Are you watching “Food Network Star“? It’s a reality competition program where the winner gets their own cooking show. I’ve watched from the beginning – it’s currently in its 8th season – and while I used to be a huge fan, my interest has severely decreased in the past couple years.
What’s changed? Me.
The judges and coaches groom the contestants to be a very specific kind of host – one that I increasingly have no interest in watching. I’d rather watch a credentialed professional who can actually teach me something (a dying breed on the Food Network) than a perky home cook who can’t pick up an ingredient without sharing a cutesy story about their childhood. The more I watch Food Network, the more I realize that all their cooking shows are basically the same. There are slight differences, sure, but for the most part, all the hosts talk the same way, cook the same way, and the food is shot the same way. As a result, I’ve watched less and less Food Network with each passing year.
Yet I’m still watching “Food Network Star”, mostly because I enjoy the competition element. They switched up the format this year to include celebrity chef coaches to help mentor the finalists, and while that sounds exciting in theory, it’s actually a big ol’ snoozefest. I watch chunks of the show on fast forward.
But in Sunday’s episode, Alton Brown, one of the coaches, said something that really caught my attention. He was talking about a finalist on his team, Judson, who lost 115 pounds (keep it up, Judson!) but has refused to use his weight loss as an angle when developing the show he’d want to do if he won.
Judson’s reasoning is that he doesn’t want to bring back difficult memories from when he was heavier, but the judges refused to accept that, and, on Sunday, he was up for elimination. So, in the Pitch Room (where eliminations happen), Alton made an argument in Judson’s defense.
Here’s what Alton said:
“Being heavy – and I was heavy most of my life – is painful. And you learn to create a different version of yourself to project to people. You have to sell yourself because you’re not attractive. You’re heavy and you’re clumsy and all those things.”
I literally sat up when I heard this, and rewound and watched it two more times. It got me thinking about how I’ve projected myself to other people over the years, and how that’s changed.
Simply put, I agree with Alton. Wearing a different face to mask pain, fear or unhappiness is something that I’ve always been very good at, and something that I’ve always been very aware of. Even at a very young age. It was easier to smile and laugh along when kids at recess poked my stomach like the Pillsbury Doughboy, because speaking up about how awful it made me feel would draw attention to my weight, and that was to be avoided at all costs.
There were a couple times in high school and college when I heard people compare me to great big teddy bears – and I would smile and thank them, while seething underneath. It was meant as a compliment, but I never interpreted it as such, because 1) skinny people are never compared to teddy bears, and 2) being a horny young man, I knew that not many people ever wanted to make out with teddy bears, let alone fuck one.
I was convinced, for the longest time, that I wasn’t attractive. I had evidence – a very short list of people I’ve kissed, dry spells of months or years when I didn’t date, an endless list of not-returned messages when I was courageous enough to try online dating. These failures were difficult. And up until a few years ago, I was confident that things would never change. I thought I was destined to be alone my whole life, because isn’t that what happens to unattractive people?
But I never shared that, not with anyone, not ever. That unhappiness was mine to deal with and mine alone. So I hid it, behind a projection (to use Alton’s word). I wanted people to see me as jocular. I focused on sharing my humor and intelligence, because I’ve always had plenty of both, and I recognized them as redeeming qualities, especially when I hated what I saw in the mirror. I knew I was the ugly fat guy, but I also knew I could make others laugh and smile, and there have been times where I’ve thought that was my only positive quality.
I can’t pinpoint when my thinking shifted, but it has. I no longer think I’m unattractive. I know I’m not going to spend the rest of my life alone. I know the list of what I bring to the table is long and growing. I’m a catch, goddamn it!
There definitely wasn’t a light bulb moment – I’m sure my thinking has slowly evolved and changed, alongside every other part of me, during my 2.5 year, 164-pound weight loss transformation. And I’m sure my thinking will continue to evolve as my confidence continues to grow, and that’s something I look forward to.
And you know what else is awesome? Not having to hide anything. It’s not fun (or easy) to keep up projections. It’s liberating to be open and honest, and that liberation is addictive, and that addiction is one that I don’t mind having. Not at all.
Keep it up, David.