One of my favorite episodes of the 90’s sitcom Seinfeld is when Jerry is dating a woman who is “conventionally” attractive but the more he spends time with her he discovers that she is annoying and not very bright. At the end of the episode Jerry imagines a chess match between his brain and um…let’s just say his other head.
My own struggle is reminiscent of this silly 90s call back simply because I see Jerry battling between what he knows to be true and his own basic instincts.
I have my own short of chess-match. One between my head and my conscience. You see in this chess match one competitor (we shall call him Danny 1) knows what is true and has practical reasons for being concerned about his health. This is the Jekyll Danny. The Danny I wear on the outside, the one that I show to the world, and honestly the one I want to win with a glorious checkmate.
Jekyll knows he is not too terribly overweight, and probably better than average looking. He is also aware of the fact that there are some scary reasons why he should stay healthy. Heart disease runs in my family, and in the last decade my father had two almost heart attacks. My grandfather had a major heart attack which only quickened his passing from Alzheimer’s. And to top off all of this when I was two weeks old I had a heart surgery of my own. A couple years ago my cholesterol was so high a doctor had to call me back in after blood work to make some “life style changes” in the way I eat. The Jekyll competitor in this chess match goes to the gym once a week simply because “I have to keep that heart rate up otherwise I will go the way of my Grandfather”. Danny 1 continues to rationalize that ordering a salad, counting calories through My Fitness Pal, and stepping on a scale are not for cosmetic reasons at all. Danny 1 tells himself he continues to be concerned about his weight simply because it could mean life or death. Again, this is the Danny I so desperately want to be. The Danny I want everyone to see, the Danny who is put together, health conscious, and not at all vain.
However my competitor in the chess match is formidable. Danny 2 lives deep within and comes out in violent bursts. Danny 2 has internalized incident after incident his entire life and deeply believes he is overweight, and therefore unattractive. While the world never really sees this version of myself it is usually making moves that the brain does not expect, causing Danny 1 to sweat profusely while he figures out how to get a better grip on himself. The Hyde competitor remembers every time his friends in grade school requested he walk at the back of the line because he smells (overweight people clearly have more flatulence than skinny people), every time his baseball team would chant “walk him, walk him” (because overweight kids are not athletic), and every comment like “hey chewbacca where is your co-pilot!” Whenever he went swimming (body hair is attractive, especially in copious amounts).
Over the years I learned to forget the cruelty of my youth and I grew into a mature adult who does not dwell on the past. However like an evil vicious computer – Hyde has stored all of those incidents in my internal memory – lost forever in the “cloud” of my consciousness.
This chess match continues on a daily basis.
I step into my bathroom to get ready for my work day – Jekyll says “Hey Danny, check your weight to make sure you are in that healthy range your doctor told you” – Knight takes pawn.
However the next day I go into my bathroom and check again – I am a pound heavier than I was yesterday and it bothers me – Hyde counter strikes by taking my knight with his bishop.
Jekyll says “go do some yoga, you have a very stressful job and you need to relax and unwind”. Hyde sees myself in the mirror and sees how bloated you look while doing various positions and convinces you to move to the side where you cannot see yourself in the mirror but can still practice. Hyde takes another pawn
Jekyll says “take a group picture with all of your friends, you want to remember this moment” Hyde looks at the picture on your phone and deletes it automatically; you can see your stomach sticking out unflatteringly. Heart takes knight.
Jekyll says “go lift weights and run have to keep that heart healthy.” Hyde takes off shirt when he goes home and sees flabby stomach and pudge in the neck. Hyde takes bishop with a bishop putting the king in check.
And on and on it goes.
You see, it’s much easier as an adult to rationalize your body image issues into something else – “I just want to be healthy”, “Heart disease runs in my family”, “a healthy body is a happy body”. And I so desperately want to believe those things. I want that Danny to reign supreme and like Gandalf with the Balrog take the other Danny and “Smite its ruin upon the mountainside”. But I need to call it for what it is. As healthy as those body positive messages are they are and have always been a smokescreen for the fact that I simply am not satisfied with the way I look on the outside.
The question is this (and maybe you can help me). How do I actually take the positive things I say about my concerns about my health and make them true? How do I erase the need for self validation? How do I convince myself to erase all those ugly and honestly petty things that are stored on “the cloud”. How do I actually win the chess match and be ok with me just as I am?
There is certainly a lesson to learn from all of this. Never underestimate the power of the things you say to someone else, because they can stick with you forever. Yes we grow up, and we mature, and we stop caring about what was said to us by Little Johnny in the third grade. But really all we have done is built a house for all those things so that they can safely dwell within away from everyone else’s eyes.
Here is maybe the best solution to this whole chess match dilemma I find myself in: help others win their own epic chess matches. If I could go back in time and say the right thing to my younger self maybe the chess match would have never started in the first place. And similarly if we started validating those around us and encourage children to validate others maybe we can stop a whole generation of having internal chess matches. That is what the Embraceable project does, it validates who you are right now so that we can stop the never ending debates in our heads and just live presently.
May you read this and also live presently and love you. May you find solace that you are not alone in your own inner chess matches. And maybe, just maybe, we can encourage each other to put away the chess board for good and have our inner Jekyll and Hyde play a friendly game of go fish instead.
Teacher/Artist/Lifetime chess player,
March Guest Blogger: Danny is part teacher, part artist, and part adventurer. Currently teaching Theater Arts and English in North Las Vegas, Danny enjoys being an educator and the prospect of either getting students to learning from stories or helping students tell stories. However, a homebody at heart he hopes to move this passion and return to his native Los Angeles in the next year where he can continue educating while also getting back into his other competing first love, the stage. Ultimately Danny enjoys the simple things: a good book, a mug of coffee or beer, and great company. He is definitely a Hobbit at heart.