– Walt Whitman, “ I exist as I am, that is enough. If no other in the world be aware I sit content, And if each and all be aware I sit content. “
– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself.
When I started this projected, I intended for it a deeply personal exercise in exploring what it means to transform towards what I crudely termed (and I suppose crudely defined) “the gay male ideal.” To put it bluntly, I wanted to explore what it was like to be more physically desired. I wanted to explore that narcissistic inner queen whose life is validated only by how they appear. At the end of the 150 days, I would board a gay cruise, where I would (among other things) see how the physical changes in my body would change the cruise experience for me. As self-indulgent as this seems (and believe me, it was!) I was truly curious about this other world of which I had never really felt a part. I realize that this speaks volumes to my own insecurities, and that’s fine. I wanted to be vulnerable, to open up a dialog with myself and also to share it with anyone who wittingly or not, clicked the link from my Facebook page.
I am not sure why I went into this body transformation experience with such a misguided approach and curiously, of all the people who knew about it, only one called bullshit on me. After all, I posed a question in my first blog post to which any halfwit would know the answer: Will changing my body for the sake of fitting in or being accepted make me feel better or worse about myself? In my defense, I will quote from David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Commencement speech delivered at Kenyon College:
“There are these 2 young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the 2 young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other one and goes, “What the hell is water?”
The purpose of this parable is to suggest “that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” Clichés such as “love yourself” or “accept yourself” are so obvious and pervasive, and yet they are the most easy to ignore. Clearly I was intentionally ignoring them.
As I began to make noticeable progress in my weight loss and the more and more people seemed to notice the change, a strange (at the time) thing began to happen. I actually began feeling worse about how I looked. My self-esteem was lower than it had been when I was 50 pounds heavier. I would compare my own body to those around me. I would be critical not just of my body, but also aspects about myself that I couldn’t change. I would walk into a room, or a bar and I couldn’t stop looking at everyone’s hair wondering what it was like to have a thick head of hair. While sunbathing on the gay cruise, I couldn’t help but notice the unblemished smooth skin all around me. Even though I was making progress, fitting into clothes I hadn’t in years and having people who wouldn’t have talked to me before chat me up, the fact of the matter is I had never felt worse about myself.
Entering this particular superficial mindset is like traveling to another planet. David Foster Wallace makes another point in his Kenyon College speech that echoed through my head daily during the 150 days that preceded the gay cruise:
“…in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.”
Wallace is not exaggerating. Having visited this particular land of superficiality, I can say with certainty that worshiping sexual allure is direct ticket to your own personal Hell.
So why did I bother to lose weight with such a mindset? Looking back, maybe I thought that this was the only way to drill into my head that stability, happiness and security in oneself comes not from without but from within. As David Foster Wallace would point out, this is one of those petty clichés we hear all the time and yet so haplessly ignore. Hopefully any of you out there struggling with body image will have the good sense and awareness to follow such a trite suggestion. Happiness comes from within, not from without.
Going forward, I still have weight loss and fitness goals that I intend to blog about. But I intend on doing it to make myself happy and not to simply to try to be desired by those around me.