Ms. Ellin, 40, keeps a toned, slim figure now. But she was a husky gymnast in her teens, eating Duncan Hines chocolate frosting straight from the container and occasionally devouring a box of Ring Dings in an hour. “I like to call myself a failed bulimic,” she said. “I had mastered the binge but never perfected the purge. People in high school tell me, ‘But you weren’t fat,’ and I get really angry, because that’s the way I was made to feel in my family, and my identity at the time was wrapped up in being a fat kid.” And she still feels like the fat girl, the outsider. When she goes to the Times cafeteria, she’ll find herself looking around the room at the cliques of writers or editors chomping on salads and sandwiches. And she’ll wonder why it suddenly seems like she’s stuck in a John Hughes movie. (Is there a relationship, one wonders,between being a FFK and being a freelancer?)
“Being a fat kid shapes your identity,” Ms. Ellin said, “because the world is one big high school.”
Diabolical Diet Docs
Blogger Stephanie Klein, a Long Island native, has also written about being a FFK; her book Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp, will be released at the end of May by publisher William Morrow.
“A lot of overweight kids, and adults, have what I call the someday syndrome,” Ms. Klein said. “They think someday in the future everything will be fixed and brighter because you’re thin. It never works that way.”
Ms. Klein, who now lives in Austin, Texas, remembered being treated by a diet doctor in Manhattan “who would stab your arm with a B vitamin” and “yell at you if you gained weight.”
“Before I’d go there, I would practically starve myself to make up for the times I was bad,” she said poignantly. “I would take these water tablets, they’re like $100 for a bottle, and I would take them to get rid of the water weight so he wouldn’t yell at me.”
Ms. Klein lost about 20 pounds with the doctor, but realized that her husband was cheating on her with women all over the city. Later, she gained the weight back.
“I still will always think of myself as the fat girl,” she said. “I think there’s a real sensitivity that’s kind of tattooed on you when you’ve grown up as the fat kid. If I ever hear anyone say someone is fat, I jump on the chance to correct them, not to make them feel bad, but to dismantle a lot of things people think and say.”
Perhaps fat kids are so ridiculed and chastised because some unfairly see them as a physical manifestation of weakness. Many people can hide their vices and addictions (whether it’s sex, like the promiscuous Spitzers of the world, or gambling, drugs, pornography, shopping). But the fat kid’s tragedy is made flesh, hanging over too-tight jeans and spilling from ill-fitting tops.
Maybe it’s this very public humiliation that makes FFKs more ambitious than average, eager to quiet the taunts that still ring in their heads—yet also, somehow, more compassionate.
“There’s a reason I’m not the editor of Esquire or Guns and Gardens,” Mr. Zinczenko told The Observer. “I choose to work for a magazine that can help people.”
“There’s always that part of me that needs to ‘prove’ that all those jerky kids were wrong,” Ms. Silk said. “I learned to be funny and artistic because I needed to attract people in a way that ‘made up’ for the fact that my looks weren’t my prized possessions. In that regard, the symptoms of being the ‘fat kid’ will always be part of who I am.”