The Sweet Strug­gle

Hello Mr. Magazine - - GROW TO UNDERSTAND - Text by Sam Rodgers il­lus­tra­tion by Alex Tolosa

From the sports ground of the univer­sity, a foot­bridge and gen­tle slope led to Sham Cas­tle. So called be­cause it was just that: a folly, built so that an aris­to­crat had some­thing pleas­ing to look at from the win­dow of his par­lor on the other side of the town. Sham Cas­tle stood on a hill at the en­trance to a golf course. It was only a few feet thick – a wall more than a cas­tle – and given its sur­round­ings looked like a prop on a me­dieval film.

This was my des­ti­na­tion, ev­ery day, just be­fore work at the Ital­ian restau­rant that fed me pasta at mid­night af­ter my shift. I was eigh­teen. I ran to Sham Cas­tle, up and down hills, be­cause I hated what my body had be­come; and penne al ragu cer­tainly wasn’t help­ing.

So how did it come to this? My child­hood was ac­tive, and I grew up eat­ing healthy. My brother was into sports, while I had found an affin­ity with gym­nas­tics and other things my girl­friends were into, like ice skat­ing and dancing. Be­ing able to flip and tum­ble and make your body do amaz­ing things like the splits in mid-air were cooler than be­ing able to hit a sphere with a stick.

With all this en­ergy be­ing burned, I was a reg­u­lar lit­tle kid: not fat, not skinny, big head and big cheeks, un­con­di­tion­ally loved, and no re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to tend to. But for some rea­son un­known to me, I was al­ready self-con­scious of my body. In my first year of school, aged five, the school ad­min­is­tered a not-too-in­va­sive med­i­cal checkup of all stu­dents: eye and hear­ing tests, stetho­scopes, say ahh, breathe deep, that sort of thing. The boys were all asked to take off their shirts, but I kicked up such a fuss that I was al­lowed to sit, bug-eyed and sus­pi­cious, with my t-shirt on.

In my fourth year, I started dance classes, but just as I started to find my groove, my par­ents opened a sweet shop. Any de­sire to ex­ert my­self phys­i­cally was slowly be­ing re­placed with a seden­tary life­style, run­ning around all day turned into the oc­ca­sional jetée. I was still able to do the splits and soft shoe shuf­fle, but my thighs rubbed to­gether and I started grow­ing man boobs and a frown­ing potato sack of a belly.

Years later, when my voice dropped, I grew taller, and the fat re­dis­tributed it­self – I fi­nally start­ing look­ing like a young man. But the free­dom to buy fries af­ter school filled the de­pres­sion of be­ing so­cially out-of-it and the in­tense re­al­iza­tion that I was gay, and in de­nial about it. This new-found sex­u­al­ity and the ex­plo­ration of it made me even more self-con­scious. I re­mem­ber forc­ing my­self out of bed one night when I was six­teen and do­ing sit ups be­cause I feared I ‘d never have sex. Even still, I never got my heart rate up enough – I kept it com­fort­able – and a whole pizza to my­self was still a walk in the park, or a stroll through cheese town.

I fi­nally came out when I was eigh­teen, and started run­ning to Sham Cas­tle. My fear of never hav­ing sex was con­quered, but my re­la­tion­ship with my body was still com­plex. I blamed it for keep­ing the “right” people away, that when people found me at­trac­tive, I thought it was al­ways de­spite my body. I didn’t just hate my­self; I hated other men, too. I dis­liked my belly, but I loathed that guy’s re­ced­ing hair­line, or was disgusted by that man’s flat bot­tom. My dis­ap­point­ment in ap­pear­ance trans­lated into cri­tiques of ev­ery­one around me. I re­treated into the pantry to dis­tract my­self – I ate un­til I was numb.

The com­fort zone of overeat­ing meant that ex­er­cise re­mained the en­emy. At eigh­teen, my peers still en­joyed the lux­ury of high me­tab­o­lisms.

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