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Some might say that 14-year-old Brandon Williams is an over-privileged white kid. He lives in a million-dollar house overlooking the ocean in Santa Cruz, California, gets a weekly allowance equal to the take-home pay of many service industry workers, and has gone to a private, all-white school from Kindergarten through eighth grade. Health-nazis would call him “overweight," but Brandon is only slightly chubby, and handsome by American Caucasian standards, though his looks are nothing special in a sunny, seaside environment of blond and blue-eyed surfer dudes.
Brandon should be happy -- or at least think he is -- but he’s not. Like many young teens he’s sure there must be a better world somewhere, a "there" that's better than "here." and he's tried to find it in fantasy games, and has even created a website world with his best friend, 12-year-old Tommy Turner, a cheerful fat boy who lives next door. He's also tried to dull his angst in various chemical ways, and has wasted a year of his youth staying high.
Brandon hopes to be a writer and use pen and PC to right wrongs in the world. Being who he is and living where he does, he’s never experienced discrimination or hate based on appearance or race. Despite the protests of his liberal-minded and loving, but career-oriented and somewhat distant parents, Brandon decides to attend public high school. He isn’t completely naive, thanks to his older brother, Chad, who also attends public high school and is now a senior; but Brandon’s first day is a reality-check as he discovers what public education in the U.S. is all about... pounding just enough knowledge and mainstream values into kids’ empty skulls so they can get their McFreakin’ diplomas and become productive Proles.
Since no one knows Brandon, he naturally falls in with the outcasts, which include Travis White, one of the school's few black students and also the fattest at five-hundred pounds. Other new friends include Danny Little-Wing, a Native-American boy from an almost forgotten local tribe and the second-fattest dude at school; Carlos, a fat gang member; Zach, a pot-bellied gainer; Rex Watson, a smaller-than-average boy with higher-than-average intelligence who was kicked into high school a year early; and dismal Jason Gray who is really not “obese” but who has been taught that he is and therefore to hate himself. There is also chubby Bosco Donatello, a world-class surfer though indifferent to his fame and seemingly oblivious to the present as if he’s been transported through time from 1963.
Brandon has never been hated before, and there is a question of whether a person can empathize with the suffering of others unless he or she has suffered. Along these lines Brandon discovers that most of what he “knows” about black people (and fat people) is only what he’s been taught. Brandon also delves into the mostly cyber universe of teen and pre-teen gainers, a rapidly growing (no pun intended) counter-culture that few young-adult authors, educators, and "experts" on youth seem aware of... or perhaps don't want to admit exists.
Phat Acceptance is a mix of issues, including consumerism, advertising, propaganda, xenophobia, and how kids are brainwashed from the time they first turn on a TV into buying what they’re told to buy, wearing what they’re told to wear, eating what they’re told to eat, looking how they’re told to look -- which now includes weighing what they’re told to weigh -- and hating who they’re told to hate.
It also illustrates how the “war on childhood obesity” gives haters a group of people whom it’s socially acceptable to hate, as well as how sheep-like people are in accepting how “unhealthy” they are because they're being told they are by a health and fitness industry with multi-billion dollar profits. The result is a new religion of "health" and a new holy war against those who won't worship.
© 2011 Jess Mowry
Maybe he wasn’t the world's fattest kid, but he was the fattest kid Brandon had seen! He wasn't the only fat kid in the house; of the thirty-two freshmen in History class at least eight were packing extra pounds from slightly chubby to triple-XL.
But this dude was off the fat grading scale!
Brandon tried not to stare at the boy, though he'd chosen a desk at the rear of the room because he wanted to watch everyone. His 8th grade Creative Writing teacher had said a good writer had to observe, but so far here on this first day of school, in these first few minutes of World History, there hadn't been a lot to observe that might have inspired a story. The kids were a typical Santa Cruz mix -- meaning that most of them were white -- from surfers in tank-tops, hoodies and baggies, to wiggers in big-jeans that showed-off their shorts. A pair of goths, boy and girl, had so many piercings that Brandon winced, although he wore an earring himself. There were also a couple of obvious jocks.
The surfers were tanned to the shade of old pennies. One could have starred in Endless Summer, a buff-bodied blond with movie-star looks. Another resembled a wiry coyote, his body as hard as a sheet-metal roof in a 'beater that clung to a perfect six-pack and seemed painted over the bricks of his chest; while a third was a swag-bellied, sphere-breasted boy who fit the description of "rolly-poly" and looked like he'd spent last night on a beach, with sand in his hair and beer on his breath.
The goths were as pale as vanilla ice cream and as bony as desiccated cadavers, while several boys were lazily lardy with most of their weight in their bellies and butts, their shapes suggesting eggs with legs from sitting all day playing video games. One of the jocks could have been on TV as a model for All-American boys often depicted by Norman Rockwell... a sort of muscular Opy Taylor complete with freckles and rusty-red hair. There was also a skinhead in boots and suspenders who could have passed for an albino ape. About the only "statement" he made was that some Caucasians had strange-looking skulls and should have kept hair on top of them. Of the ten other white kids, Brandon included, most were fairly average in build... meaning that most looked a bit over-fed compared to the 1970s kids that Brandon had seen in his mom's photo album. A couple of girls were "pleasingly plump," though another resembled a Barbie doll... which looked almost scary in real life.
In a front row desk sat a marshmallow dude whose belly spilled out from under his shirt, an Area 51 souvenir tee from the Little Alien Cafe. The shirt was at least two sizes too small and stretched over blatantly prominent breasts, suggesting a sedentary summer of snacking at keyboard or game control, but cool in space-nerdy way.
The other students included three Asians; two slender girls who looked Vietnamese, and a Japanese boy either chubby or husky beneath a big tee with a proud rising sun. Four kids were of Hispanic descent, and three of them undisputedly fat, a raven-haired girl with a friendly smile who embodied the term, "voluptuous," and a pair of dudes who bulged everywhere in white T-shirts and faded big-jeans. Two brown girls may have been Middle-eastern, their figures concealed by modest full dresses.
The black race hadn't been represented... until this ebony mountain of blubber had lumbered casually into the room.
That wasn't a good metaphor, thought Brandon; an author had to describe characters so readers could picture them clearly. For one thing, mountains didn't "lumber.” Nor did they quiver, ripple or wobble, jiggle, shimmy, or undulate... and this dude's body was doing it all. "Jell-O" may have been a cliché, but in this case it was personification. His chest was a pair of huge balloons that looked about to burst out of his shirt as they rolled, lolled, bobbled and shook, while his waist encircled his middle like some gigantic torus of fat. His clothes were kind of carelessly cool; his T-shirt was black and at least 4-X, though it still couldn't cover twin pendulous masses composing almost the full lower half of an awesomely incredible belly that wallowed against his enormous thighs and plunged and rebounded with every slow step as if determined to touch-tag the floor; though “twin” wasn’t actually accurate because one of those wobbly ebony lobes was considerably larger than the other and hung about six inches lower. Almost buried by all that loose blubber and far overhung by loose rolls of waist, were faded blue-jeans, their cuffs dragging the floor; and only the toes of his sneakers showed.
Brandon scrawled notes in his "writer's journal," a section reserved in his shiny new binder bought yesterday at the mall. At least this dude was something new, and a prime candidate for his Beastworld book, a graphic novel he planned to write as soon as he found an illustrator.
Brandon found he was staring again, not being "detached" like a writer should be. He shifted his eyes from all that fat -- as deep, dusky black as a new truck tire and supported somehow on a boy's skeleton -- to study a face like an African cherub's. Opulent cheeks engulfed the dude's nose, which though bridgeless was wide at the tip and only looked small in that full-moon face... a very dark moon in this case. Still, his eyes, obsidian -- or maybe better described as onyx -- were winsomely large like a little kid's; and though not completely unguarded, suggested a pit-bull potentially friendly to anyone with the courage to pet him. His lips were full and expressive above at least two chins, and were parted in sort of a pouty smile, revealing the gleam of fierce white teeth, that might have been his normal expression... like he just didn't care about being so fat or what anybody might think.
The huge boy's hair was a lion's mane that tumbled over his super-size shoulders to midway down his massive back, which was almost as rolly as his front. It might have been braided, or maybe dreadlocked... though Brandon wasn't sure about that, not being down with African Culture. He supposed it was only natural that the boy was waddling toward him, his vast belly clearing a road ahead as kids leaned aside to get out of its way.
The desks were arranged in five rows of six, with another four at the rear of the room, and Brandon sat in the back right corner, farthest away from the door. The desk to his left was still empty, while the rolly-poly surfer dude was somnolently sprawled in the third, smogging the air with alcohol fumes as well as an unabashed young male scent and shedding a virtual beach on the floor. Brandon had made a few notes about him, his ragged gray hoodie unzipped (the sleeves had been brutally amputated), casually baring the orbs of his chest and his wobbly pillow of belly, the latter spilling over the crotch of ancient cutoff Levis jeans; an old-school black-and-white sneaker untied (it, like its mate, worn without socks); his hair a dust-mop of salt-stiffened curls.
One of the white girls, an "average type," had taken the fourth desk beside the surfer but wasn't looking very stoked about her selection of neighbors. There was another empty desk in the first row at the front of the room, but any cool dude would have sat in the back and taken a chance on Brandon.
Brandon was cool enough, he supposed, though a little detached from the center of cool. If cool was a sun then he was a planet, not shining himself but reflecting the rays. At age fourteen he was five-foot-five, and a few pounds “overweight” if judged by the current health-nazi standards. He had silky blond hair in a central part that flowed down over his chest and back like a feral young prince in a sorcery game. His eyes were dark blue, his nose slightly snubbed, and his lips rested partly open a lot, displaying a pair of startling teeth that probably should have been tamed by tin. He had a few muscles in all the right places; his chest was high and gently defined, though his tummy gave him a Bugs Bunny look when his mind was involved with other things besides maintaining a physical pose. He'd tried working out with his big brother's weights to buff up a bit for his high school debut, but had only developed a killer backache. A chiropractor had aligned his spine -- under the eyes of his worried mom -- while scolding him for being "brainwashed," and "falling for the movie-star image that Hollywood fed to American kids.”
Still, Brandon managed to pose fairly cool; his tan was as deep as the drunk surfer-dude's, and he'd carefully chosen his clothes this morning to give him a sort of ambiguous look; a blue chambray shirt from his big brother's closet with three buttons open to show off his chest, along with a pair of loose Tommy jeans and experienced-looking Rocket Dog sneaks. Most Santa Cruz kids would have thought him a surfer -- hardcore skaters seldom had tummies -- and the drunk boy had dreamily greeted him, duuuude; a cool enough image to front in this town where everyone had to be something. It was also a look that didn't offend or attract much attention; good camouflage to be an observer without getting caught in anyone’s mix.
The woolly black mammoth -- a good description, assuming mammoths had ever been fat -- was still approaching ponderously with every inch of his body in motion. Obsidian eyes queried Brandon's blue, confirming the empty desk wasn't taken. Brandon still fought to control his stare, but the dude was just so incredibly... FAT! Every step seemed a separate struggle against the inertia of rest; his gigantic thighs got in each other's way so he had to squeeze one in front of the other, which looked like he was wading ashore though waist-deep invisible waves. Brandon glanced around again to observe the other kids' reactions.
The average white girl abandoned her desk, not wanting to sit with an unrated Brandon, a drunk and smelly surfer-dude, and now this enormous ebony beast... a word Brandon used as a compliment. She snatched her things and fled to the front, landing beside the "51 kid," who nervously tugged at his undersized shirt then crossed his arms to conceal his boy-breasts... which of course only drew attention to them.
The other two surfers were smirking at the sight of the mammoth boy fighting to walk. The All-American looked disgusted in a requisite jock-brained way. The skinhead was beaming a stupid hate stare -- though of course it wasn't based on weight -- that he probably practiced every morning while scraping the fuzz off his simian skull, while the 51 kid seemed a little relieved at no longer being the fattest in class. The Latino dudes looked impressed, while the Japanese boy was scanning the black as if maybe thinking of Sumo wrestlers. A few of the students were looking confused, as if not knowing how to react: fat kids were common enough in their world -- even if not this extreme -- but there weren't many black dudes in Santa Cruz and nobody knew much about them. Their movies and music were ass-kickin’ cool; and Brandon had heard all the usual stories about how strong and bad they were: but this dude didn't fit into his role any more than his clothes fit him.
Then, Brandon wondered how he should react? The other students were watching him, too, since he seemed to be the black boy's objective: he felt as if he was up on a stage and no one had told him what part to play. This enormous fat dude was invading his space on the very first day of high school, dammit! It felt like his cool was a house of cards and this ebony mammoth was shaking the floor.
Brandon had gone to a private school from kindergarten through 8th grade so he didn't know anyone here. He had no posse to take his back and validate his coolness permit. He remembered something his father had said about making career decisions. Nobody would dis him for dissing this dude, but they'd probably dis him for not. And they'd have him under a microscope for all this freakin' period. Observer, hell! he told himself; he was the one who was being observed... scanned, filed, and categorized, labeled and tagged for the next four years by how he treated this fat black kid in the space of the next few minutes!
He turned for support to the sandy surfer, who sprawled with sockless sneaks splayed out. He was wearing a charm around his neck, a little wooden tiki god suspended on a leather strip between the bobby spheres of his chest, their nipples inverted like soft little slits. His eyes were hidden beneath his hair, a messy mop of tangled locks, bleached by years of sun and salt. A rat was tattooed on one of his arms above a chub-padded bicep; a Disney kind of cartoon rat who grinned around a big cigar, the sort of thing a kid would love but most adults would hate. Words were tattooed underneath -- Tola Rats, whatever that meant -- but, any dude who had a tat would naturally be cool, and his judgment would be weighty in this Freshman student court.
But, dammit, he was sleeping!
The mammoth boy had finally arrived. The effort of walking had sheened him with sweat, darkened the shirt beneath his huge arms -- which were bigger around than Brandon's thighs -- and painted it over the orbs of his chest. His vast body seemed to radiate heat, like being close to the steam locomotive that chugged though the Santa Cruz Mountains. Brandon almost expected a hiss of air-brakes as the dude came puffing to a halt. His scent was strong and blatantly male, though Brandon wouldn't have called it bad. He found himself a little surprised that the boy wasn't any taller than he, though easily four times as wide.
The dude wiggled out of his ancient pack -- one of those no-name K-Mart kind -- his shirt climbing up over acres of belly, his navel a tunnel into blackness between those unequal huge lobes of fat, and which could have easily swallowed an orange. Sweat dribbled out to spatter the floor; and again Brandon thought of the steam locomotive, which always seemed to be leaking. Those jeans weren't really doing much to cover the dude's enormous bottom, which looked like a pair of black planets colliding. He seemed... well, just too fat to wear clothes, like something never meant to wear clothes; huge, black, steamy, slow, yet somehow suggesting enormous power.
It was also strangely embarrassing to be so close to the boy's huge body, especially now with that belly thrust out, its soft midnight mass almost pulsing with life, feeling his heat, steamed in his scent, with everybody watching. Brandon turned to the surfer-boy, still hoping for a backup; but the dude was lost in space somewhere, or maybe riding waves. Brandon felt betrayed somehow, as if he'd been sentenced without a trial by a jury who wanted a hanging and his public defender was out to lunch, yet there was nothing he could do but smile and say, "What's up?”
Total silence ruled the room. Every ear was listening. The place was like a pack of raptors massing for attack. ...But, could the prey defend itself? The dude didn't look like a video thug, but his size was still intimidating; a locomotive loose in the room. What could it do? Slam you aside if you got in its way? Smash you under its awesome weight? Should it be respected, or feared?
Snickers were stored away for the moment, and smirks were carefully traded. Insults waited locked and loaded, but who would be the first to fire?
The goths looked understanding. The jocks just looked disgusted. The skinhead chewed on broken glass and didn't seem to like the taste. The brown boys traded Latin glances cryptic to Caucasians; and the Anglos seemed to realize that four of them were "overweight"... and one of those a surfer.
“Chillin'," said the black dude. "S'up with you?”
“...Oh. ...Phat," said Brandon, the first "black thing" that came to mind. As soon as it was out of his mouth he felt his cheeks turn red. "I mean with a 'P',” he added, sweating. "You know? Like, phat is cool?”
He almost expected a crushing "duh," which might have turned the raptors on him, but the boy only chuckled. "I heard you, man."
END OF EXCERPT