Childhood for me was difficult to say the least. I grew up in rural South Carolina, an area some would say is a little bit behind the times. It was like a stereotypical American high school movie. Kids can be cruel and I got the old school bullying; I got beaten up and pushed down flights of stairs. I was constantly singled out and couldn’t stand up for myself. It was pretty rough.
I started gaining weight aged five. I went through some traumatic events and used food as a coping mechanism. I knew that eating made me feel good and there were always fresh cakes in the pantry. I was able to wolf them down and nobody would think anything of it.
By the time I was 13, I was buying size 40 pants. When I started high school I weighed around 300 pounds.
My teenage years were really bad. I was being horrendously bullied. It’s one thing to have someone say something behind your back once or twice a day, but being the constant punch line of a joke—it’s a whole different experience. I still have trauma I’m working through today because of that bullying.
Being bullied made me more reclusive, especially after the ninth grade.
I was sent to the alternative school and the bullying there was especially relentless. It was the step before being sent to a Juvenile Detention Center and some of the kids there could be cruel and vile.
Of all the women in my life I’ve had feelings for, it’s never been reciprocated. I’ve asked out around 15 people and they have all declined. The two of those people I asked why both said it was my appearance they couldn’t get past.
The stigma of being the “fat friend” came from a friend at the start of high-school, or rather someone who I thought was a friend at the time, who was always making jokes about me being heavy set or large. Once he got the metaphorical ball rolling on the jokes, they didn’t stop until the school day was over.
The dark side of being an overweight, isolated teenager
In my early teenage years I played video games constantly, which is where I first heard racial slurs online. Some of them were breeding grounds for hateful views. Being so young and impressionable, having unfiltered internet access had a negative impact on me. And, as a young man I started listening to far-right political commentators and developed what you might call a dark sense of humor.
I also used drugs and alcohol as a form of escapism and was involved with some shady people. The alt-right online also became appealing to me because I felt so isolated and alone due to my weight, then all of a sudden I had this sense of power. You feel helpless, then along comes someone who says you can take the power back.
It was very easy for someone who felt very disenfranchised, pushed out, who was thought so little of, to fall down that road. There is a sense of brotherhood; people who understood what I was going through.
At the same time, I kind of found myself on the fringes of the incel crowd online, too. I blamed a lot of my problems with women, on women, which was not fair. I thought they were shallow if they didn’t like me, that it was always everybody else’s fault but my own.
My online views never spilled out into the real world. It was mostly making comments in echo chambers on websites like 4chan and Reddit, but on occasion my friends and I would make controversial jokes in real life, as teenagers do.
In 2012, America had another tragedy. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I stupidly made a joke about it during a public conversation online. My comment looked incriminating and was reported to the police. I was called into the school office the next day and sent home. The same day the police raided my home. My online views had gone so far they thought I could be dangerous.
After the incident I was sent to an alternative education academy. It was for pupils who couldn’t attend regular schools, often because of behavioral concerns. I was really nervous.
Then, on the first day, we spent six hours exercising. I had to run 13 miles, do 1,300 squats and 800 push ups, but I could only do around 17 burpees before I threw up. When I got home from school that day I was so exhausted I fainted in my neighbors front yard after getting off the school bus.
I credit my friend Jut with helping to open my eyes. He is a member of the Native American community and we had grown up on the same street, but drifted as we got older. We re-connected around the age of 17 through the local music scene. As a white man growing up in the American south, I have been exposed to lots of racist views and stereotypes of minorities throughout my life. He helped me realise these weren’t true, and that I was being manipulated into spreading a hateful agenda because I was angry.
Around that time, another friend, Chloe, really helped me see that my views on women were damaging. My friend Selah was talking in my confidence around women. I also met her through the local music scene and she was just a breath of Spring.
She was someone who came into my life at a very vulnerable moment, my mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she helped me through by being my friend.I think I liked her a little too hard a little too quick. She’s a free spirit and I don’t think I’ll be the one to hold her down, but she is an absolutely gorgeous person.
Leaving school and gaining 100lbs
Throughout high-school my weight fluctuated around 300 pounds. But after leaving, it spiraled out of control. After my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer I became depressed. I would wake up, go to work, go to a fast food restaurant and load up on 4,000 or 5,000 calories worth of food, not move a muscle, play video games, sleep and repeat.
I did that for months on end and gained over 100lbs. It was bad, I weighed around 440lbs. One morning in February this year, I got up to use the bathroom and I couldn’t get my full body on the toilet seat. I knew something had to be done.
At first I kind of half heartedly thought: “OK, maybe it’s time to lose weight.” Then something just clicked and I went for it. So far, I’ve only lost 50lbs, but my life has improved tenfold since I’ve adopted a healthier lifestyle. I’m eating less and go to the gym, where I am trying to build lean muscle.
But I still think the body positive movement is the biggest lie being sold, especially to kids. I’m not saying people who are overweight are not valid in their existence, but some people are taking it too far by saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with being overweight.
I’ve been heavy since I was five years old and I am running into some really extreme health complications because of it right now. I haven’t got an official diagnosis yet, but my doctors think I have Obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS), which means I can’t breathe enough and have low oxygen levels as a result.
Hearing people say that being massively overweight will not have an impact on your health is a massive punch in the gut. I think a lot of people, myself included, live in denial of any kind of health issues. It’s very easy to put your head in the sand and say I don’t hear you, but the way I see it is that eventually you have to wake up and smell the roses.
One thing I always remember is being the last one when doing anything physical.
Whether it was hiking with the Boy Scouts, riding bikes with my friends, or
running the mile in gym class. Coming in last makes you feel like you are
never are the best at anything or do anything the way it should be done.
The alt-right pipeline, the online pathway of alt-right groups and forums that can lead to extremism, appealed to me as it gave me a sense of power, a way to take back control. A chance for revenge. But, the older I got, the more malice I found within myself, I
cared less and less for my fellow man. It wasn’t until I actually spent some time outside in the real world that I realized the world wasn’t as bad as the alt-right groups make it out to be. I realized that misery enjoys the company, and I was done putting myself through that misery.
I would want any young man out there who is struggling to know the world
isn’t as bleak and devoid as these online groups want you to think. There is much beauty in the world and you are a part of it. Be the change you want to see. Do not let your
Anxiety control your life, if you’re gonna do something, do it even though you’re scared.
I don’t view myself in the same way as I did anymore. I don’t think of myself as invisible, because everybody does see you. People do look at you and they are going to have a first impression of you. Most of 2021, I had that false sense of confidence within me. I didn’t feel there was anything overtly wrong with my weight. I thought anyone who didn’t like me was just shallow.
I am not proud of previous things I have done online, in any way, shape or form. I’ve grown from it, I’ve learned from it. If I could go back and shake myself I most certainly would. But now, I’m proud of the current reputation I have cultivated online, as someone who has a strong will and determination. While I may not be proud of my past, I’m proud of the future I’m creating.
My end goal is to be around 180 pounds. But really, I just want to be a normal size. I want to be able to buy clothes at Walmart, go on rollercoasters, be able to water-ski, go mountain biking, go hiking. I want to do all the things I haven’t been able to do my whole life because of my size.
I feel way better and more confident about myself since I’ve adopted a healthier life. Since I started to engage in self-improvement, I’ve had a far kinder reception from people, online and in real life. It’s inspired me to update my wardrobe a little bit, I’m becoming more self-aware of my image and how I am perceived. Because of that, I appear more confident and have more people come up and talk to me.
Personal accountability and responsibility has been a big thing for me this year. I think a lot of people in my generation lack accountability and responsibility. It’s so easy to blame your problems on other people, but there has to come a certain point where you take a step back and admit wrongdoing. It hurts at that moment, but at the end you will be a better person for it. It has been the most freeing thing I have ever done.
Grayson Grant, 24, from South Carolina, is documenting his weight loss journey on social media. You can follow his journey on TikTok or Instagram @bigoledookie_v2
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Monica Greep.