“You’re twenty eight years old and you say you’ve given up. I find that sad and just a little bit pathetic,” my doctor informed me late last year.
I was sad at that moment, too. Sad because here I was paying someone for the same exact lecture I could have just as easily given myself for free.
“Don’t think of me as the bad guy,” he continued. “I just hate to see someone who is relatively young and has so much going for them squander it away.”
“And what, pray tell, do I have going for me, Doc?” I asked, anxiously awaiting the end of this appointment. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed in his office and would have given anything for a cigarette. No. What I really wanted was a candy bar. Yes, a candy bar and the biggest Pepsi known to man.
“You’re always talking about the book inside you that you can’t wait to write,” my doctor began. “And your life is filled with people who love and need you. Not only do you owe it to them, but more importantly, you owe it to yourself to want a more healthy, productive life.”
“I’m worn out and empty,” I replied, wearily. “There are too many things in my life I’m not thrilled with, so many things I want to change. Too many things, actually.”
“Well, you can keep ranting about how awful you feel, how tired you are, and how the obstacles are too much,” he observed, “or you can focus the same amount of attention on doing something positive for yourself. Don’t throw your hands up at all of the challenges. Pick one, just one, and start working from there. Rome wasn’t built in a day, Robert.”
And instead of whipping him upside the head with his stethoscope for being so cliché, I actually sat quietly and contemplated what he had laid out for me. Maybe he was on to something.
The evening after this particular appointment, I dimmed the lights, lit some incense, loaded massive amounts of Bette Midler into my iPod (cause really, who’s musical catalogue would be better suited for self reflection than the Divine One’s), and sat at my computer with the intention of making a list of issues I really wanted to address in the coming year. Find a more natural looking hair color? Yeah, like being natural has anything to do with being me. Delete. Quit smoking? Well hell, I quit drinking and recreational drug use is no longer part of my repertoire, so I’m allowed one vice, am I not? Delete.
Try and take some of this weight off because I am extremely unhappy with the way I look and the way I feel.
“I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” started playing at that moment and I, on cue, started crying. Only this time, I was not crying for Barbara Hershey, but for myself.
The issue of my weight is one that I have struggled with all of my life. And more often than not, the struggle has been more against myself than against the world.
People are always surprised when I comment that my figure was not a major source of ridicule for me as I was growing up. Likewise being a plus sized gay man in today’s look obsessed culture. I’ve always had that kind of “take me as I am, or screw you” mentality when it came to my looks. I’m simply not that interested in what someone else thinks I should be or how I should look. And while on the outside I was the epitome of confidence and good humor, on the inside, well, as usual, that was a different story. I may have been able to deflect the fleeting comment or two that someone threw my way about my weight (or my sexuality), but I was less successful at shielding myself from the worst critic of all: myself. I have always been far more cruel and harder on myself than anyone else could ever possibly be.
One of my most vivid memories of high school involves a sleepover I had with one of the popular jocks in my grade. Sleepover is such a quaint description, isn’t it? So anyway, there I was, lying naked next to one of the hottest guys in my class. There he was, also naked, gasping for breath, and marveling at this new thing called gay sex, taking it all in. I, on the other hand, was too busy holding my breath, holding my stomach in, and contorting my shape to try and slim and flatten the areas of my person that were neither slim nor flat, wishing the fucker would hurry up and go to sleep so I could put my damn clothes back on. I felt gross naked.
Only I would have self-esteem issues after fucking a quarterback.
And that has been the story of my life. Perfectly awesome opportunities, ruined by my self-loathing.
Now, it was time for a change.
In finally doing something about my body issues, a lot of the work has been dealing with the emotional aspects of my weight problem. I had to address the fact that I am an emotional eater. Not only did I inherit my Mother’s eyes, I got this trait from her as well. Eat away the drama. Mom and Dad are fighting? Pass the chips. My brother is out getting stoned and terrorizing the neighborhood? I’ve got dibs on the cookie jar. What do you mean Erin Daniels is leaving The L-Word? Where the fuck are the Twinkies? You get the point. I am slowly learning there are more viable outlets available to counteract stress than eating (like coloring your hair, or writing a column and confessing your secrets to the world.)
Another big deal for me was having a real heart to heart chat with myself about the things I eat and the amount of physical activity I get. Sure, I can still have a Pepsi, but I don’t need to inhale a case of it. I can eat out with my friends, but I don’t need to reenact the Last Supper, do I? A slice of toast is not the enemy. An entire loaf of bread is. I have developed a love affair with vegetables and have discovered that I CAN drink eight glasses of water a day without having to piss every twenty seconds. I have started walking a lot more. I’ve even taken up an hour of aerobics at least three days a week (gotta love Fit TV, Digital Cable Channel 438!).
It has now been nearly three months since that fateful day at the doctors. I’ve lost about thirty pounds. But more than the actual weight, I’m pleased with the amount of personal bullshit I have lost along the way. I’m no longer getting hung up on the false projections of what I used to think I should look like or be. Those chains no longer bind me. It’s a cool feeling getting used to liking myself without exception. (And, as a bonus, my Mother has been working on her weight issues as well. She has lost eighteen pounds and has been an amazing inspiration to me.)
I’m not going to delude myself into thinking that just because I’ve been so far successful in losing some weight, that’s it’s all sunshine and roses from here on out. Everyday is a struggle to make healthier choices, and some days are better than others. But in being kinder to myself and coming to terms with my body image issues, I think the path to a healthier, trimmer me has been made a little easier.
Now if I could just find such solace with the issue of my hair color.
Essential Download: "My Mother's Eyes"
Artisit: Bette Midler
Available On: Divine Madness
Originally published in the April 2006 issue of The Empty Closet, New York State’s Oldest Continuously-Published GLBT Newspaper, published since 1973 by the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.