Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thin? Fat? GOOD!

I don't know what got me going on this subject today: frustration over my own endless shape-shifting, the fact that my body or spirit can't quite decide what I should weigh so I veer incessantly back and forth between thin-clothes and fat-clothes? Or something like that. And I do confess I watch those weight loss "reality" shows, most recently Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition with that smarmily obnoxious cheerleader of fitness, Chris Powell.

It seems there's been a long history of flesh-creeping fitness guys, from Jack LaLanne onward. We won't even get into Richard Simmons, a being so strange we wonder if he's the same species as the rest of us.  But we're hooked on extreme weight loss stories, for sure.

A few years back there was a very bizarre reality show about an obesity clinic - damned if I remember the name of it, but what sticks in my mind was the fact that there were no rules in this place at all. Patients could, and did, order pizza delivered to their rooms (not even having to get up to pay for it) at any time of the day or night.

Hardly anyone lost weight, and no one kept it off. The patients spent most of their time whining about how crappy the food was (and such small portions!). It's true, the meals looked wretched, limp and colorless, like they had been put through the deflavorizing machine. One man stood out, a real whiner among whiners: he had become famous years ago for losing a tremendous amount of weight under Richard Simmons' squealy guidance. Over several years, all the weight came back again, and then some. There was an excruciating scene where Simmons came back to visit his "friend" and badgered and nagged him about what he should be doing to lose the weight. When Simmons left, the man felt completely abandoned and full of rage.

Why do I link all this to Chris Powell? The obnoxious, musclebound, smarmy-voiced, sometimes stampy-footed and petulant gym lizard who almost literally whips massively obese people into submission on his show? Well, he wouldn't have a show at all without one particular person. This was one David Smith, a young man completely immobilized in flesh and so sucked dry of hope that he looked almost catatonic.  What happened was, somehow or other Our Lady of the Fat Guys must've intervened and called Chris over.

A very strange relationship ensued. These two guys, well. . . they seemed to have an unnaturally close relationship. Lived together, trained together, ate together, and constantly slapped each other on the back with face-hidden-in-the-neck, soulful hugs.

And thus a TV phenomenon was born: 650 lb. Virgin. This was a blow-by-blow account (don't read too much into that) of David's spectacular transformation from a man shipwrecked in his own body to a, hey, not-bad-looking-sort-of guy, a guy who now got emails from real babes and who only weighed something over 200 pounds.

I can't go into it all, it would take all night, but the point I am working up to is, David Smith is shown right at the beginning of Extreme Makeover: but only for a second. I hadn't heard anything about Smith in ages, so I tried to find some updated information about  his life, two years or so after the massive and very public weight loss that made him a reality TV star.

Woops. There was nothing.

I had heard murmurings about him "gaining back 30 pounds". But nothing to hold on to. A former personal web site was "down", with a nice sign saying it had "stepped out" for a while.

Then I found it: a tiny notation on his Facebook page that seemed to speak volumes.

"I went from 650 lbs. to 229 lbs. to 455 lbs. . .My quality of life right now is deplorable. I feel I have let down many people. . . I can blame my weight gain on many factors, but in the end I am still 455 lbs. and I need to do something about it. Wish me luck, but all I need is to prepare and conquer and be a role model again."

One can hear the weariness, the crushing sadness in this man who had such a heavy load to carry in terms of people's expectations. One web site described David's triumph as "the epitome of the great American Success Story. For a nation in midst of struggles, confusion, and a loss of identity, the story of David Smith inspires us to be better than we are! It all just goes to show that changing our ways as well as our words can lead to a better future."

Jesus, who in hell could ever live up to that??!

I once read the statistic that 95% of people who lose weight gain it back, and then some. This applies equally to those who have lost massive amounts, whipped on by opportunistic parasites like Chris Powell who has somehow, mysteriously, we don't know how, but somehow-or-other, lost touch with David Smith.

No more back-slapping, carb-obsessing, and wiping each other's sweat off the gym equipment. The guy has abandoned ship. Meantime, he's got his own show now! Who needs David Smith when every week he can roll a new behemoth onstage and begin to badger and scream at them until they shape up. I wonder if anyone realizes that Chris Powell has become a reality TV superstar in his own right by climbing on his former colleague's back. Without David Smith, he'd still be leading aerobics classes in a high school gym.

I don't really want to get into the jaw-dropping extremes Powell goes to, including some really dangerous stunts like forcing a hugely obese woman to put on a 75-pound fireman's outfit and climb about 300 stairs in a cement tower on a day when the temperature was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. When she collapses halfway up, Powell lets her take the uniform off before she finishes the job.

I don't know, it's all this transformation stuff. This myth of one, two, three, you're different, a different person in fact, with none of the sludge of your old personality adhering to you to slow you down. You're a whole new man or woman. Reborn! And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

What's that? Do I hear singing?: "The hills are alive with the sound of bullshit."

The fact that David Smith has had a massive regain is not surprising, nor is the fact that he seems to have gone underground. I am surprised he was that candid on his Facebook page. I can only imagine the loneliness and shame that must be following him around, particularly since he has become so recognizable, such a celebrity. God help him if he has gone back to hiding in the house again: anything but that. Though on one site he says he has a girl friend, she "grocery shops for me, helps me write out my meal plans and frequently preps food for me. We also work out together on a regular basis." Sounds like a substitute for Chris Powell (or Mom).

People change, yes, they do, but some core of them remains the same. Emotionally broken people do not become whole by suppressing the symptoms of their anguish. When I first saw David Smith on the 650 lb. Virgin show, he told a horrifying story of how he had reached the very bottom of his endurance and decided to commit suicide. This is a transcript from one of the many web sites touting David as a sort of Second Coming of weight reduction.

"My social disorder got a hundred times worse. I could not go out in public without feeling like the elephant man. When I went out in public everybody stared, pointed, made comments to each other, and even laughed behind my back. Sometimes, they even laughed in my face. I felt ashamed every time I stepped outside my door, just like the shame I felt when I was molested. I felt anger for people, like I felt anger for my abusive friend. I hated you all. I felt that everybody thought of me as a joke, that I was put on this earth to entertain you all. My soul was in agony every time I would try to sleep I could hear it moan. My heart was turning evil and I was going insane. I started talking to myself because I had no one to talk to. I could go a week and only speak once or twice to a family member.

I couldn’t go on living anymore, so I felt that suicide was my only option. This is where my social disorder kept me from killing myself. At this point in my life I couldn’t even step outside in my backyard until it was dark out. I was so afraid of being made funof, I thought that if I did kill myself, maybe the police and mortuary people would make fun of my body. I didn’t want to be a joke in death as I was in life. I postponed it until I came up with a way to kill myself and not leave a body. I thought of many ways to end it but, I picked fire. It was a perfect plan. I would buy a plastic swimming pool and some gasoline. My death would be painful because that is what I thought I deserved. I even picked a spot on the map - a dry lake bed called the Painted Rock Reservoir. I wanted to be as far away as possible from my home because I didn’t want my ghost to haunt my house...I had already haunted it for twenty years. Instead, I wanted to haunt the desert. When I lit myself on fire as planned, maybe my screams could be heard in the city, maybe my screams would let me be free from my pain, maybe I would be like a phoenix and be reborn in my flames and ashes."

This was one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen. It would trivialize this kind of horrific emotional pain to blame it on the humiliation of being too fat (even THAT much too fat). I think this howl of rage and abandonment has its roots in the extreme trauma of sexual violation, which I know from personal experience can be completely soul-destroying. And it doesn't go away, just as your self doesn't: everywhere you go, there you are. It's the essential human dilemma, the burden we all must carry no matter what size we are.

People heal, they change, they go on to live, to experience new things. But humans evolved to remember. We carry hurts within us, and they make us do things we don't understand, like eat gargantuan amounts of food and become afraid to leave the house.

But my point (and hey, were you thinking there wasn't one?) is that society grabs on to bodily transformation as a quick fix and a great myth to latch on to. We love "triumphs" and "conquests", not the daily, daily, daily grind of maintaining a fundamental, extremely difficult change of lifestyle. But we need heroes, mythic figures who have slain the dragon once and for all. David Smith didn't just lose a whole bunch of weight: people were saying he would somehow turn the entire country around.

This is such collossal bullshit that I think in a funny sort of way, it was healthy of him to take some of that weight back on-board. Maybe he's saying - it's just possible, I think - hey, people - assholes! - I'm more than some TLC freak or minion of Chris Powell and his evil cheerleading squad. I am ME, and I'm me whether I weigh 200 or 300 or 400 or 500 or 9,000 pounds. I am me whether I am thinner than a transparent stringbean, or fatter than a supernova. I am me whether I fall off the wagon or get back on the wagon, or blow up the wagon with dynamite.

Before he lost all that weight, David Smith was a ticking time bomb ready to detonate, to literally explode into flames. And he's still that way, and will be until he can get at some of the buried horror in his past and begin to approach it with a flame-retardant suit on, along with the guidance of someone who can lead him through his emotional wilderness into some sort of authentic breakthrough in personal identity.

And you know what?  It won't be Chris Powell.


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