I was a skinny kid with a big butt.
Just calling it like it is.
By skinny, I mean that I’ve been five-foot-nine since eight grade—haven’t grown an inch—and yet, when I graduated high school, I had a 26-inch waist and weighed 105 lbs.
Alas, a disproportionate amount of that sleight weight was carried in the caboose.
For a too-long stretch growing up, I ripped the tags off all my pants, picking the threads apart stitch by stitch with my teeth if need be, just to get rid of the blasted thing. Why, you ask? Well, regular clothes never fit me. And we didn’t have money for alterations. So my mother wound up getting me a “special” brand of “slacks” that, to my recollection, seemed to only make wide-wale corduroys in burnt orange or puce green. But the tag and slogan were the real kick in the pants:
For Full-Seated Boys
Feel free to cringe aloud as a show of solidarity at the awkwardness and indignity of it all.
(And doesn’t it just figure that burnt orange wide-wale cords are now considered fashionable, all these years later?)
In the 80’s, I discovered the magical properties of mouse and a hair dryer. So at least my hair was big enough to balance out top and bottom.
Still, the voluminous do did nothing to stem the comments and “nicknames” people attributed to me on account of my backside. Basketball Buns. Rhino Rear. Or the more straightforward Big Butt.
The nicest thing anyone ever said to me about it was “Don’t worry about your big butt. Everyone likes them in New York.”
Alas, the closest I would come to New York for many years was driving through on my way to college—where the coach for my freshman gym class wouldn’t allow me to do the one-mile timed run, because my body fat percentage was less than 3% and he feared a law suit.
Bobby was one of my early college roommates. Bobby had a feathered mullet like Don Johnson. He was also the first person I’d ever met who was a serious “weight lifter.” I remember lying on my bunk one day when Bobby came back from the gym. He peeled off his string tank top and started “making muscles” in the mirror.
Turn. Flex. Make tough face. Shrug. Turn. Flex.
I liked Bobby, but this peacocking irked me. (In retrospect, I wonder if it was mostly due to the fact that I was the skinny big-butted kid and he was the movie star.) Rather than scoff, I simply asked him about it. “Hey, Bobby, I’ve seen guys flex at themselves mirrors before but never known any of them well enough to ask why. So… why?”
I’ll never forget Bobby’s response. He didn’t stop his flexing. He didn’t seem the least bit irritated, just took it in stride. “Well,” he said matter-of-factly, “you write music and compose it on your keyboard, right?”
“And I’ve seen you work and work on a song that sounds fine to me. But you keep tweaking it. Listening to it again. Changing this one note or volume or sound or drum hit. Because it’s your song and so you know it best. You know what you want it to sound like in every detail. Well, my body and muscles are my song. I might look fine to you. But I know what I’m looking for, whether everything is even or not, proportioned, weird looking or whatever. So I’m ‘listening’ to my body in the mirror and then I know what needs fixing when I ‘compose’ my workouts.”
It was one of the first times I remember being aware that I’d judged someone unfairly. Bobby was no “dumb jock.” He knew what he was doing and expressed it eloquently.
In fact, the way he answered that question caused me to follow up with, “Would you mind if I… went to the gym with you sometime and tried it out?”
And so, at the age of 18, I swallowed my pride and shuffled my skinny-big-butt self behind Bobby into a gym full of clanging metal and grunting and sweaty socks smell and people I wanted to be. And I picked up a dumbbell and put it down again.
Bobby was unbelievably patient with me. A good teacher. Protective even. He introduced me to people I never would have thought were like me at all. And I made many friends who all seemed to make it their personal project to get the big-butt beginner buff.
I went irregularly at first, but I stuck with it. And by the time I graduated two-and-some years later, I thought I’d really arrived when I tipped the scale at…
… 112 lbs soaking wet.
But it was a different 112 lbs somehow. My butt didn’t look quite so much like the Himalayas in context of the rest of me.
I was sold. And ever since, I’ve continued to hit the gym, pick stuff up and put it down. It’s more than a hobby; it’s a way of life. And while I still haven’t grown an inch in height, I’m now generally in a weight range considered “borderline obese” on the BMI chart, even though my body fat is still quite low.
Before I lose anyone who isn’t a gym-goer, this post isn’t about working out. I use that only as an example.
There are things each of us enjoys doing, things we’ve worked hard at, invested time in, grown to love and depend on.
For me, in addition to working out, I’ve studied languages for a lifetime.
I’ve played the piano, sung, composed music and recorded original songs.
I’ve mentored hundreds of teens and young people.
I write (obviously).
Your “thing” might be gardening. Or painting. Or dance.
Playing chess. Jogging. Surfing.
I’m talking about pursuits that take time. Skill. Endurance. Dedication. Brain space.
Things we get good at. Take pride in. Things we become known for.
Maybe even things that have become integral to our identity, a core part of who we perceive ourselves to be.
Are you with me now?
Keep your “thing” in mind as you continue…
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