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I was in Maryland after a work conference visiting a friend whom I’ve known since forever. She asked me why I stopped writing these entries. Frankly, I needed a break. In addition to these things being intensely personal, they require some research and thinking — two things I have not devoted a great deal of time to lately. She also asked how many more chapters there will be. For that question, I have no answer. My best guess is four, maybe five. This is not a saga that has ended, but at some point the story becomes me getting up, going to work, having coffee for breakfast, a Clif bar for lunch and blah blah blah. Anyhow, on to chapter eight, which might be considered an intercalary chapter in this story.
There was a recent link up at The Onion (accompanying photo not safe for work) that got me thinking. The headline “Naked Man Only One Comfortable With His Body” made me think a little bit about body image and the issues that come along with it. This is typically a conversation that exists among women and girls and usually skips boys and men for whatever societal reason. I haven’t read her book, but I’m interested in what Harriet Brown — she of the Newhouse School at Syracuse University and the book Pretty Girl Eating — says on the issue.
As we’ve gone through in previous chapters, I’m the product of second generation Italian parents who rewarded the finishing of your plate with another pile of food. Potato chips, ice cream, M&Ms and Oreo cookies (oohhhhh, Oreos…) were bountiful in my house as a child and never further than an arm’s reach away. This caused issues growing up. I was not particularly athletic or coordinated, so basketball and Little League were the extent of my activity. While tall, I was generally the largest of my peers in terms of weight (well, second-largest…there was this one kid I grew up with who was enormous…digressing). I was a 38 waist for much of high school, where my weight hung in at about 230-240 pounds. I was never comfortable with my body and, as a result, lacked real confidence.
Except when I wasn’t me, or better, when I wasn’t Jared Paventi. When I was Jared Paventi, hj magazine writer, I could hide behind my byline, headshot and erudite wit. When I was Jared Paventi from Liverpool, N.Y., a student at the School Press Institute, I could leave behind my baggage and be me. Sure, I was a doughy white kid, but no one knew anything else about me. Instant confidence.
College came and, again, it was a chance to leave the baggage of Liverpool in Liverpool. I was able to enter a whole new sphere at St. Bonaventure. And, while there were some Liverpool people at SBU, we did not interact much. I existed in my own circles and did my own thing. I maintained my basic body weight, adding some beer weight, but otherwise maintaining my untoned mayonnaisey look.
My two years at Syracuse University were a roller coaster. I was wildly unhappy, a product of disappointment in what I thought would be a special experience working in the athletic department. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was depressed and channeling that depression into unhealthy eating and a lot of drinking. My discontentment was no secret, manifesting itself into an embarrassing email that was inadvertently sent to the local media (Yeah, if you’re ever looking for someone to offer an example of how email and not paying attention can ruin your world, let me know. I have a doozy.). The secret was manifesting itself into a steady diet of Johnny’s Pizza and Jack Daniels. By the time I realized that I was done with the sports public relations industry, I started taking a look at how I could fix myself. The nutritionist was the first step.
When I left Syracuse University, I was as healthy as I had ever been. I was bouncing around in the 230s, but I was a healthy 230. My weight was managed and none of my numbers were a concern. I went to work at the Syracuse Asshat Corporation with a strong self image, a good body image and a 36-inch waist. I was dangerous. And then it crumbled.
The Chief Marketing Asshat at Syracuse Asshat Corporation turned on me.
I started having panic attacks.
I started comfort eating.
My job was eliminated, along with a handful of other people on the Asshat blacklist.
And that began a 12-month ride of unemployment. And unhealthy eating. And bad behaviors.
I’ve long said that bad behaviors take less time to learn and more time to unlearn than good behaviors. My bad behaviors took years to deprogram.
We got to talking at work once about being comfortable in one’s own skin. I always joke that I will let people know when that happens, when I get comfortable being me. It’s not true. I’ve been comfortable as me on a few occasions. My senior year of high school was okay, and so was my senior year of college. The few months between leaving SU and 9/11 weren’t bad. But, it probably wasn’t until after I got married, when I was about 27 or 28 that I really was comfortable being me full time. It was around that time I read I Don’t Want To Talk About It: Overcoming The Secret Of Male Depression that I really felt like I understood why.
We spend so much time chasing something or building something up so high that when it doesn’t happen…when it falters, we fall hard. It’s easier to see in girls, who by nature are more emotive. But, I’m a man. I don’t cry (for real, I don’t cry). I internalize. I bottle it up.
And, it turns out, when it starts to boil over, I throw a bunch of food on it to tamp it down. And it quiets down until the next time.