Wednesday, June 2, 2010

ten rippling pounds

As embarrassing as it is to admit it, I am gaining weight. I am doing it on purpose, too. But not like my friend Josh, when he decided to see how much he could gain in one day eating only Burger King Hamburgers (Twelve Pounds!). If I was doing that, I'd be bursting not only with burgers, but with pride. Because, c'mon... TWELVE POUNDS!?! That's flippin' amazing!

However, I'm not doing anything wonderful like that. Nope, I am gaining weight for selfish, vain, hypocritical reasons.

See, back in high school, when all my friends were hitting puberty and I was reading a lot of books and obsessing about how I was not hitting puberty, I decided that I needed to be happy with who I was. Everyone is different, after all, and someone has to pose for the "before" pictures in all those Atlas Weightlifting Ads in the middle of the Archie Comic Books. Besides, muscles shrink with age and bones become brittle, so it's foolish to look for identity and worth in something as stupid as a physical archetype, and blah blah blah and so on and so forth, and a whole bunch of other things that are very, very true.

And yet...

And yet I persisted in not liking my body and extrapolating that sentiment out into a nagging dislike of my whole Self.

Not always, mind you, and definitely not in every way. I did learn to like myself, somewhat, for who I was. I learned that I could do things that many muscle-bound dudes could not (such as, use words like "extrapolating" in a sentence); and in time I even began to accept that my ultimate value would never be found in what I did, or what I looked like, or who my friends were. I realized that my value was already there, because I was a unique individual, bearing a truly lovely Divine Stamp all over my God-Awesome self. It is one thing, however, to rationally accept a principle as true. It is quite another to feel it, consistently, on an everyday level.

The past year has taught me a lot about being fake. I have learned that I do it regularly, and that I don't have to. So instead of denying that I still think of myself as a little runt and pretending that I do not care when the big boys shove me around with their big boy muscles, I decided to do something about it. I decided to gain ten pounds. Not a big deal, really - ten pounds. But you gotta understand that I have weighed the same for the past ten years. It hasn't mattered if I ate like a horse or a sparrow, did manual labor or taught in a classroom... through some weird, freak-of-nature self-balancing metabolism, I have been Mister Buck-Forty forever.

So I decided to take responsibility. I decided that I should stop lying about my feelings and proactively work towards change. I began to do a few exercises at home (pushups, chinups, etc) wearing a weight vest that a student bought for me, and I began to eat more food and to drink protein shakes after exercising. I decided I would do this for six months, and if at that point my body still insisted I had no business getting any bigger, I would give up.

Ten pounds is nothing, I know. You can gain that in a day, eating burgers. But for me, ten pounds is significant in three ways. First, it is a way to acknowledge to myself that I have been lying about being all right with the way I look. Second, it is a symbol of choice - a realization that I am not the helpless victim of fate. I have been given the incredible gift of freedom, and I can use it. And Third, it is an admission that if I do not begin to be intentional about caring for my body at the age of thirty, I will regret it later on.

Not lying, making choices, and caring for your body are good things, right? So why, you might wonder, am I embarrassed to admit it?

I guess it is because in so doing, I have to admit imperfection. Although anyone can look at me and see that I am not a Greek god with the body of Adonis, it smarts to speak those words out loud in a culture that says that brawn is an essential part of what it means to be a man. I'm a bit smaller than average, and no matter how much reason and truth say otherwise, I still breathe the air of a society that believes that this makes me a bit less manly than average.

It is more than just masculine insecurity, though. As a human being, I am a study in contradiction and am as vain as the next guy. There are a great many wonderful things I see in myself - things that I often (foolishly) believe are the result of my own superb character. I got skills, baby, skills. So I don't think that is it, entirely.

Rather, the main reason I am embarrassed to admit that I am actively trying to gain ten pounds is that I am aware that this is a form of hypocrisy. I have essentially chosen to spend a significant amount of time and money on something that I firmly believe to be a vanity*. I am not a serious athlete, training for some event or contest. I'm just a guy with a complex who is trying to get over it - which strikes me as selfish and pathetic and also a wee bit stupid-dumb. Folks are starving out there, and here I am making strawberry banana protein shakes and sweating all over my kitchen floor.

As embarrassed as I am, though, I am still going to do it, and take it to be a good thing.

I know it won't actually work - ten pounds will still leave me smaller than average, and ten pounds will not fix my insecurity issues. You cannot resolve what is essentially a problem of the soul with what would seem to be a purely physical remedy. Still, body and soul are connected in a great many mysterious ways that I certainly can't comprehend, and it is just possible that I might be able to turn this work that I am doing and the food that I am eating into a sort of prayer and a sacrament - a way of regularly admitting my own hypocrisy and self-absorption. If I can make this a practice of confession, perhaps I will end up with a healthier sense of who I am as a unique facet of the reflected light of God.

And biceps. Rippling biceps.

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*I would like to make it perfectly clear that I think that working out for the purposes of health and fitness is a fabulous idea. My motivation, however - to gain ten pounds - is ridiculous. It takes SO much food to make ten pounds of muscle.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for including me in your post. Warmed my heart. Dave and I started lifting weights about 6 months ago and it's been good. I'd really encourage you to get a second person and plan to do it 3 nights a week. Then peer pressure will motivate you vs. just trying to reach your goal. Worked well for Tjoelker and me, keeping us on schedule.

    As you eluded, 6 months or ten pounds isn't going to reinvent your body. But I guarantee you'll be glad you did it. You've been at 140 for 10 years! 150 will feel like a whole new you, physically. And besides, then big jocks won't be able to pick you up in the dorms and push you against the corner of a wall! -Slosh

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  2. Good advice, Slosh. Except, I'm at two months now without stopping just doing it alone, and it's a lot more convenient. Besides, sometimes Mateo works out with me. He thinks it's a game, I think.

    Dang! If you're working out, too, then I'll never catch up enough to come and beat you senseless. I guess I'll just have to keep pretending to be a pacifist so I have a moral reason to not get worked over :)

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  3. A guy I dated in college (self-described as "svelte") wrote a column for our school paper on the tyranny of the "V-shaped man" ideal. I wish I'd kept a copy, it was pretty hilarious - and also heartfelt.

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