I stopped eating.
I had this growing body with absolutely no concept of how to control it. I felt like I was watching something from the other side of a screen, completely alien and at odds with myself. Coupled with a crippling fear of humiliation through sport and a culture where you ate everything on the plate and then some, I needed some discipline.
There was no middle ground go go through, the only change I felt I could effect was food. Skipping breakfasts, throwing away packed lunches. To this day I can recall a terrifying moment my father found the sandwiches I hadn’t eaten that lunchtime and I had thrown in the bin. Except I was so out of it I’m still not sure if it really happened or if I dreamt it.
It didn’t help that I could have stood to lose some weight. This was the boy who stuffed entire packets of frankfurters into a cupboard so he could eat in bed at night. People started complimenting my weight loss, but I didn’t feel beautiful or confident. I was primed and ready to fall into the arms of anyone who showed me the slightest bit of attention. So at the age of fifteen, with a new-found appetite for sneaking into clubs, I met my first boyfriend. He was twenty-three.
Six months later I was chewed up, spat out and I crawled back there on my knees begging for more, only to be chewed up and spat back out again. I had a notion that the epitome of my life would be the love of a man. Rupaul might sound cliché but there is so much truth. Nobody can love you until you love yourself.
I went back to the fridge. My university years were a series of fad diets and the wrong men. I smoked, I drank, I dyed my hair and pierced my lip. All sorts of desperate control over my fluctuating body. I did the lemonade diet, Atkins, vegetarianism. I shaved my head and turned into a goth. Anything to attract attention away from my skin. Every man that left did so with a closing statement they knew would sting. They called me fat, they told me they couldn’t bear to be close to me.
I remember one particular moment in a bar where after some flirting, the guy proceeded to tell me I should start doing cardio, that I was probably the type of guy to eat a second helping. He then went off and kissed some other guy. I don’t think I’ve had a more humiliating experience. In a way he was right, he just didn’t need to be so cruel. My stubbornness to not prove him right means the only place I ran to was the pantry. I was completely out of control.
The final straw came at work one day, when wearing a purple t-shirt someone laughed right at me and told me I looked like a Teletubby. I bought a step machine and worked out in my room, completely ashamed to be seen doing any form of exercise.
I moved back to Cardiff and started calorie counting. One day I woke up and decided I would run when no-one could see me. At 6am under cover of darkness I stumbled all e way to the end of the street. The next day I got a little bit further. I realised all it took was pig-headed determination and one foot in front of the other. A few weeks in I realised I loved it. It was a revelation. It wasn’t just the way I looked, I could leave my stress behind, I developed discipline, I felt great.
I didn’t stop eating but I got a bar job and between running and dashing around at work I lost a lot of weight. I went from 16 stone to about 9 stone, squeezing into 28″ trousers and armed with fashion magazines. I probably didn’t look the healthiest but I finally fit into clothes, I finally felt pretty.
Pretty isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.
“Hell no!” My friend Hayley hollered at me one day over coffee. “You didn’t look at me fat, don’t look at me skinny’.
I couldn’t have had better advice. The attention in the bar was ridiculous, but I was just a moment’s distraction to most of them. I was some airhead barman, a story to tell the next day. If I played the slightest hint of hard to get, they’d move on to someone else. The next day of the night before, all I did was console all the barmen who’d had their feelings hurt by some insensitive idiot who’d barely left an imprint on their pillow.
They called me the Ice Queen, I revelled in the misconception I was just a ditzy, haughty skinny boy and used it for my own amusement.
I changed jobs and filled out a little more, people started telling me I looked better that way. I felt better that way, I never imagined I would have thought that. I got to the verge of maybe filling out a touch too much, and did something I definitely would never have imagined. I joined a gym, and booked myself a personal trainer to show me the ropes.
There was nothing more terrifying to me than working out in front of a physically perfect specimen of a man, and revealing every insecurity I had. I completely lucked out. My personal trainer may have been a buffster, but he was also he sweetest most understanding person. One time I was having trouble doing push-ups and on the verge of tears. I looked up at the smirking steroidheads pulling at 100kg weights.
“Don’t even look at them” he said. “Those meatheads couldn’t even chase you down the stairs”.
I don’t think I have the perfect body, I still have my hang-ups. What’s a major achievement is looking in the mirror and not hating myself completely. Going to the gym and not feeling like I was less than nothing. Walking down the street and validating that someone isn’t staring for the wrong reasons.
I don’t have all the answers but I can tell you what I believe in. Find an exercise you enjoy, and focus on your wellbeing more than that v-shaped body. Don’t damage yourself and your health with fad diets. Wear clothes you love, turn up the headphones and do a little Vogue strut down the street. When someone tells you that you’re pretty, believe them. When someone tells you that you’re ugly, don’t. Surround yourself with the right people, anyone shallow enough to focus simply on your body won’t be around for the tough bits in life, believe me.
Hermoso or hermosa is a snarky spanish word for when someone has put on a few pounds.
Except it’s also the word for beautiful.