When I was 14, I was 5’2” tall and I weighed 220 lbs, and every day I woke up and had to go to school, I wanted to walk in front of a bus, and every day when I came home I wanted to walk in front of a bus, and I didn’t want to look myself in the mirror and I didn’t let people take pictures of me. Every year I went to the doctor for a checkup and I gained at least 20 lbs, and some years about 25 or 27 lbs, except one year when I only gained 17 lbs, and the pediatrician showed me the height/weight graph and for the first time my height/weight combo was actually on the graph instead off the graph. On the way home, my Mom was really happy and proud of me that I’d managed to gain so little weight that year, and I went home celebrated with a huge plate of chicken parmesan and spaghetti with meat sauce and cheese and bread and Diet Coke, a piece of cake and some cookies and Starburst before bed that my mom didn’t know about (Sorry, Mom if you are reading this right now).
Anyway, so I went to summer camp every year and got really into tennis because it was the sport I could play that didn’t have shirts and skins teams, and I swam in the lake at camp with my shirt on and told counselors that I didn’t want to get sunburned even though I am an olive-skinned guy and had been sunburned under only the most extreme solar conditions.
On days in school when the school conducted physicals in the gym, we were given a card and had to walk around the gym to all the different stations to get weighed and have our heights measured and our blood pressure taken and other stuff checked, and the staff would fill out our cards, and on those days I would either pretend to be too sick to go to school or go into the bathroom with my card and fill it out myself and wait like half an hour in the library so people wouldn’t suspect anything was up, and then just hand the card in so I wouldn’t have to walk around with my weight publicly displayed, even if it was just on a little card, not like written across my forehead, I don’t know what I would have told someone if they had asked to see my card and I would have had to show them and then they would have seen that I was 13 and weighed 200 lbs.
One year in middle school, I saw my friend Doug’s card and it said 90 lbs and my card said 180 lbs and I wanted to tell him I weighed as much as two hims, and laugh, but obviously I didn’t because it was too sad to laugh about and I didn’t say anything.
So every day on the walk to school I’d get a $1.59 bag of Dipsy Doodles (which was a huge bag) and a Starbucks bottled Frappucino to supplement my lunch, which was like a chicken parmesan sandwich or cheeseburger and french fries and a soda, and my parents didn’t keep any good-tasting food in the house so sometimes I’d get candy from the vending machine and hide it in my bag and eat it secretly before or after dinner or before bed. One time I heard my mom crying and telling my dad that she didn’t know what to do to help me, and I used to look in the mirror and think of what I would do or give away to be able to lose weight, like I would think to myself that I would literally amputate one of my legs to make the rest of my body thinner and other stuff like that, or I wished I was too poor to be able eat that much, honestly. I played a lot of tennis and walked a lot and every time I exercised I’d reward myself with food so it was negated.
When you are fat, and you eat a lot, you don’t start off by eating huge portions of individual foods right away, or at least I didn’t — I started eating a little of one food, like one cookie with lunch, and I’d eat one cookie with lunch for a long time and then one day I’d be like, “What the heck, two cookies please,” and then the next day I’d go back to one cookie because two cookies seemed like an indulgence and then the day after that two cookies again because really what’s the practical difference between one and two cookies right? Or between medium and large? And then one cookie again, and then two cookies and then two cookies and two cookies for a long time, I’d promise myself, “Two cookies is the most I’m gonna have with lunch EVER,” and then one day I’d just say three cookies, because, hey, what is the difference between two cookies and three right? And it’s just one day right? And then the next day I’d get two cookies and be proud of myself for eating just two and then the day after that I’d get three to reward myself for having only two the day before, and then it would be three for a long time after that. Portions grow gradually because you are trying to not gain weight.
Another thing about being fat for me is that on one hand it felt like it was totally my fault and I was the one eating two or three burgers as dinner or three slices of pizza because that was what I was choosing and I hated myself for it, and on the other hand I felt like I had almost no control over what I ate and I needed three cookies and if I restricted how much I ate at one meal, I would feel like I owed myself an overindulgence at another meal, and there is a more complex psychology to overeating than that but you get what I’m saying, right? But there is no one else to blame except yourself and I’m sure a lot of fat people would find it condescending if you said they didn’t have that total agency in their overeating but I know that’s what it was like for me. Being a conscious and ongoing victim of yourself is maybe worse than being someone else’s victim because at least you can blame them and know there’s something wrong with them, but in this case, you just know there’s something wrong with you.
And then one day I was on the bus up to summer camp after freshman year of high school and I was reading Stupid White Men by Michael Moore because I was 14 and that was where my politics were, and there’s a chapter about being a vegetarian in the book and I obviously needed to make a drastic change in my life, so I decided to become a vegetarian on the spot and threw out my salami sandwich at a rest stop and told the other kids I had been a vegetarian for six months so they wouldn’t be cynical or doubt my resolve when I said I didn’t eat meat. And then I used being a vegetarian as a way to not eat almost anything — I’d say, “Oh, chicken patties for dinner tonight? I can’t eat that but it’s okay, I’m not hungry anyway,” and my motto was, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and I don’t know how I summoned the willpower to not eat but I was not eating as voraciously as I was eating before that. Losing weight became effortless and I felt a sort of ecstatic peace that maybe like monks feel, but I didn’t care if I fainted because at least girls would talk to me if I was thinner and I could play basketball or ultimate frisbee like a regular kid. My first girlfriend, junior year in high school, called me Rocawear because that was the only brand of clothing I’d been able to fit into — I was like a XXXL and had to get my sweatpants hemmed.
I am not telling you all of this so you will feel bad for me because I lost a bunch of weight and am now of normal weight and there is nothing here left to feel bad for, and I am sorry if you are thinking I told you all of this so you will feel bad for me, but there is no other way to tell this story and it’s gonna be music-blog relevant in 30 seconds.
So when I was in high school, my girlfriend’s mom said she was an alcoholic and I asked my girlfriend if she drank like every day and my girlfriend said she hadn’t had a drink since 1985, and being fat is sort of like the same thing — like when you are fat during formative years you will always think of yourself as fat, or maybe it was just me, but like eventually no matter how skinny I could ever be I will probably still feel really fat and Ihave never had an unconflicted relationship with food and have made peace with the fact that I will pretty much think about my weight consciously every day for the rest of my life but I wanted to say that as easy as it is to blame fat people for being fat, it’s not really right, or it’s superficially “correct” because no one is putting a gun to anyone’s head and saying “eat.”
But there is so much more going on in the mind of the man who’s sitting in front of you on the train who weighs 415 lbs and is eating a Whopper with extra cheese and a large fries and a large Coke and even if you want to slap that food out of his hands and shake his shoulders and say, “Stop killing yourself!,” you might be missing the point. And not even in a “Society makes poor people fat by providing only cheap unhealthy food options” way (although that’s true too), because there’s more going on on a personal level. Literally I could not stop eating and all I wanted to do was stop eating since before I can remember, and blaming fat people for “choosing” to be fat sort of misses the point and it’s a condition that deserves compassion, and I don’t mean that condescendingly because nobody wants to be pitied but there’s a difference between pity and understanding. For instance, you know a heroin addict would probably stop using heroin if they could flip a switch to turn the heroin need off and it’s easy to vilify the heroin addict or fat person but food is as addictive as drugs. If you ask the 415 lb. man on the train if he thinks his lunch is a ludicrous lunch he might tell you it would have felt like a ludicrous lunch ten years ago, but today it feels like a rational lunch, just like the guy with the $50/day percocet addiction or cocaine addiction would feel like something was missing with only $35 of percocet or cocaine even though that would be enough to lay me or you out.
So anyway, the reason I was fat was not because I was poor and could only afford cheap food, like my mom kept all snackfood out of my house and stocked the fridge with fresh vegetables and fruit and made me healthy meals that I could circumvent at school, and my parents chided me into not eating so fast so I would feel full sooner and always tried to get me to eat healthy and paid for me to exercise almost every day through tennis lessons and made sure I walked a lot, but I think that me and a lot of other overweight people feel an unusually strong consumptive instinct — I can just say I felt uncomfortable when I wasn’t consuming a lot, and I still feel that way and when I do stuff I like to do, I do it a l lot.
And so in the vein of alcoholics often replacing their consumption of alcohol with consumption of something else like cigarettes or the Bible, I came home from camp and was afraid that I would be plunged into circumstances where I used to eat a lot and it would trigger me eating a lot again, but instead of food I came home from camp and started downloading music more and reading about it, especially Pitchfork obviously, obsessively and every day like I used to eat, and I could download records and add them to my iTunes all day every day after school instead of eating, and I started going to concerts every weekend and buying CDs and instead of rushing to the kitchen after dinner for dessert I’d rush back to my computer to see if anything new had come out, and I would download and download and add and add and that became what satisfied my need to consume and consume. I’d just download whole discographies of bands I knew I’d probably never listen to. Anything anyone mentioned, I would find, and if I couldn’t find it after a while I’d just buy the physical CD, and honestly, all of this may be unique to my psychology, but I’d bet that there are a lot of people who used to be really overweight who replaced the consumption of food with the consumption of something else and this wouldn’t sound that crazy to them.
Downloading music became like buying or ordering food, and hearing it became like tasting and chewing and swallowing, and thinking about it is like digesting. Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I heard that record, but I still need a few more listens to digest it, you know?” That’s how I feel all the time.
And if it wasn’t for the ability to download as much music as I needed to be satisfied, and I know this might all sound crazy to someone who it hasn’t happened to, but it is what I went through and how I still feel, I probably would just have gone back to food or done drugs and I would have either weighed (and this is a conservative estimate based on gaining only 20 lbs/year which was much lower than average) 380 lbs right now and died from that very soon. Downloading music literally has saved my life.
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