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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When it's all worth it...

This is a letter from my friend Bryan, who is a freshman in Musical Theater at Penn State. He said I could share it on my blog, and I hope you enjoy it.

Hey Sharon,
So for my English class we had to write a narrative about a literacy event that taught us something. I wanted to share what I wrote with you because I ended up being pretty proud of it. I know it isn't arthur laurents or anything, but I thought you might appreciate it. :)

Bryan Baldwin

“My Name is Bryan and I was Fat.”

I was fat. That is all I can think of to say. I was fat and it was ruining my life. I couldn’t concentrate, I had a social life that consisted of the characters from Friends and "Tony the Tiger” and was completely and utterly miserable. My life long dream of being an actor was starting to show some promise but it felt like my casting was always second-guessed because of my weight. How could people want to watch someone perform onstage who was growing outward so quickly that they could hardly lift themselves up off the floor? My life was in a downward spiral and despite the worries of my parents (which I always answered with a nasty glare) I attempted to find my way out of my despair through 2 a.m. bowls of ice cream in the darkness of my bedroom. The only joys in my life were musical theatre, food, and the annual trip I took to New York with my dad. This year was different though; Dad went without me and all he brought back was a stupid book; a stupid, freaking book with nothing but a fat girl on the cover. I didn’t care that it was about Broadway, or even that it might help me lose the weight that secretly haunted my every thought during every moment of every day. I smiled politely, put the book down on my night table and went to bed, not suspecting at all that this book would change my life.

It was six months later and my family was on our annual summer vacation, this year to Hawaii; the retreat for the gorgeously bronzed and thin God-like creatures who lounged around all day, half naked, soaking up the sun. Although I loved taking tropical vacations (mostly for the roast pig), I was petrified for this trip because I knew it would involve another struggle with donning my sized 44 swim trunks. There I was, sitting on the beach with my beautifully blonde, athletic sister (who could eat anything she wanted and still be a rail) when she looked at me with her movie star sunglasses and said the most terrifying words I could have imagined: “Why are you still wearing a shirt? Take it off, we are at the beach!”

I wanted to run away and hide. I had painstakingly tried to remain invisible next to my model sister in my gargantuan swim trunks and t-shirt but it was apparently not working. I slowly stood up, took off my shirt as fast as I could, and sat back down. This was the most horrible feeling in the whole world. I felt ugly, naked, and the most uncomfortable I had been in a long time.

Lying there with my farmer’s tan, delineated with white fleshy blobs for arms, exposed in all my glory and feeling my fat seep through the plastic lounge chair, I saw my father approaching. Earlier in the trip, I had complained to him that I didn’t bring any reading material and he had briefly mentioned that he brought me something I might be interested in. As he got closer, I was desperately hoping he would tell me that it was time to leave for a big eat-your-sorrows-away dinner. Instead he pulled out a book and said, “I think you will really like this. It’s about a girl who always loved to perform and is now a Broadway actress. Oh... and she had a weight problem growing up...”

The term “weight problem” is just a fancy way that doctors and other professionals waltz around telling fat people the hard, cold truth. My parents loved “weight problem” and used it every time the issue came up.

He handed me a black, yellow, and white paperback that oddly resembled a Broadway Playbill. I immediately recognized the book with the fat girl on the cover that I had set aside six months ago and hoped to never see again. I smiled that same “I’m going to pretend to be interested so we can change the subject” smile I had before and turned it over. The words on the back cover immediately struck out at me like sharp, painful darts. “My name is Sharon and I am fat. I think it is important to tell you that I am fat right away because I am sure you can tell, even though you cannot see me. I don’t blame you for not liking me. After all, not many people do.”

I sat there dumbfounded, trying to hide the hurt from my family. Had I written this? How did this person know exactly how I felt? I had no choice but to start reading, and thus began my journey with Sharon Wheatley’s ‘Til the Fat Girl Sings ' .

The second I opened this novel, it was impossible for me to put it down. It was so easy for me to empathize with this girl who felt like she would forever have to fake a life of happiness on the outside while still feeling deeply depressed on the inside. It seemed like every sentence Wheatley wrote was about me, only from her eyes. The sneaking down to the kitchen at night for a secret midnight snack and becoming a master at preparing food silently (harder than you think), the urge to perform and the obsession with Broadway, the pain of having to laugh about my weight when someone would joke about it, and worst of all, the fear that I would never realize my dreams because of my addiction to food. I read this book all the way through in about two days on my Hawaiian vacation but it wasn’t until the next New Year that I would change myself forever.

Over the next few months, I thought of Sharon’s book practically every day. I thought of how she had changed herself and how, according to the book, becoming a healthier person had affected every aspect of her life. I tried dieting once or twice over this period but still was never able to fully commit. I would start anew every morning saying that this was it, this was the day that I was going to change and lose all of the weight that I needed to be a new person. Throughout the day I would always “fall off the wagon” (as my mom referred to it) and eat something I knew I shouldn’t. The repetition of this failure every day threw me into an even deeper despair and my eating became worse than ever.

That December, my friends and I took a trip together to Disneyland. We spent the whole day laughing, riding roller coasters, and of course, eating anything and everything we could get our hands on; well, at least I did. Being theatre people, we planned a hilarious picture for Splash Mountain and when the picture was taken, we were more than ready to see it. Without even looking at it on the monitor, I waddled over to the booth where they sold the pictures as fast as I could and ordered one. The cashier handed me the picture and I opened in it up in such anticipation…then I saw myself. Something was wrong, I looked huger than ever in my red sweatshirt that was advertised as slimming. I was shocked and mortified. It was one of those moments where I wanted nothing more than to go huddle up in a corner by myself and cry my eyes out. How could I have let this happen? What was I doing to myself? Was this how my whole life was destined to be?

The photo haunted me the rest of the trip and after I had gotten home. My head was swimming with confusion as I alternated between denial and reality. I could not believe that I had I had let myself get this way. Finally one day as I got out of the shower, I looked at myself. I looked at my body hard, in a way I had avoided for a very long time. There I stood in front of my full-length bedroom mirror with everything exposed; I felt disgusting. There was nothing at all healthy about my body. My tub-of-lard belly hung over my size 44 waist like a giant chocolate chip muffin. Holding it up were my thighs, that looked more like two honey hams, sitting on tree trunk calves for support. As my eyes traveled back up my body, I saw my chest and the two deflated water balloons it consisted of and the Sta-Puf marshmallow man arms attached to it. This was not me, this was the real me in a fat suit from the movies, trying to escape but trapped beneath a shell of someone I didn’t know. Humiliated with myself, I looked around my room to make sure no one was watching me; it was then that I saw it. My semi-worn copy of ‘Til the Fat Girl Sings was sitting on top of my bookshelf like a sign. It was time; I knew it more than ever. And this time I really would succeed, even though it would take me over a year to do.

So on January 1, 2007, I made a New Year’s resolution and took on the greatest challenge of my life. Without any fanfare, I began to study food values, cut back on my eating habits, avoid fast food and exercise regularly. As the numbers on the scale dropped day by day, I felt like I could see my own self melting away into a much healthier person. About ten months after I embarked on my weight loss journey, I was on top of the world. In addition to having lost 90 pounds, I had gotten more friends at school, grew closer to the friends I already had, and was cast in my first role as a leading man (not the character or the fat guy). I am not so superficial to believe that losing weight and becoming healthy eliminated all my problems. Sharon’s book had taught me that I could be confident no matter what I looked like, and that is what made the difference

In October of 2007, a few weeks before the annual New York trip, my dad called me into the kitchen and told me that he had written to Sharon and told her my story. After only a few short days, she contacted us and suggested that we meet. She had never met someone who had actually successfully lost weight because of inspiration from her book and I honestly felt like she wanted to get to know me. As we all sat at dinner, I felt like I was joking and laughing with an old friend rather than someone I had known in person for only an hour. Over the past year, Sharon and I have kept in touch and talk frequently. She is someone I highly respect and I feel like I will always have her as a teacher, mentor, and friend.

‘Til the Fat Girl Sings has meant so much more to my life and goals than I ever imagined it would. If I am having a hard day, trying to find inspiration, or even just looking for comfort, I delve into the world of Sharon Wheatley and read a chapter from the novel. I give it most of the credit for my lifestyle change, confidence, and countless other things. It blows my mind that I was able to make this huge change in my life because of motivation from a book that I was petrified to read in the first place. All because of one person’s story, I am now a normal guy wearing a medium t-shirt and a 34 inch swimsuit who is proud of the way I look and I know that nothing can stop me from finding my dream.


Anonymous said...

WOW, Bryan, that was a heartfelt and painfully honest letter. To do what you have done in under a year, and then win acceptance to an extremely competitive theatre school like Penn State, speaks to such inner strength and character. People live their entire lives and never tame their demons. Bryan, nothing can stop you now!

haley said...

I'm so proud of you Bry, you deserve everything that is coming your way and i cannot wait to see you soar! miss you tons-your such an inspiration :) love sis

Anonymous said...

This was such an amazing story, Bryan...you should think about writing your own book! Congrats!

Sophomore Year

Sophomore Year
My weight was going up and up...

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine
I guess I'm about 3 or so? Nice tan!