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Show & Tell

June 27, 2011

So I did lose about 1/3 of myself almost 10 years ago – what happened to make that happen after about 30 years of guilty denial?

Despite living an overfull midlife and evidencing the obvious need to drop mass, it finally took an outside stimulus to fully and irrevocably call the question.  The mechanism for me to abandon a lifetime of disconnect between food and fat was not the opinions of family, friends, or least of all doctors (whom I never frequented).  It came from an objective two-dimensional representation of what I actually looked like – a DVD that conveyed the inescapable reality that I was very fat.

I received a call from a producer in New York who knew of my work as an architect and knew that I could write and speak pretty well about houses.  He asked if I would be up for shooting a “personality DVD” for marketing to cable TV networks as a potential host around whom that could pitch show ideas.  My vanity duly lubricated, I of course said “yes”, and at the end of July, in maximum heat, shot three hours worth of tape that distilled down to two minutes and thirty-one seconds.  I had purchased two “slimming” shirts (same size, but with a neat pattern) and glibly wandered around a construction site with my clients, the interior decorator, and the contractor talking specifically about the home’s aspects and potentials.  Later, in an isolated sit-down (having sweat through both shirts) I mused about designing houses.

Apparently, the DVD was a big hit (preliminarily) with the producers and I was egomaniacally eager to view my star turn when the disk arrived about a month later.  However, when I viewed myself on the screen, I remembered the old Rodney Dangerfield line that if the camera adds 10 pounds then there were at least nine cameras filming me.  Although relatively nimble and coordinated, I was, to say the least, inflated.  In some odd way, it was as if I had not seen myself in 20 years.  A reflection of your body can be manipulated by how you position it before the mirror or plate glass.  Photos are static and, of course, there are always “bad photos”.  But seeing a real-time, full body movement three-dimensional visualization prevented any interpretation save one.  Absurdly enough, I was indeed as fat as a house.

I could no longer plausibly declaim “it must be a wide angle lens,” or “at least I’m not as fat as him,” or “I never looked good in those pants.” The piercing truth of how disgusting I’d become had to be ground into my primitive brain before I began to make the connection from internal body image to the facts weighing so heavily on the ground.

It was sheer vanity, transparent narcissism, the shallowest motivation imaginable that forced me to reinvent my revealed bulk.  Given these ridiculously superficial motivations, I realized that I had to pick a darkly serious path to keep my attention and steel my will.

Friends, family, doctors, etc. did not face me with a medical, psychological, or sartorial intervention. Since I was merely caving in to the idiotic expectations of transparent phonies in the business with perhaps the lowest level of professional integrity outside of politics – television – I might as well galvanize my resolve with a life change so irrationally extreme as to be self-reinforcing.

Given my former half-hearted failures at weight loss, I found myself desperate for a different way.   Clearly, anything “organized” was out – too embarrassing and lame (to me, “Weight Watchers” was AA for the plump).  Likewise Medi-Fast, Dexitrim, or other miracle over the counter solutions seemed too hyped to have any validity, so my mind drifted to the radical options.  As seen on the TV show “Cops,” Methamphetamine consumption seemed to work as a way to drop pounds, but is pretty risky (and since I’ve never even smoked a cigarette, pretty much out of character). Bulimia seemed pretty rough on the throat (truth be told if we middling men have to endure any kind of scheduled pain, we typically wimp out of it – if we had to birth children, the human race would not have gotten off the ground). Based on the 1980’s, cocaine has a lot of collateral damage for its weight loss potential. But I needed a method that would work as quickly as those absurdities and, by its radicalism, could keep me engaged.

I’m just old enough that I actually had tangential friends who, in an effort to lose weight, actually had a doctor cut their insides open and either remove part of their digestive tract or apply some sort of rubber band around part of it.  I can’t imagine anything more repulsive than having to deal both with doctors and enforced weight loss through physically limited eating capacity.  The idea of having a full belly after a chicken wing and half a beer is so outrageous that I’m surprised there isn’t a movement to outlaw the procedure.  Even worse would be the techno-rape of my bodily integrity known as liposuction – I’d rather be fat than be violated by a Hoover.

No matter how fat I got, I never thought it was worth doing Frankenstein lite butchery to achieve any outcome.  This was about taking control, not giving it over to a nerd with a knife.  I also intuitively knew that mechanical procedures would not change the ingrained attitudes that made me fat.  Just ask Al Roker or Carnie Wilson.

It became clear there had to be something better to do than mindless noshing.  I found out that not eating certain foods was possible.  Like my brethren, I had considered the words “work out” to be the final solution for the word “fat.”  But unless we want to risk debilitating injuries, the capacity for physical activity alone to cure the bloat is a couple of decades behind us.  What’s left to us is what allows us to render the intangible feats of strength that define our everyday lives – the sacrifices we make for our families, our focus on kicking ass at work, the extra mile we go when “doing the right thing.”  The only way I could drop mass was to use the force of will I applied to all of the above, but this time for my poor, ignored, and now ridiculous body.

During my adult years, I had done a pretty good job of designing my life to the point where I could comfortably envision my own obituary and conveniently rationalize any aspect of my life, no matter how embarrassing it might actually be (such as having purchased the un-played banjo, landlocked canoe, really cool (and now dead) power scythe, or never-plugged-in electric chainsaw. Part of this design was that I cast a blind eye to a body that expanded by half between youth and middle age.  But life has a way of taking that tapestry of self-delusion and unraveling it.  I could reweave and keep rationalizing the disjunctures between my values and my life — or I could decide to pull on that piece of yarn and gain the enormous satisfaction most of us middling men feel when we deconstruct something that is just begging for a little demolition.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. george j. russo jr. permalink
    June 28, 2011 7:56 am

    You do speak well about houses- even if sometimes over us layperson’s heads. About your weight- I don’t think Norm from This Old House or Norm from Cheers (for that matter) will be filling in for Tom Cruise anytime soon. You in front of the camera talking about houses would be just fine at any weight. Now find some time to critique my listing at 934 Orange Center Road, Orange, CT!! We sent you a link (not of sausage). Regards.
    George Russo


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