I estimate that each of my legs weighs sixty pounds. That leaves a hundred pounds for the rest of my body. My head probably weights twenty, which leaves eighty for the arms and torso. My belly, that piece of me that surprised me totally when it arrived in the years between forty and forty five, my belly must take up sixty pounds of that remaining eighty. It's a classic middle-aged man's belly. It is true, I eat too much and most of that eating is in bed. Every night of my entire life I have munched or crunched something as I read myself to sleep.
My theory is that I am seeking a substitute for breast milk. My early days on this planet were not a paradise of blissful bonding between my mother and child. My father tells me that I had night terrors. I tell him that if I was terrified of anything, it was my mother.
During my futile attempts to rid myself of this belly I’ve done ten kinds of abdominal exercises, hundreds of reps daily, for months and months on end. My belly didn’t get smaller. It got bigger.
Why was I exercising my six-pack this way? What myth did I buy into? If I wanted to get rid of my belly, I should have done absolutely nothing. I should have, with the wisdom of hindsight, accepted the fact that this belly is here to stay, it's a natural by product of aging. It just IS, and why is that so horrible? Why is everyone buying gizmos, electronic abdominal muscle stimulators? Why do they buy gimmicks with names like Abbacizers, Sixpackalongs, Abhancers? Why do people hang from bars and pull themselves up and back, up and back, or lay tilted on long boards, going up and back, up and back? There’s more than a little insanity in this vain pursuit. The obsession with the six pack is about vanity and its monster shadow, insecurity. Our culture pumps its toxic load of media venom into our collective psychic bloodstream so that we feel inadequate if our bodies don’t adhere to some contemporary ideal of beauty. For the moment, that ideal has become horrifically thin; it forms the ironic counterpoint to the visible reality that Americans have gotten chronically fat.
We’re a culture with a lot of food. I mean, a lot lot lot of food. There’s never been a civilization in the history of the world with more food. It’s hardly surprising that everyone eats a lot, gets fat and the ideal of beauty is to have arms and legs so thin that you have to walk around storm drains lest you slip through the bars and get washed out to sea.
I wish we could weigh thoughts just as we weigh butter, or scrap metal. How much would my daily output of body-shame weigh? How many pounds, kilos, ounces, grams would every thought weigh, those thoughts that go, “Oh I wish this belly would flatten out, it makes me feel so unattractive, so grotesque?”
Beneath the veneer of our society a drumbeat of subliminal command roars like an underground subway train. It’s saying, rhythmically, “hate your body hate your body hate your body hate your body.” Chugga chugga chugga chugga.
People who are at war with their bodies spend money on ridiculous products. Teeth whiteners! When did this obsession come along? Who cares about teeth whiteners? People who use them look ridiculous. There’s a blinding beam of Cheshire Cat grin every time they open their mouths, a light so blatantly artificial that it obscures the rest of the face with its message: “I am insecure and hopelessly vain. I use teeth whiteners.”
Recently I heard a radio spiel about a product that reduces shadows under the eyes. Oh my god, here we go again! The script describes the grotesque anatomical process behind eye shadows: a horrific network of bloated capillaries spreads beneath your eyes until they burst forth to spill a dark disgusting goo of congealing blood, thus producing bruised tissue, thus producing embarrassing and unsightly morning-after shadows, hanging and spreading and sagging until they’re the size of wrinkled leather saddle bags beneath your optical sockets.
Eeeeeeww! How humiliating! Burst blood vessels, bruises, discoloration? Wrinkled leather saddle bags beneath my eyes? I can’t have that!
This is how to create a market for a useless product. People will start fixating on their fatigue-shadows, examining the mirror for any hint of darkening skin. The stuff will sell like crazy, as another reason to hate one’s body darkens the horizon of the national psyche. This insanity is all about money. People who hate themselves spend more money, spend compulsively, to cover their unhappiness. It serves the interests of marketers to create a social condition in which self hatred becomes the paradigm.
I have to ask myself the question, “Which is worse, being overweight, or being guilty, stressed and ashamed of being overweight?” Which damages my health more? I think it’s the latter. I think that stressing and hating my body is more toxic than glugging down three milkshakes a day.
How many ridiculous weight-loss products bloat the bandwidth of the media empires? How many bogus concoctions feed on the fervent wish that one can lose pounds and become shapely without any effort?
I have invented my own product to add to this glut for gluttons: “Thindreme”ä! Here’s the commercial, presented by a blandly attractive blonde woman in front of a red- white- blue studio set enhanced by computer graphics showing fat bodies and thin bodies arranged for before/after comparison.
“Do you dream of going to sleep fat and waking up thin? Now your dreams can come true! Two tablets of clinically proven Thindreme before bed will melt the pounds away as you sleep! The more you sleep the thinner you will get. This new miracle compound acts upon the metabolism of your slumbering body and converts fat cells using the principle of DCE, or Dynamic Caloric Extrapolation. It is a proven fact that Rapid Eye Movement sleep is an untapped source of caloric output. In other words, REM sleep is exercise! Thindreme has come along to utilize this remarkable opportunity. The more you dream, the more weight you lose! Within four to six weeks you can emerge a brand new person, thin, sexy, appealing, without any effort on your part! Forget about diet, exercise, lifestyle. You don’t need will power. Thindreme does it for you! Now you can be the man or woman of your dreams! If you order in the next ten minutes, Thindreme will double your order, and at no extra cost, will give you this free nose hair trimmer. And there’s more! We will also add to your order this stylish miniature folding piano! So pick up the phone, and order now! And remember, Thindreme is Clinically Proven.” *
Now, the disclaimer is read quietly and quickly:
*Thindreme (wackazone hydrochloride) can produce side effects in a significant minority of users, including blurred vision, stuttered speech, nausea, excess ear wax, demonic visions, spastic extremities, impotence, frigidity, memory loss, extreme body odor, blurted expletives, colorful flatulence, Fixed Eye Syndrome, increased hair growth on the lower back, muscle cramp, constipation, diarrhea, logorrhea, Recalcitrant Plebny, and black facial warts. If dreaming does not occur, possible weight gain is indicated.
I’ve given up trying to rid myself of this belly. I know that a group of cannibals would find me delicious. My bicycle thighs would be a Kentucky Fried delight, the most giant Crispy ever to appear in a cannibal’s bucket.
When I compare my life to the living hell in which I see that most people exist, I feel grateful for the good life that I have. My relationship with my partner has its sick elements, to be sure, its ‘enablings’ and ‘codependencies’ (how I love this modern language of the heart’s twisted pathways). We don’t fight. If something starts to fester between us, it will come out in a talk, a gentle but firm confrontation where our fears are expressed and laid to rest.
This was supposed to be about my belly, but I can’t write about that part of my personal real estate without including all kinds of other things in my life. My belly doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it isn’t just floating around in space, a belly, without connection to the rest of the universe. My belly may be causing storms on Neptune, for as we have recently discovered, everything has a connection to everything else. It’s the Butterfly Effect. Or in this case, The Belly Effect.
My belly is a dominating presence in my life. I, who spent my youth being thin and sinewy, looking like a Hindu holy man from the hippie trail in Nepal, am now somewhat imprisoned by this entity who sits astride the center of my body. It goes everywhere with me. My vanity is not the main actor in this dismay. My vanity went out about the same time as my hair. Well, that’s not exactly true. I am concerned with how I appear to other people. The problem is, I know that the one person least qualified to judge how I appear to other people is myself. And that is a universal law. You, who think you look thus and thus to the outside world, are completely deluded. When you look in the mirror, the information you receive is so utterly tainted by your needs and dreams that you might as well be looking at a stranger. I wish people would understand this.
YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE. YOU NEVER WILL.
There are so many ingredients that go into an appearance that are invisible to the owner of a human body, that said owner should just give up. Photographs lie for many reasons. Photos capture one two hundredth of a second, and in that two hundredth of a second, an expression may be crossing your face that is otherwise invisible, so quickly do the facial muscles change with the passing of emotion. That’s why we often look odd in pictures. Videotape is in some ways even worse. I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t cringe when viewing his or herself on video. Its distortions are insidious but nonetheless real.
I say this to my fellow humans: do your best to be hygienic, wear clothes that are comfortable and that please you, and let your nature emerge, because that’s what happens anyway. Your appearance is determined by your nature. The way you look is about energy, not physical features.