I love swimmin'. Having Dr. Jon work at the nearby university means that I, as his partner, get this little card that gives me access to the two (2!) pools on campus for swimmin'. Having no job and cool trunks with blue flowers on them means I go swimmin' nearly every day and while I'm no Phelps, I love paddling along in the slow lane and pretending I live underwater (always a mermaid, never a mer, amirite ladies?). Considering how much I love undersea adventure, it's appalling to me that I once put my 12 year old foot down and refused a school trip to the pool.
Oh the mishegoss of the elementary school swimming trip! Let's take a bunch of preteens steeped in self-consciousness and make them wear not a lot of clothes for a few hours. When I heard the trip was scheduled, I got nervous and crampy and told my mother I absolutely would not be attending this wet excuse for an excursion. Unimpressed, she asked me why I thought I could simply opt-out of this activity. "You know," I whined, exasperated. "Because of my chest! Everyone's gonna make fun of me."
I was born with this thing called Pectus excavatum, otherwise known as funnel chest. Google image the term at your own risk (you're gonna see some bewb), and if you do, know that mine is not as severe as a lot of the examples. Basically, if I'm lying down topless (you've done a great job--hey-o!) you could place an orange, or a softball, or a bath poof, or a reasonable portion of raisins, or a ramekin of gravy, in a kind of vacancy between my pectoral muscles. It's my understanding that this is fairly common among white men (that, and our tendency to earn higher salaries for doing the same job), one in four-hundred or something are born with it.
I couldn't tell you what got into my dumb sixth-grader head before that field trip because I don't recall ever being teased about my chest by anyone. And I'm not being rose-coloured glasses about it, I honestly don't think anybody ever, ever made fun of me for it. I remember people saying to me, "What's with your chest?" And me saying, "It just goes like that, I guess." And them saying, "Oh." That was it, I was never mocked about it, at least not to my (longish) face. Anyway, Mom said I could skip the trip "if I really wanted to", but she "didn't think [I] cared so much about what people think." She reminded me how much I loved swimmin'. How, if I chose not to swim, I'd still have to go to the pool, but be that guy on the sidelines, fully clothed, watching everyone else have fun. How I'd likely look back on this experience and be disappointed in myself. She won me over with that last bit, so I went on the trip, splashed around with my classmates, not one of whom noticed or cared about Pectus excavatum. Of course she was right, my 12 year old self had a great time, and now I don't spend a minute thinking about how my chest looks when I have my shirt off. My 29 year old self worries about my gut when I have my shirt off.
Dream: Enough with this stupid body shit.
Goal: Achievable? I really hope so. I'm a smart man who's healthy and happy, who doesn't judge other people for their weird bodies so what's my issue here? I'll bet this affects more than one in four-hundred.
Plan: Put things into perspective.
Not to generalize with wild abandon, but did you hear about the spoiled, vain girl who gets Botox injections every six weeks? Or the juicehead guy that caps his workouts with a visit to the tanning booth? The thing about those people, whether you see them on television or know them personally, it's not like that single procedure (be it Botox, tanning, highlights, facials, etc) takes them from drab to fab. Dr. Jon and I watch this show called Princess where young women spend their parents' money recklessly on clothes and shoes and a lot of them get Botox injections. Like young women! And I'm not sure what good it does when they're so otherwise unappealing. It's not as if someone is saying, "You know, I really don't like how Laura has wracked up $50 000 in consumer debt and a selfish brat, but damn if she doesn't have the smoothest forehead. I'm going to marry her for that sleek terrain." My point is, you can pretty up the package all you want, nobody wants to hang out with the human equivalent of a dumpster fire.
Secondly, that physical thing you're really worried about? Nobody else notices/gives a shit. I knew this incredibly handsome man in university that we'll call Dave. Dave and I didn't have classes together every semester, so we often wouldn't see each other for weeks, even months at a time. Anyway, Handsome Dave approached me excitedly one day and did a kind of twirl around and said, "Notice anything different?" I didn't, he looked as good as ever. He twirled and asked again and I shook my head, honestly flummoxed. And he said, "My birthmark! It's gone!" Apparently Dave was born with one of those wine-stain type birthmarks on the back and side of his neck. I had never, ever noticed this, and I'd snuck my share of glances at Handsome Dave. He seemed really irritated. "Come on! You remember! Ugh, it was the ugliest thing. And now it's gone!" I was happy for him, I guess, but I couldn't help but wonder if it was something only Dave noticed or cared about. If the cosmetic alteration made a difference to anyone but him.
Finally, I would never put anybody else's body through the same judgemental scrutiny I give my own. I think about my big tummy, fleshy thighs, patchy back skin, and how much worry they cause me on certain slow news days, and yet I don't think about the same traits in anyone I know, even though they must have them too! I'm not explaining myself well. If I really think about it, I'm certain there are people I know with the same tummy, thighs, skin as me, even Pectus excavatum, and yet I've never noticed those traits in them. Never judged them for something so arbitrary. So why am I subject to my own special scrutiny? I guess it comes down to reverse narcissism, which is ostensibly narcissism anyway. Either way, most of us come upon our reflections in a pool and are mesmerized by our beauty or our perceived flaws. Well I'm through with that, at least until the next slow news day. I'm gonna use my pools for swimmin'.