia was based on a blog. That could be me! But it is 2022, also known as “the dumbest year to start a blog, you idiot.”
Eventually, I was inspired to write a personal narrative called ‘The Black Binger: An Origin Story’, a piece to introduce my fat-black-female self to the skinny white world I have always struggled to fit into. Or, an explanation of how I got to be the size that I am and nearly ever was. Or, an excursion to when I learned that SADNESS + FOOD = NUMB and that SADNESS + TOO MUCH FOOD = HAPPINESS.
Publishing this piece I had two goals:
(1) enrich the reader experience by marrying self-deprecating humour with absolute transparency, and
(2) start off a series of projects centering on my obesity, and expected victorious weight loss journey.
Both of which I failed.
1: I aimed for audible cackles and literal knee slaps with my literary humour, but I landed somewhere between “oh” and a good old-fashioned “ha -.-”. Perhaps because my middle-child comedic routines don’t track well on the page. Or because of the shallow thoughts that I called “reflection”. In An Origin Story, I talked about three moments where I made a tourniquet out of calories, salt, and sugar the entry into habit formation. But it wasn’t personal or deep. It wasn’t novel. Truthfully, I was afraid to shame the devil because I had let trauma and family invite the devil in and refused to evict him.
2: I never started the weight loss journey. Countless times I had gas in the car, keys in my purse, and my phone completely charged. At one of those times, I sat behind the wheel, hands on two and ten, and I put the PRNDL on reverse. But I never made it to the end of the driveway. I didn’t even take my foot off the brake.
I wanted to start the journey. At least, I tell myself I wanted to start the journey. But if I truly did, maybe it would be checked off like most of my goals:
Go into crippling debt for two degrees Get an easy-to-manage pro-black hairstyle Date men entirely made of red flags
- Make my exes rue the day I was born
Write a few things that people read or at least buy Have a beautiful and healthy baby boy Get shitted on and peed on by that baby boy Find a way to reach these kids
- Convince Trevor Noah that he loves me
Move into a roommate-less apartment
- Weigh less than the average NBA all-star
I do not remember a time when I was not overweight. I can only visit these moments in pictures. But as I grew, so did the size of my clothes and the numbers on the scales I would secretly step on before showering. One of my favourite pictures is of my fourth or fifth birthday. My hair was parted three ways in loose twists with blue and clear barbless. My hands, tiny as ever, were balanced on the sides of a big cotton-candy-coloured KB Toys bouncy ball I was half-heartedly straddling. I wore jean shorts, a white cotton front-tied crop top, and a visceral smile. I looked happy, but what draws me to this picture time and time again, is how healthy I looked. My skin was bubbling caramel and smooth, and my little tummy on flat-flat, and damn I looked so happy.
Flicking through the photos, you can see the weight starting to pile on. At first, the clothes got tighter, the jeans’ seams struggling to hold me together, t-shirts looking like they took my blood pressure on the side. Looking like there should have been more shirt there. Around third grade, I started wandering away from traditional “girl” clothes and ran towards the spacious comfort and genderlessness of “boy” outfits. There was not a Fubu football jersey made that I didn’t own! It was baby blue and orange and brown for days on end. Denim was too constricting, and skirts were too revealing of my thickening thighs, so I found relief in the elasticity of sweatpants and sweatshirts.
It all slipped away the summer before sixth grade. My mother had received a few “obesity warnings” from doctors and “oo she getting kinda big ain’ she?” from family and friends, and the Williams sisters were popping, so…black tennis summer camp?
Seeing all those black kids nearly traumatised me. They were thin or, at least, healthy. Running without wheezing. Eager to play. Content with the pre-packaged lunches. I thought fitness and health were for white kids whose parents enlisted them in sports and had carrots and celery in their lunch boxes instead of crumpled dollars for two ice cream sandwiches. Of course there were a few chunky kids, but most of them were boys and all of them were comfortable. Or, they were good at pretending. Or, I was bad at pretending.
Tennis camp is where I realised that I was ashamed of my fatness and first fantasised about an early 90s transformation montage. So, at first, I tried. I really did. I ran the laps and pushed through the drills. I spent a Saturday or two practising with my cousin in the closest park. One morning, a tennis coach asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said a football player; I was always ahead of the times. He said, “Well, tennis’ll help you out with lineman skills. I was a lineman. You gotta be strong and be able ta see everything comin at you.”
Truthfully, I wanted to be a running back. But he said: lineman. Lineman. I was a lineman in Pop Warner football the summer I was eight, but I thought it was because I was new to the craft and had to work my way up to, at least, a safety. Sum’n. I don’t ask for much, just a lil sum’n sum’n.
But a lineman, my nigga? Whether defensive or not, that shit was offensive as fuck. How dare you not only call me fat now, but predict I would be fat in the future? I wouldn’t be fat in the future. Shiiiiit after all the work I was putting in Monday through Friday from 8 to 4 (?), I wouldn’t be fat past this summer – but, the weight wasn’t coming off. I was still fat. Maybe I was even getting fatter?
So I gave up. Every time I ran, I convinced myself the sounds of my footsteps on the pavement were echoing. The drills had me huffing and puffing, and I barely survived the pick-up matches. I often went back home sweaty and stinky and sad until one day I cried my mum into submission and spent the rest of the summer at home. I passed the heat and time lounging for hours on a sticky old green leather couch, under the AC, and binge-eating beef ramen balanced with a slop of ranch and a side of questionable baby carrots.
I gave up on exercise and never looked back.
In 2006, MTV released a two-hour-long documentary called Fat Camp. I was 13 and enthralled and began fantasising about being enlisted in a fat camp. In this regular daydream at the time, I was taken from my bed in the middle of the night and placed in an unmarked van with a bunch of other tubby teens, most of whom were white and one who was racially ambiguous, for quota’s sake. We were unloaded in a wooded area as we watched other vans and petite buses follow suit. I spent a summer being emotionally, verbally, and physically abused. Forced to eat leaves of lettuce like a captive bunny rabbit and made to hike. Over the summer, I cried and made friends using the sense of humour I found at the bottom of a can of Pringles, and at the halfway mark my genderless bitter rival was kicked out of the programme for harbouring food in their underboobs. Maybe I even fell in love with a camp counsellor who only wanted to get handsy under the moonlight when no one else was around in this daydream.
I imagined walking up my front steps after graduating from the summer programme and surprising my family with my hot new bod. Thin, trim, beautiful. But my mum never signed me up for fat camp, and the only thing worse than going to fat camp is asking to go to fat camp.
In tenth grade, I read a book my teacher lent me called Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Copeland. I hated the book then, and in retrospect, I don’t care for it now. But I fell in love with the way the author described Karen: the before and after of her body. As I remember it, she was beautiful before, and, for me, the coma only made her more beautiful because it thinned her out. Copeland spoke of Karen’s weight loss as a form of decay, describing the sharp points her bones made under her skin. But as I read those paragraphs, I felt jealousy and intrigue. I thought to myself, “How cool would it be to go to sleep fat and then wake up well rested and skinny?” Of course, I laughed it off and finished the awful book. But weeks after returning it, I became momentarily obsessed with googling:
— How to put yourself in a coma
— How to put yourself in a coma without killing yourself
— How long do comas last?
— How long do comas last?
— How long does it take to lose weight in a coma?
— BMI calculator
— Is suicide easy?
But at 29 I have decided to put childish things behind me. And instead, I research:
— liposuction for fat people
— BBL for fat people
— death rates for BBL
— BBL doctors in DR
— BBL horror stories
— weight loss surgery comparison
— gastric sleeve or liposuction
— death rates for weight surgery
I screened stories, picking out the pros and cons. I looked at before, during, after, and way after pictures. I found out what insurance covers and doesn’t cover, and how likely I am to die, or worse, gain the weight back. I have put more work into finding a miracle de-fatty cure than my Master’s thesis at UMass Boston. I have price points, flight and resort ideas, and payment loopholes. I know which doctors are linked to the highest success rates and the difference between gastric bypass and the sleeve. I can even explain how families fly their loved ones’ bodacious dead bodies back home for funerals, and how doctors tell mothers that the routine weight-loss surgery led to their daughter stroking out on the operating table.
I am at the point where I waste prayers on the legitimacy of Instagram ads and weight loss trends so I can pay my $76.99 and be done with it. Be done with this weight and this fat and who I am. And I want to do it quickly. Fuck the health benefits of slowly building a better diet and increasing strength exercises at the nearest gym; I want to lose weight because I don’t want to be fat anymore. I am tired of being fat. I want not one more day of being fat. It’s been over 20 years and I deserve to be un-fat. Not skinny. Just, not fat. And I want it now. I need it now. I will do anything for that moment to be now, but it has to happen right now.
I can hear you sucking your teeth and saying, “Well girl, either get tha surgery or work out. You sittin up here wasting time talkin about what you wanna do and what you gonna do and look at you still not doin shit.”
And to that, I say, “Bitch I know I’m all bark and no bite. But I’m tryna be better.”
And now you’re rolling your eyes because we both know I am lying through my temperature-sensitive teeth.
So since you’ve called me out, I’ll tell you the truth: I am never going to get a BBL. I am never going to get a gastric sleeve. I am never going to gradually adopt a consistent healthier lifestyle. Nope. Never. Never ever never ever. Because you know what’s scarier than dying on an operation table, or routinely introducing fruits and vegetables to my stomach, or utilising the $14.99 a month I spend on gym membership fees? Trying and still being the same both inside and outside of myself.
I am afraid that if I honestly and thoroughly try to lose the weight, I might be successful and lose weight, gain some muscle, and maybe a nicer tone, but still be me. I’m afraid that I might still be the me that flinches at the sight of her naked reflection in a fogged bathroom mirror, or the me that wears rompers from Old Navy to hide how uncomfortably she fits in her skin. The me that still goes unseen, unwanted, and unchosen. The me that is still the ugly duckling because I never know how to find and wear pretty the way I can wear sexual promiscuity or comedic relief. I am afraid that it won’t matter despite the sacrifices, the sweat, and the therapy to realign myself. I am afraid that this hatred I have found for myself doesn’t sit inside of pounds and calories, but is embedded in my bones. And so, I don’t try and I won’t try because this Oreo McFlurry with caramel tastes a lot better than my own bitterness.
jamilla vandyke-bailey is a 29-year-old, pro-black feminist who uses her writing to provide a voice for silent traumas and to hopefully create a sense of belonging amongst the misfits. She has had work published in Tasteful Rude, Hash Journal, Santa Clara Review, etc. Her collection of poetry, than we have been, was published by Weasel Press in the fall of 2021.