A letter to Kevin because he’s worried about his body

Dear little Kevin,

Take a breath. It’s OK. You’re OK. It’s just puppy fat.

I know you’re confused and disappointed. What you see when you look down isn’t what you’d choose. You’d choose what the other boys have. Flat stomachs and torsos. You might not want pecs or a six pack, but you definitely don’t want flabby boy-breasts. You don’t want a round belly. You’d be happier if your stomach was smooth all the way down, like you’ve seen on the other boys when you all change for your swimming lesson. What James Halton from the other class has is perfect. You wonder why you can’t have the same.

You just have to remember how you felt about your teeth. The dentist said there were two procedures to do. The first was to pull your bottom jaw forward so your teeth could gnash together properly. You had to wear a brace for nearly two years, in the day and through the night. The plastic was moulded into the shape of a futuristic spaceship that fitted snugly into your mouth and was held together with wire. It felt comfortable and safe in your mouth, but it stank like stale spit at the end of the day. Over two years it drew your bottom jaw forward and changed the shape of your face. Your teeth and gums are healthier for it. The dentist said the second procedure was optional. He said he could fit you with another set of braces that drew your teeth together and closed the gaps between them. He said this procedure was cosmetic, recommended for people who don’t like gaps.

You hadn’t really realised you had gaps until he said that. You didn’t mind the space between your two front teeth. You said you didn’t need the second set of braces. You shrugged it off. You should remember how you felt about that. Can you feel the same about your stomach? About your man-boobs? About all this extra flab? Not yet. It’s too annoying. It’s too obvious. It changes your whole body shape, and it means that you can’t look like James Halton. It’s OK. Take a breath. I can see you’re worried about this fat. I know you just want to take it off. I know that if you could you’d shake like a dog coming out of the sea. You’d hope the fat dissipates from you like the water drops from the dog.

It’s good you told your mum you’re sad about the fat. You’re lucky she knew how to handle you. She said you’re healthy. She said you don’t eat too much.  She said it was just puppy fat and it didn’t matter. You didn’t really understand what ‘puppy fat’ meant. But you’re perceptive, so you know it’s not a serious kind of fat, and you know it’s temporary. ‘Puppy fat’ is a grown-up’s way of saying that. But it’s still dead annoying to have it hanging on you like this.

I don’t want it to stop you doing anything, Kevin. In fact, look, you’re growing up now. You’re taking the puppy fat with you as your body stretches taller. The puppy fat is spreading. Just look at your boobs change: they haven’t become pecs but they’re not flabby anymore either. Touch your chest, pick your fingers through these new hairs. You’re not happy about them, I know. Your body is flatter—still with some round bits, so it’s not like James’s—but now dark hairs have infested it. You don’t like them. You prefer chests without hairs. Yours are growing out of your nipples and you think it’s weird.

These are the reasons you wear a T-shirt on the beach. You don’t take your T-shirt off easily. You’ll go swimming in a lake when you’re older—when you’re 19—with other lads and you’ll feel uncomfortable about going topless. You hardly ever take your T-shirt off. This is the reason why you’ll end up with a permanent farmer’s tan: your lower arms will forever be darker and more weathered than your upper arms. The effect is accentuated because your lower arms have freckles and hairs too. You don’t like the way this all looks. And your giant nipples that your friends jokingly said look like dinner plates.

You don’t feel sexy. As you grow up, for a long time, no one will say they want you. You don’t allow yourself to get close to people in that way. You don’t dare to look for people to kiss or to sleep with. You think you don’t need it. You don’t need it, but I know you’d really enjoy it. You say to yourself that you’re happy with yourself, and that’s largely true. But now I know that there’s so much more. So much more you could have if you wanted it. I know it’s not because of your body that you don’t seek out sex. But the fact that sex doesn’t come to you—that nobody tries to do it with you—well, that says something doesn’t it? That’s what you think, but it’s not necessarily true. Trust me: when everything is ready, sex will happen and you’ll love it.

In the meantime, you can learn to love your own body and find its pleasures. I know you’ll do this well. It’ll take time, but you’ll get to know the folds and the flab, and the hairs and the freckles. You’ll learn how to make yourself feel good when you touch certain parts, how easy it can be to have so much pleasure. And as you learn all of this you’ll also settle into your own mind. You’ll begin to know yourself better, who you are, what you want, and what you think is right. With that kind of mind, it doesn’t matter if you grow more flab.

Take a breath, little Kevin, you’ll be fine. Eventually you’ll be like me: you’ll know that you wouldn’t choose a chest without obvious muscles or a lower back with hair—but you don’t give a toss, because you didn’t have a choice. You take what you’re given and really it’s OK. It’s OK because it’s you. It’s you and nobody else. And that’s why I love you.

Grow well,

Big Kevin


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