When I was twelve years old, I offered my soul to Satan for the chance to be slim.
This was, of course, when I still had a distinct and fearful belief in the devil (and in god Himself), and as such, spoke tomes about my level of self-loathing and desire for, if not a sexy body, at least a normal one. I didn’t really know much about Satanism as a concept or actuality, and this was both before our house had an internet connection and before I was old enough to bike down to the local library (the Glen Eira library, that held a bi-monthly Torah reading and probably had no concerns (or books about) my fantasy devil: a six foot tall lothario with red skin, firey eyes, a six pack, horns and goat legs.) All of this meant that, whilst I knew conceptually that one could offer one’s soul to Satan in exchange for his goods and/or services, I didn’t really know how one would go about making this transaction. I only knew what I’d seen on TV: predominantly Hercules: The Legendary Journies, Xena: Warrior Princess and a couple of rambunctious children’s shows.
One afternoon, left home alone during school holidays, I sneak out and, heart racing, pull the old bonfire drum out from the shed. My father had, about a year earlier, found the inside of a washing machine by the side of the road and, sensing it might be useful for something, had returned with a trailer to pick it up and later mount it on top of a metal base. I drag the sacrificial fire drum to a small brick altar in front of my family’s rotting basketball headboard and leave it dead centre like a rusty bullseye. Then, I rip up a collection of Mum’s old magazines and Dad’s newspapers, rolling them up as we learnt to in Scouts so that they’d burn longer and hold more oxygen. I then head inside to retrieve the matches and, using a sharpie marker on a piece of my mother’s scrap paper (used mostly for shopping lists and notes to herself, occasionally for inspirational quotes from recent films she’s seen or books she’d read). I pause, my hands electric and hovering, felt tip pen to paper. I write in thick black ink, my heart spasming from the excitement and terror of it all:
I head outside, hands still trembling and clutching the piece of paper warily, placing it on the ripped up newspaper. I wait for perhaps five minutes, silently daring myself to do the deed. Then – my brain suddenly bored with this game, somehow knowing that either way I’m going to go ahead with it so I may as well just Do It – in one smooth movement I strike a match and drop it, lit, into the centre of the paper. I watch with anxiety as the paper curls and blackens, its edges quickly disappearing with neon orange and blood red vibrancy. I accidentally inhale a ream of black smoke, and back off, coughing and spluttering. I am quietly disappointed that Satan himself hadn’t appeared in a puff of colour and smoke like the guest star demon of the week on Charmed.
The next morning I am less quietly displeased that I still remain overweight. Like a butterball Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, I stand naked in front of the mirror and pull, heaving, at my fat.
GO AWAY. I think, my eyes morphing into hateful squints. YOU AREN’T WELCOME HERE. The thought of diet and exercise, at this point, doesn’t seem like a viable option (or else otherwise seems like way too much work).
Later that day we’re on a family trip to Southland Shopping Centre, and I am even more infuriated that the automatic doors unseal as I step before them, sliding quietly and coolly open, allowing me to access the shopping mall delights within. When Bart on The Simpsons sold his soul, the doors didn’t recognise that he was there.
That’s it, I think. It mustn’t have worked. I must still be ensouled.
Then, some hours later, at dinner: Or, maybe it did work, but the souls of fat people are worth less.
My body and I have always had a tumultuous relationship, and it’s only recently that I’ve actually begun to look at myself in the mirror and say: “Hey! You’re okay. You’re not obese.” For all the exercising – for all my compulsive weight loss (three or four times, now – the first time the worst, and the others just defined attempts to lose a bit more weight and be decidedly skinny instead of just maintaining a healthy, average weight) – and the hard facts of standing on the bathroom scale, seeing the numbers in the sixties or seventies – I have felt like something of a fraud. Like that clichéd old phrase: “inside of her, there’s a thin person waiting to get out!” but in cruel reverse: inside of me, there’s a fat person, and he’s just waiting ‘till he’s hungry enough to reacquaint himself with the world.
It is 2007, and my body is in a state of progressive evolution as I change my eating habits and begin to regularly attend the gym. I am running on a treadmill, sweaty and in pain, what remains of my belly (I’m now merely Chubby instead of all-out Fat) swinging around under the sweat-soaked gym t-shirt that swathes my body. As I run, a gentleman with biceps on his thighs and arms the size of trucks steps into view and begins to lift weights approximately the size of a small Ugandan village; body pulsing with the effort. As he slams the weights back down to the ground, his bulge seems to backflip within the confines of his pornographic gym shorts. In return, my own bulge bursts excitedly to life, as they tend to do at age 19. I watch his body grow moist and humid with sweat, and ripple as he tries out different dead-lifts, my eyes occasionally running from his muscular frame to my own soft visage in the mirror; face flushed and hair on end, eyes rolling back into my body as try my darndest to reach the kilometre goal my personal trainer has laid out for me. And I think:
Who am I doing this for?
Is this for me? Is this so I can be like that guy?
Nah, probably not. Though that’d be nice, I guess?
To attract someone. You’re doing this to attract someone? So you won’t be alone?
A pause, and my brain thinks it over. Then:
And about six months later, and I’m not fat or chubby. I am standing naked in my childhood bedroom with a haphazard erection (give or take a fluff or two) and an old digital camera, trying to look coy and mischievous into the lens but not straight at it lest the flash go off and make me look like a meth addict raccoon desperate for intercourse.
On the open screen of my laptop is an MSN window. In that MSN window is a single word:
I’ve been chatting with this boy – also confused, also a homosexual, also young – for a few months now, and aside from the occasional MySpace profile picture – always from a high angle, taken down, face leaning away from the camera – we hadn’t “done anything”. Then, approximately two hours earlier, he’d come home from a family function, drunk on champagne and parental displeasure and had started something:
I’d pretended to be as drunk as he was and as such I played along, not really enjoying the 120 minutes worth of tepid internet-sex, and then the dreaded question – the word that still haunts me (and my latent self esteem) whirring about my skull in preternatural excitement and judgment.
After five minutes I reply:
soz, was just answerin the phone
And then ten minutes of naked calisthenics on my single bed, attempting desperately to make myself look natural and casual and sexual all at once.
An hour later and I’ve finally taken the photograph – my face looks good, my arse looks good, and shadows are covering my imagined fat bits. My internet friend is offline, now, because I’ve taken so long, but I send the photo anyway.
Four days later. In all likelihood he’d logged on at some point to be accosted by my naked frame, an unexpected, unexplained memory bubbling beneath his brain’s surface. But my brain itself took it elsewhere – to a dark place. A dark, shameful, body-hating place.
My brother – a high school swimmer and sports lover – to me, the year 2000:
“You know, I read somewhere that if you don’t lose weight your dick won’t grow. So, you should watch out for that. At least you’re still young.”
Haven’t had any complaints yet.
There is no specific time period for these, only a wave of barbs flying around my head, here and there, persistent and aggressive and spanning from the mid nineties to today.
Things my father has said to me to make me feel like shit because of the way that I looked:
- “Oh, come on.” (At me eating).
- “You’re disgusting.”
- “Stop eating.”
- “Look at yourself.”
- “Do you really need it?” (After asking “does anyone want dessert?”)
- “You’re a blob.”
- “Because you’re a fat fucking blob!”
And there are many others, of course, but these are the ones I can remember. A “best of”, if you will.
It is 2010, now, and he is fat, along with my brother. And I am not. And I am angry. What initially stood as simple schadenfreude has morphed into something else. Because they never got attacked. They were never judged. Indeed, they did the attacking and judging. And I’m supposed to be okay with it, now; to just move on. And...
And it is 2014 and I am in hospital, with a severe brain injury, still in the very, very early stages of my recovery. A kind nurse – Funde – has been encouraging me to feed myself; to get used to independence. The only issue is that my left side is struck with weakness, and I am a left handed individual. This, of course, means that I regularly spill my food on myself and onto my hospital gown; hands shaking with the frustration and weakness of a brain injury patient.
My father, on my eating (and my finding my own inability to speak correct sentences endlessly amusing): “he’s doing it on purpose.”
My father, to Jeremy or my mother, at some point: “he’d better watch out. If he keeps eating this way he’s gonna put all that weight back on.”
My German doctor to my parents, about my eating: “Oh, yes, brain injury patients need a lot of sugar and carbohydrates to help refuel the body after something so awful and shocking happening to it. People with brain injuries often have less self control than you’d expect from a normal person, too.”
My mother, back in Australia: “weigh up all the good things and the bad things he’s done and I think you’ll find the good things win. I just want this family to get along.”
And I am standing in one of the private bathrooms at Spandau hospital, finally accepting the hospital weight I’ve gained and attempting to come to terms with it. “Coming to terms with it” means, in this sense, standing buck naked and grabbing handfuls of doughy flesh from around my frame and pulling, twisting, smooshing it all together. Apparently the pain of the car crash wasn’t enough.
The next day, as lunch comes, I attempt to say “no thank you”, but something bigger than me reaches out, accepts the tray, and quietly and calmly says: Eat the food, dipshit. You need it to live.
And this is what gets me. I’m not allowed to be angry, but he’s allowed to casually bring up every hurt and strain – every attack on my person because of my person; everything he and his son have done and said, everything the terrible immature bullies in high school have done, everything I’ve done to myself when neither my family nor schoolmates were around to judge me or make me feel like shit.
And this is what gets me. I’m supposed to just be “okay”, to forgive, to let it all go. I’m being immature because I can’t let go of every hateful, unnecessary thing that was said to me. Spat at me. But hey, if they hadn’t said it, I wouldn’t have to forget it.
And this is what gets me. That other members of my family get to comfortably discuss the mechanics and size of my body, tell me what they think looks best on my frame, tell me whether I'm looking thin or bigger or healthy or skinny or anything, and though it's not an attack, it hurts just the same, and don't they realise that?
Some time in the early two thousands, while I was still participating in Scouts, I found and purchased with pocket money a L’oreal hair lightening cream. You were supposed to put it in every time you showered, and after a few weeks you’d be blessed with an array of golden highlights throughout your locks, with a “natural and exciting” look.
I used this cream for about a month, but each time I looked – first with youthful impatience straight after the first dose had been washed through, then weekly after that – my hair looked exactly the same. Each time I’d see someone I hadn’t seen for a while, they’d raise their eyebrows with surprise at my hair, and comment - “Great hair, wow! So blonde!” - and I’d smile and nod and put them in the “liar” friendship pile in my head, because I knew – I could see, with my eyes – that my hair was as brown as ever.
Some months later – after I’d abandoned the hair lightening adventures – I had a disposable camera printed out. On it were a few photos from the thick of this time, and I was shocked to see in the photographs a boy with an extreme blonde do – a shock of hair that if I hadn’t had known better, would’ve sworn was peroxided.
Guess it did work, then.
And this is my relationship with my body. I can look at it, but I can’t really look at it, until one day the lies in my head float away and I see myself for what I really am, in that moment.
I’ve begun a new game with myself. I’m afraid it makes me look terribly self-obsessed, and I suppose I am (though not in the way where I think I’m handsome or wonderful), but here goes. Every time I walk past a mirror, I force myself to look into it. (I have previously showered with my eyes closed the whole time lest I accidentally catch sight of my naked body, so, yeah. It’s a thing.) I force myself to look at my own reflection and pick out three things I like. I’m trying as hard as I can to make myself accept myself, to like myself beyond liking my brain. Here are today’s:
- My hair looks good today.
- My jaw, while big, isn’t oppressive, and instead just looks manly. At the moment, anyway.
- My clavicle and pectorals are poking up through the neck of my t-shirt in the way that I admire in other men. If I admire it in other men, it should only stand to reason I admire it in myself - right?
There. Not so hard, is it?