Of all the "preppy" clothing stores in the mall, American Eagle is my favorite. I find their apparel both comfortable and practical. Furthermore, it's reasonably priced without feeling tacky or bland in the least. While I have plenty of complaints about most places I have shopped at, my biggest complaint about AE is that their sizes run too small. At 6-foot-2-and-a-half, I'm certainly a "large" man. But even back when I was as thin as a rail, an AE "L" never did fit me. An inch or so of my stomach or back became exposed when I bent over or lifted my arms while wearing one. Even today, the only XXL item I own is a jacket from American Eagle. It barely reaches below my belt. Clearly, it's not a girth, width, or snugness issue - American Eagle just plain makes its clothes too short for men of my height. Still, even when you know this, if an XXL jacket barely fits you, you feel pretty fat.
I entered ninth grade an inch or so shy of my current height, weighing just 153 pounds. I remember the exact number, to the pound. because such a big deal was made over, well, one pound. You see, at my eighth grade physical, I had weighed in at 154. One year later, having grown an inch, the doctor expected me to have put on a bit of weight as well. Instead, I had lost a pound. This was an issue. A big one. Apparently it indicated a loss of appetite, which in turn indicated depression, which in turn, yes, indicated suicide. The doctor spoke at length with me about teen suicide. I didn't feel too invested in the conversation, as I had never really felt the urge to die. But the doctor was adamant. "Gain some weight," she said, "or you're going to kill yourself." At least, that was the gist of it.
So I did exactly that. As a fifteen-year-old kid, I'm sure I was aided in my weight gaining project by, say, puberty and the natural order of all living things. I don't remember any specific benchmarks along the way, but suffice it to say I was around 185 by the end of eleventh grade, the ideal weight for me, I decided. Every year, the doctor said nothing about my weight gain, positive or negative. Every year, I continued to gain. Finally, sometime in college, there came a point where I said to myself, "Yikes, I'm getting kind of fat," and for the first time ever began to watch what I ate. It was kind of fun for a while, a novel little phase where I would enjoy counting calories, running, and seeing how much weight I could lose. During the summer after my sophomore year of college, I lost a good ten or so pounds, down to just under 215.
I stopped caring. I had managed to lose some weight without overhauling my lifestyle at all, and began my junior year without even considering my weight. That all changed during my winter break physical. I was aghast to learn that I had completely rebounded and now put up a robust 230 on the scales. Wow. And now here was the same doctor who just six years prior had told me "gain some weight, or you're gonna die," now telling me, "lose some weight, or you're gonna die." My transition from skinny kid to fat man was now complete, and it had happened so, so quickly.
I've never ballooned over 230 since then, but have never really gotten under 220 either. Instead, I've kind of floated around at 225, always trying to break 220 (and ultimately 210 or even 200) while only barely managing to prevent 230. It's tough, quite simply, to make significant progress when you have no diet and no exercise regimen. A sedentary lifestyle, when combined with 3,000 calories a day, is very inviting to obesity. According to the BMI standards, I'm overweight as long as I stay above 200 and obese if I ever hit 240. While it's easy for me now to laugh at the prospect of 240 and think, "I'd really need to let myself go for that to happen," history has proven that I can gain fifteen pounds in a couple of months without even noticing. So it's best to always aim to lose, I suppose. I may never realistically see the other side of 200 again, but the everlasting struggle toward it should keep me at least marginally healthy.
So thank you, American Eagle, for allowing your sizes to be red flags for the rest of us. We may not think we're getting bigger, but you'll always be right there to call us extra large when the rest of the apparel places deem us no bigger than medium-sized. Perhaps you're saving lives by raising size awareness. And even if you're not, well, thanks for the decent clothing.