Posts Tagged ‘college’
Like many reading this, I’ve been struggling to understand the high level of divisiveness that’s permeating our national mood as of late. It was only recently that I discovered an even greater lightning rod for inciting strong opinions and, in some cases, public outrage. And no, I’m not referring to how you may or may not have voted for in the last presidential election, but to my… (dare I admit having it so publicly?) man bun.
At the risk of sounding defensive, I feel compelled to share that growing my hair long enough to entertain having a man bun was never my intent. At least not originally. But after sporting a new style that my barber suggested, I found my hair getting longer and longer. I enjoyed the length when out, socially—but needed a way to keep it out of my face while working. Thus, my first attempt at man-bun-ding took place. And I have to say; it proved to be an effective method for not having to deal with long hair during the work day.
But never in my life would I have predicted that public reaction to said man bun would be so resolute and even vindictive—often from people I’d never met before. I also received a lot of flack from friends, many asking, “Why?”—as if I’d done something to purposely insult them.
Between you and me, it was never my intent to keep my man bun as part of my “look” for very long. But with every outcry I received over it, I felt more and more compelled to keep it around for a while. Not so much to upset people, but because I was fascinated with peoples’ overt reactions. It was as if the hair on my head, when tied up with a small band and curled into a bun (yes, much like the style sported by one Pebbles Flintstone) was being done to intentionally ruin their day.
The parallels to other life disagreements have not been lost on me. With the advent of social media, we’ve all become a little more courageous in regard to sharing our opinions loudly and proudly. But is doing so really “brave” when hiding behind a 140 word-count on Twitter or similar platforms offered by facebook and other online pulpits? What’s happened to “Live and let live?” Much less “Acceptance?”
I know that, for myself, when I don’t accept the circumstances of life, I can come undone, mentally. This often plays out in the confines of my head, hidden from public view—until someone shares an opinion I disagree with (often on TV), which can sometimes make me spin out of control. I then (mistakenly) believe I have the power to not only prove that my viewpoint is more right than someone else’s, but also to instantly change the opinion of the person who doesn’t share my point of view.
Of course, I acknowledge that political, religious and other strongly held beliefs are important to us (and carry much greater impact than whether or not someone likes my hairstyle). But does it really matter to anyone if I have a man bun or not? And does it really matter if someone has different beliefs than I do? Can’t we coexist in a peaceful manner and even draw some comfort from the fact that having different opinions, beliefs and ways of doing things can offer more flavor to everyday life?
While on the topic of hairstyles, I’d be remiss if I didn’t nod to the “perm” I had back when I graduated from college—the same time period during which I weighed over 450 pounds. As shared in my book Weightless: My Life as a Fat Man and How I Escaped, I was a virtual recluse during that part of my life. I was terrified of being judged for not being able to successfully take off the excess weight (no matter how often I’d tried to). And yet somehow I got the courage to venture out of my apartment to get a “perm” hairstyle. I marvel at this now. Because no matter how afraid of people I’d become or how convinced I was that my life was over, I must have had a little hope—symbolized by wanting to affect my looks the only way I could at that time (by getting a new hairstyle).
There may be one day when I look back on having a man bun and shudder. But perhaps it will represent a little bit of courage or—if nothing else—a great sense of humor. (That’ll be my story anyway.)
Looking back aside, I don’t expect my man bun to inspire world peace. In fact, just last week someone assured me that I was encouraging deviant behavior in the form of today’s version of the mullet. That may or may not be true. If so, I’d be the first to laugh. If there’s a way to be a goofball in this life, I’m usually the one to go there (often unintentionally, I assure you). But if having a man bun can remind me to show the same kind of compassion to others that I’d like to receive myself, then everyone wins.
Recently I’ve been reminded of a disturbing trend in the billion dollar diet industry—albeit one that has been pervasive for years. I refer to it as the “Light Switch Mentality” that’s being sold by many organizations, programs, books and so-called experts who proclaim that to lose excess weight, you (we) should be on a diet. But this kind of thinking often leads to the opposite of being on… Being off.
Certainly being on or off has become part of the dieting vernacular. But in my humble opinion, it’s a way of thinking that can potentially lead to more weight gain than weight loss. In fact, it’s while many of us with a dieter’s mentality are on our diets that we’re focused on when we plan on going off. It’s a mindset we’ve been sold as the way to success, when in reality, it can be the way to put on extra pounds.
As someone who started gaining excess weight around first grade, and whose parents immediately took me to a doctor who put me on a strict diet (yes, even at a very young age), I can attest to the fact that the on/off cycle contributed to my continuing to gain weight throughout my youth. Sure, I would take off a few pounds (when I was on). But then I would gain even more weight back (when I was off). By the time I graduated from college, I was clocking in at over 450 pounds. And this was after years and years of constant dieting—the very thing that was supposed to be helping me was actually doing more harm than good.
Thankfully, I was able to remove myself from this cycle after my home electronic scale started reading “ERR” (its internal code for error, since it was not programmed to register any weight above 400 pounds). It’s when I stopped thinking of “dieting” (and being on and off of one) and started embracing healthy eating that I began to make some real headway. Within a year’s time I had dropped most of my excess weight. And sure, I yo-yoed up and down the scale for a couple years after that. I was, after all, recovering from a lifetime of “on and off” behavior. But once I nailed it (reaching a healthy weight for my height and body frame), I’ve stayed at this weight for well over a decade.
But this is where I quickly bring up that damned light switch thinking again. Because many people who see my before pictures want to know my secret to losing over 250 pounds of excess weight without any kind of surgery or medication. They’re not too thrilled when I tell them the secrets are eating less, moving more, getting plenty of sleep and drinking enough water (AKA common sense). And they sometimes go onto register abject horror when I tell them I have to keep all of these mandates in mind even today (otherwise right back up the scale I’d go).
Successfully losing excess weight has nothing to do with a light switch. There’s never a time that we should be on or off. If we’re prone to gaining weight or if we choose to lose excess weight to benefit our mental and physical health, then it’s going to take some work. This doesn’t mean food plans can’t be extremely helpful. But whether we choose to have a salad for lunch or even if we opt to have some ice cream for dessert, we’ve got to always think about portion size and ingredient content (yes, even when it comes to the salad).
This doesn’t have to mean we are always on and never off. Instead, we can adopt new mindsets and start living life as healthy minded individuals. You know—like those those fantastical types who can eat half a donut and then declare they’re full. (Yes, even I’m dumbfounded by this kind of behavior to this day.) But what these people know that we do not, is that they can have another donut (or whatever) in due time. But those of us on the endless on/off cycle of dieting often think, “I will be on my diet tomorrow (or Monday or come January 1st),” so I better have eighteen donuts today.
On. Off. Not always helpful.
Healthy thinking. A move in the right direction.
And healthy thinking can include well made (meaning clean ingredient) treats that can be easily and moderately worked into our eating plans—whether we’re taking off excess pounds or simply maintaining a healthy body weight.
Although somewhat baffling, this can be triumphant news if we allow it to be. Thinking less of on and off can mean reduced shame and self-punishment (also part of many dieting cycles, mentally speaking). Fact is, you are beautiful at your current weight (inside and out). If you choose to get healthier and drop some of the excess weight, then do so in a fashion that embraces all that life has to offer and try leaving the on/off Light Switch Mentality behind.
At the risk of an eye roll or two, what do you have to lose?
Although you wouldn’t know it to look at me today, I used to be a total boob man. But the difference between me and that guy who Googles Dolly Parton is that, at the time, I had boobs that could give Ms. P a run for her money.
This was back when I weighed well over 400 pounds and was approaching the dreaded 450-pound mark (at which point my scale quit me – but that’s another story for another post). During this time period, I was somewhat terrified to leave my apartment. Mainly because I was worried that the world was judging me. By just stepping out the door, I felt like everyone could figure out my weakness (food!) and see my Achilles’ heel (well, myAchilles’ belly, in any case).
Of course, a lot of this thinking was ego-based. I mean, inhabitants of Tallahassee, Florida (where I lived at the time) were likely too busy living their own lives to really care that my girth was close to being assigned its own zip code. And yet, often times, their stares told me differently. Usually, once I would catch someone staring, we would both look to one another, acknowledge mutual shame and then look away. This would usually be followed by me making fun of their outfit (silently in my head) – anything to combat the torture I was sure they intended for me to suffer.
Again, a lot of this was drama I was creating for myself. And this drama was paralyzing. This is why I would usually shop for groceries late at night. After all, I knew the sight of a 400+ pound man shopping for food might be too much for some onlookers to bear. Luckily for me, there was a 24-hour Albertsons nearby. So late at night I would sneak out of my apartment and scurry over to the grocery store, trying to stay hidden from the world. And from myself.
But there was a reason this market was open 24-hours a day. It turns out other people liked to shop around the clock as well (although I was sure their reasons weren’t as important as mine).
I’ll never forget one late evening, while pushing my cart through the aisles of Albertsons. My bounty thus far included my usual picks: 1/2 very healthy, “diet”-type food along with 1/2 binge-worthy treats that I would use as a “last meal” before beginning that week’s diet. Thus, I would quickly wheel past anyone who happened to be in the same aisle as me.
This particular evening, I found myself in one aisle that was very crowded. It was the cereal aisle and I was picking out one ‘healthy’ and one ‘unhealthy’ cereal. When turning my cart to leave the aisle, I saw a bunch of shoppers on one end. Abort mission! I quickly turned my cart toward the opposite end of the aisle, horrified to see it was just as crowded. ‘Why must everyone like cereal as much as me?,’ I wondered.
I then swallowed hard, looked down (eye contact with anyone seeing my girth was forbidden, after all) and pushed my cart toward the end of the aisle. At one point, I passed a mom and her daughter. The little girl (around 6 or 7) made eye contact with me. There she was, this sweet, innocent cereal lover. So I risked everything and smiled at her. Much to my chagrin, she stared back blankly. I continued past her and her mom. But as I did, the girl screamed out to her mom, “Mommy! Mommy? Why does that man have boobs?”
Everyone – and I mean everyone – in that crowded aisle turned to look at the man with boobs (I was sporting facial hair at the time, so there was no denying I was male). I quickly made my way down the aisle, my hands gripping the cart while I held my breath, determined to slink away before every shopper saw my 44Bs. Or were they Double Ds?
After rounding the corner, I abandoned the cart and quickly left the market – getting into my Chevy Chevette and speedily racing home like a vampire fearing dawn’s first light. Once safe in my apartment, I wished that I had said something equally mean to the little girl – something that would have kept her up at night or, at the very least, made her pee her pants in front of all the other shoppers. I never did see her or her mother again. But I still went even further into hermit mode for the next several years.
I share this not to demonize – or even excuse – the little girl’s behavior. I share it because I know the agony of stepping into public with added girth. It’s our embarrassment and shame that not only keeps us from heading into public but also from actually taking the weight off. This is all part of the cycle of abuse that society offers and that we participate in. Looking back, I can see that the little girl wasn’t my worst enemy at the time. I was.
Nowadays I think back on my man boobs with pride and a big sense of humor. When appearing on The Today Show, I joked that I felt like I was nursing America when they flashed one of my shirtless “Before” pictures onscreen. It’s this kind of humor that can free us. No matter what size we are, it’s nothing to be embarrassed of. And it’s nothing that should keep us from shopping in public – or doing anything else in public for that matter (perhaps even exercising)… And it’s nothing that should keep us from loving and accepting ourselves. This kind of acceptance can be so freeing – and can help unblock the path to weight loss and good health once and for all.
Today, I have slightly-defined pecs from my years of working out (emphasis on slightly — LOL!). But look closely and you’ll see scars under my nipples from when I had excess skin around my chest (and elsewhere) cut away after losing and keeping off the excess weight. So I still think twice about being seen in a bathing suit in public. But then again, so do most people I know (even those odd ‘Thin all their lives’ people).
So wear your boobs proudly – no matter if you’re male or female, no matter if you’re in a “Before,” “During” or “After” phase. And for God’s sake, keep your sense of humor. After all, I may not have actual boobs anymore, but I’m still one of the biggest boobs you’ll ever meet.
Have you experienced something like this? If so, I want to hear about it. Not to be horrified. Not to be frightened. But to acknowledge, smile – and hopefully laugh – with you… One boob to another.