I wanted to tell you about something grossly funny that happened to me four years ago. The delay could mean I’ve been waiting for an excuse to write about it, I’ve been afraid to write about it, or I’m lazy.
I’ve recently stumbled across an excuse to write about it, but truth be told, I’m also lazy. And hell, let’s go for the hat trick – I’ve also been afraid. That’s because much of it has to do with my body.
That last sentence should serve as a content warning, but just in case, let me state it outright: There are gross things ahead, plus a good deal of self-deprecation.
Having looked over my draft, I noticed said self-deprecation goes on for too long. It’s also not the fun part. So I made it into its own entry and saved the four-year-old anecdote for another time, even though the two are ostensibly linked.
Consider this entry as foreshadowing; the next entry will have a callback to one of the things mentioned here. If you don’t want to wallow through my opinion of my looks, skip the foreshadowing and come back later for the second entry – where things get grosser and funnier.
Also, one more disclaimer – I’m not looking for sympathy, reassurance, or compliments. You can even laugh at the things I’m going to point out. I’m honestly not feeling sorry for myself over them, I promise. It’s just, thanks to plenty of candid feedback from others, I’ve always had a negative body image.
Perhaps I have full-blown body dysmorphia, but I try to avoid self-diagnosing. Whatever it is, I’m not at all satisfied with most of my body. I talk about this to the chagrin of friends who tell me to be kind to myself. I don’t feel I’m being unkind to myself; I feel I’m just being honest. And I’m okay with all of it. I have a wife who loves me, regardless, so no self-pity here.
But if it will make you feel better, I’ll point out one thing I like about my body – my eyes. They’re a nice shade of blue, and I like them. This despite the opinion of a hateful acquaintance who once looked at one of my headshots and told me I have serial killer eyes. I might believe the other horrible things people have told me about my body, but I didn’t believe her remark for one second. So I’ll hold onto my eyes while I disparage the rest.
This entry is also sort of necessary as a catharsis. I’m getting ready to perform in a play that will show far more of my body than I’d like. This is my way of getting all of it out there before I, well, put all of it up there.
I know my body is weird. It’s like an amalgam of crooked angles and bad fits, possibly of the bad parts that were discarded from other projects. It’s heterogenous; I like to consider it an eclectic mix of weird traits.
There’s a rare medical condition that could explain a few of those traits. Out of respect for those who have been officially diagnosed with it, I won’t name it here, because I haven’t been diagnosed (also, see my previous comment about self-diagnosing). Let’s just call it “the syndrome.”
When I happened upon a description of the syndrome it a few years ago while jumping down some online rabbithole from another topic, something clicked. I don’t have all of the symptoms, including the one that’s probably most often associated with it, but I have a majority of the others.
Then, last summer, my sister the nurse made my head explode when she asked if I thought I might have that syndrome. I went from clicking to seriously suspecting, but still refuse to self-diagnose. If I actually have the syndrome, I would appreciate the ability to put a name to my unusual appearance, as if it were an excuse I could give to people rather than have them think, He looks weird.
My frame could be symptomatic of the syndrome, which describes patients as being unusually tall and slender, with long, thin arms and legs. That is definitely me (although the “slender” part no longer applies to my midriff). I have what people call “chicken legs” – long and skinny, with very little muscle. Which is weird, considering how much I bike. You’d think I could grow some leg muscles that way, but it never seems to work out.
I have an unusually high waist. Have you ever seen The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” animated film? You know how the lads – especially Paul and John – are drawn with prominently long legs with small torsos affixed to the top? That’s me. It took me until my adulthood to embrace wearing shorts in public. I refused to wear them in high school, even in the warm months in the South. My lack of leg hair also had something to do with that, but let’s put a pin in that one.
I remember one day in class, getting up and walking to the front of the classroom for a presentation. One kid shouted out, “Danny’s legs are like three-quarters of his body!” and the room erupted in laughter. I wanted to kick him with one of my long legs, but I was afraid it would snap on impact.
My arms are the same way. Long bones, with almost no muscle.
The syndrome affects connective tissue. I have no idea if it could affect someone this way, but my body’s right side has always been weirdly disconnected from its left side. It’s as if my body were a double Popsicle and someone broke it in half, then stuck the two halves back together and refroze it – but one of the halves rotated outward about 15 degrees or so
This affects my gait, as my right leg is angled away from the Y-axis of my body. As a result, I’ve never been able to run with any great speed, and I “run like a dork” as the kids used to tell me. Once in middle school, a couple of girls were following me as a I walked the halls, and one of them felt the need to inform me that I walk like I have a corncob stuck up my butt.
On the bright side, once during dance rehearsal for a musical I was in, the choreographer praised my turnout, saying she had ballet students who couldn’t achieve such a wide angle. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it wasn’t a talent so much as an unfortunate physical condition.
I have a protruding chest – another symptom. High school classmates called me “Bird.” I’ve never been completely comfortable having my shirt off in front of other people. This could make things difficult in the aforementioned play, when I have to remove my shirt. Pants, too, but that will show off the bird legs, not the bird chest.
Next symptom – a short jawbone. This creates an overbite and a weird profile. I watching TV with some college friends one night when the one sitting next to me looked over and said, “Danny’s neck goes right up into his head; he doesn’t have a chin.” Another one looked over and drew a picture of my profile for me, just in case I didn’t get it. Thanks for that. Very helpful.
This is all fine. Friends rag on each other. What’s really pressing me right now is, Dang, I forgot how many people called me “Danny” in the past.
I also have an elongated skull – another symptom. Not necessarily xenomorph-length, but enough to make me cringe sometimes when I see pictures of myself.
Crowded teeth? Check. I can’t tell you how many strings of floss I’ve lost in there.
Two of my teeth were too crowded to stay aligned, so they jut forward at weird angles. I don’t mind, but they’re a symptom and worth noting. They were also apparently worth noting to a first-grader when I went to have lunch at my son’s school years ago. We were all eating when one of them looked up and asked, “Why do your teeth stick out like that? They look weird.” Only I could be bullied in my 40s by a six-year-old kid.
The last matching symptom is abnormal spinal curvature – although, to be fair, people with the syndrome usually have scoliosis, while I have kyphosis and lordosis. Take that, friends who called me “Scully” because they thought I had scoliosis!
The difference is, scoliosis is a sideways curvature, while kyphosis and lordosis are a back-to-front curvatures. Kyphosis affects the upper back, which curves way too far over the front of the body. Scoliosis is obvious when looking at someone’s spine from behind them. Kyphosis is obvious when looking at them from the side – the spine looks a little like a question mark.
Or, and I’m working hard to admit this, it can give someone a turtle-like appearance. There was one kid in elementary school who called me “Turtle” at every opportunity, but fortunately the name didn’t stick with anyone else. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though – he called me that name from second through eighth grade.
Ninth grade was a nice reprieve, but in tenth grade, another kid tried to bring it back. That also didn’t work – thank God for the integrity of the other kids around me – but he still made me miserable in the one class we had together. Any time the teacher called on me, that kid would say “Tuuurtle” in a high-pitched taunt that the teacher somehow never heard – even though the kid was all the way across the room.
So yeah. I’m turtlish.
And the lower part of my spine juts in too far. That’s lordosis. It is literally impossible for me to stand against or lie on a flat surface and have my head, shoulders, and lower back all touch the surface at the same time.
When I had severe back trouble in my lower 20s, I had to see a physical therapist. He gave me an initial assessment by having me stand as straight as possible against a wall. Noticing where my lower back couldn’t touch the wall, he remarked, “You could drive a train through that gap.” Only some slight hyperbole, but nice bedside manner, dude.
To my limited medical knowledge, those are all of the symptoms I happen to have that are shared by those with the syndrome. I’ve seen pictures of people with it, and they have things much worse. If I have it, I have a mild case. So I probably won’t try to get diagnosed, nor will I worry about the more serious heart issues that are associated with it.
Also, that doesn’t end my list of features I don’t like. The rest are symptomatic of nothing; they’re just weird. Again, don’t feel bad. I know I look weird.
And if I hadn’t known that, a former colleague went to great passive-aggressive lengths to make it clear. The day I started, as my new boss was taking me around the cube farm to introduce me to people, I spotted said colleague out of the corner of my nice, blue eyes. She was looking at me and laughing. I thought maybe my zipper was down, but that turned out not to be the case.
For months, every time I entered a room or cube section where she happened to be, she laughed and shook her head. And I know she wanted me to see it. That’s how she was – just a mean-spirited turd who really had nothing positive to offer anyone. But she got her point across.
So, what are the other things I don’t like about my body? For starters, I’m not a particularly hirsute individual. It’s not a great loss, but maybe a little more leg hair would be nice. People have commented on this a good bit throughout my post-adolescent life.
I remember another performer in the green room one night, sitting on the couch across from me, leaning to his girlfriend to whisper, “Dan has hardly any leg hair.” Hey, moron, I’m looking right at you and we’re maybe five feet away from each other – did you really think you were being discreet?
Additionally, I was in my 50s before I could grow anything resembling facial hair, and it still takes a lot more time than I’d like to admit. And just forget about my chest. Consider it Chippendale-smooth. The hair on top of my head is prolific, though. And it has roughly the consistency of steel wool.
I also have a lot of marks and lumps on or under my skin. Moles run in my family, and boy do I have them. I’m about to have a doctor take a look at a particularly troubling one. Let’s hope that doctor doesn’t feel the need to share any disparaging remarks.
When I was in my 20s, I noticed a large lump at the small of my crooked back. There was something under the skin, moving freely whenever I pressed on it. That’s a strange sensation; anyone remember the scarabs in “The Mummy?”
My doctor told me it was neither alive nor cancerous, that it was just a benign, fatty lump called a lipoma. I briefly considered naming it “Beni.”
I have a skintag on my hip that resembles…you know what? I’m not even going to say what it resembles.
I sweat profusely, which should give me a nice sheen while I’m standing onstage in my skivvies.
And if that doesn’t get their attention, let’s be honest – at my age, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for a little nervous pee to come out.
With luck, though, I’ll stay dry all over. The castmate who has to endure torso-to-torso contact with me in that scene will probably appreciate it.
There; I think I have all of it out of my system. Do I feel ready to get undressed onstage? No, not a bit. But it’s still going to be a glorious moment of defiance against my own opinions of myself. I’ll be up there in my briefs, standing as tall as my spine will allow, proudly and horrifyingly on display to the world.
And if you plan to be there, you have been warned. At least now you know what to expect. Look away if you have to. Laugh if you must; it’s supposed to be a funny scene, and I have no doubt my body will make it funnier.
Just do me one favor if you happen to talk to me about it after the show – compliment my eyes.