13 December 2022

Lucky you

The end of the second twenty twenty-two diet last week brought with it an aimlessness that I have tried to half-heartedly fill with a stepped-down attention with my eating, one that doesn't involve climbing naked on to the scale every morning, but still thinking about what I'm eating and when, mindfully as the woman on TikTok says. I look in the mirror and wonder if I'm thin now. In my own historical record of my weight loss, I've felt a whole multitude of ways about my body — I've felt fat or thin, or attractive or unattractive, in different ways for more than twenty years and have felt thin when I was much heavier and felt fat when I was much lighter. My experience of empirical reality, and empirical reality itself, don't have a clear correlation.  

Ten days after I hit my goal weight, I got on the scale again to check in and I had not lost or gained any more weight, and this felt good in theory, but if I'm honest, I had expected to have lost more, given what I've been eating and not eating. It is what it is. The TikTok dietician shows me sugar cubes to illustrate how much my insulin spiked when I inhaled the white bread and jam I had for breakfast which was apparently a bad choice. I swipe up and Divorced Dad TikTok appears: a man telling me I need to not even think about another relationship until I've sorted my life out. I want to say to him, But I've not left, I'm still here — the algorithm says I've left, it's predicted it, but that's just my demographic disposition, not my reality, and I swipe up to a maths puzzle, which I watch three times and still can't solve. 

Right before I got married, before TikTok could control the future by feeding me content and when I was twenty-three and living in remote, snowy northwest Japan, I shaved my head. It was one of the things I had done when I was younger, when I would be frustrated with my weight or appearance and needed to do something to completely change how I saw myself — like I could clear the deck and not have to worry about the one thing that seemed to bother me the most. Suddenly I wouldn't have to worry about a dumb haircut derailing whatever vain vision I had of myself. At twenty-three, engaged and thinking about a respectable future teaching English in Japanese universities, I needed to be moving towards a cleaner, more professional look, with Gap blazers that Yoko and I picked out together, and smart shirts with collars. 

I cut all my hair off in May of that year, 2006, after I had been away on a bicycle trip by myself around Sado Island and was still not really thinking about what it would mean to be married in a country I had only lived in for three years and to someone I didn't really know. I just did it one night, over the kitchen rubbish bin, with cheap blue clippers I had bought, and immediately regretted it, the way I always regretted it. I thought it would make me look like the lead singer of Coldplay but instead, I just looked more bulbous, less proportioned and like it was the summer of my tenth birthday. It took me a while to realise that cutting off all my hair would have consequences for the wedding photos, and that I would look ridiculous with three months of growth and no trimming.

I had a friend at the time, a guy I met through my weird network of English teachers and students, who had his own family salon and who agreed to try to clean it up before the actual ceremony, charging me something like three thousand yen to give it a bit of a fade. He was very kind to me and bought my 55cc MiniCub scooter when we moved two years later, but I've tried for several days to remember his name and it's completely gone. I can see his face and I feel like I could walk to his salon if I was in Niigata now: I remember going there on a Thursday night and talking to him about getting married and him treating me the way many of my Japanese friends and colleagues were treating me at the time: this all sounds very ill-planned, but you have to admire his ambition. 

Over the years, I've tried to find a haircut that suits me, but if I'm honest, it has very little to do with whether my hair looks good to me, and more so whether I think that I look or am thin. When I got married, that year, I thought I was thin, even though now I know that I wasn't. When I looked at myself, I felt thin. And not only thin, I felt like every other white man in their early twenties who grows up in the suburbs of Chicago believing in Jesus and suffering no real difficulties feels: I was on some path of self-improvement that meant I would continue to get closer to the man I wanted to be, even if I wasn't quite there yet. It was, I assumed, an inevitable consequence of growing up, that you made good choices and good results would follow, even if it wasn't entirely clear how. You just needed to be faithful.   

My hair did end up looking okay for the wedding ceremony, and we bought a three-piece Spanish suit that has never really fit since that day and after I lost more weight. But in 2006 it was perfect and the pictures were fine, and my hair was longer than I remember. Looking at them, I feel annoyed the way a forty-year-old feels annoyed with themselves in their mid-twenties like this younger version of me in a suit he will only wear once needs to be told to take the whole thing more seriously, that he needs to realise that real life is at stake, you can't just giggle through it all: real shit is just around the corner, man. Real shit. 

I got a similar haircut this last week, twenty years later, at the Turkish Barber on the Harborne High Street, although my fade now was shorter and better balanced for my head shape and size. I can articulate what I want in a way that I couldn't when I was twenty-three, when I just naively assumed everyone was acting in my best interest. I've been joking about getting an old man haircut, by which I mean a haircut that needs little maintenance and which has given up on trying to be anything stylish. Now that I am thin, or at least think that I am thin, the haircut, the very close mid-fade, looks better than when I was twenty-three and still chubby, a little boy not quite sure of what was about to happen to him. How in less than a year from that picture, he would be holding a baby girl, his own baby girl and everything would be completely different. There must then be things now I don't realise, surely something is around the corner that I can't see, but I hope I can look back with more empathy and forgiveness at some point, and understand it, the way you understand a lover, the way you can forgive things because everyone is just doing their best, aren't they. What else are they supposed to do, what other thing can you expect of them then to act in their own character.