Since I was a child, authority figures have consistently told me that being “thin” is good, and that being fat was “ugly” and “unhealthy”. I remember a conversation with a teacher I had when I was in pre-school. She asked me what my favorite part of the chicken was. I said that I liked the skin! She said to me, “No, that’s bad. You’ll get fat.”
As I grew up, I wasn’t really a sporty kid, so I developed a belly. Adults from my family constantly told me to exercise, which I understand is decent advice. It’s never to early to begin taking care of your own health. Of course I ought to have been more active as a kid, but the way it got to me was: “When I was your age, I was much thinner. I felt good about myself and everyone liked it.” To them, the reason I was chubbier was because I watched too much TV, or spent too much time sitting down and reading, or spent too much time on the computer. “When we were your age, children got out and played more.” It was always my fault.
I’ve been on the border of overweight, and I’ve also been underweight. At either side, people have told me to be another. When I was chubbier, people told me to lose weight. When I was underweight, people told me to eat more. There seems to be a small window that people want me to fit through, some kind of odd perfection that, genetically, I might never achieve. Pop-culture and people who have won the genetic lottery have told me in faux-inspirational speeches that I can transcend the God-given form of my worm-food body. They say all I need is a 14-day cereal diet. Or I should give up rice. Or I should probably not eat. And then when I’m too thin, I should eat more. “Here, have a whole cake. Your scrawny body can afford it.”
When I was in high school, I developed apthous ulcers in my throat and tonsils, which made it difficult to eat or breathe. So, I used up all my stored baby fats and got extremely thin. Teachers were actually asking me if I was an adik (drug addict). And then in college, I slowly gained back my weight. After college, I went on TV and the camera added tons, so that wasn’t particularly good. I distinctly remember this line, when they were introducing me: “Mapapakita kaya ni Carl na mas artistahin pa siya sa ibang mga lalaki?” (“Can Carl prove that he has more star-power than the other boys?”) I’m aware of the limits of my body, but because I knew that I had something to show despite not being mestizo (fair-skinned), despite not having abs, despite not being totally camera-genic like the other boys, I pushed on. But it was a good wake-up call.
I’m not making excuses for not exercising. I’m not saying I shouldn’t be more careful with the food I eat. In fact, the last time I had my cholesterol checked, it was too high that going on a diet wasn’t going to cut it. I had to take pills every night. That was it, I thought. I’ve got to do something. I’m still young, and I would like to spend the rest of my life without the limits of a neglected body. I’m going to be with this hunk of meat for the rest of my life anyway, I might as well listen to it. Not for you, not for anyone else, not so that I fit the cookie-cutter version of what a human being should look like. I’m doing it for me, so that I could do more and live more.
I want to look good for me, and I will push the limits of my body because it is my body, and it is the way I interact with the world. I would like for it to be in top shape, because like a hammer or drill, if it works great, I will be able to do more things without quickly running out of breath. I am aware that being “healthier” affects my head, and that if I lack the proper nutrients, my mind won’t be able to function properly. Hunger affects my moods, and I would rather feel good and well-fed than hungry but “thin”. I heard of artistas (celebrities) who eat like a bird. I don’t want to eat like a bird! I would rather eat like a human being, thanks very much! I will eat what I want! Screw the calorie count! As long as I’m healthy, why would I deprive myself of the occasional treat?
On the issue of health: while it may be true that heavier people face significant health risks, it’s also true that they aren’t the only ones facing health risks. We’re all facing health risks everyday–all kinds of people. I’ve known of non-smokers who have gotten lung cancer and “thin” people who have died of heart disease. We will all die. Bodies wilt and rot. Exercising for the sake of vanity is futile. Botox injections and tubs of glutathione and liposuction will not make us immortal–though there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good for the sake of looking good. Go ahead. It’s just that supermodels grow old and their skins sag. Maintaining youthful good looks would be easier as a preserved corpse, but living every day with a functioning, well-oiled, well-maintained machine of a body might be far more satisfying in the long run.
Who knows? I can only hope to keep this body in top working condition so that I can do other things before it becomes actual worm food.