February 8, 2016 | by Jonathan Diener

As a human being, I’ve been the punchline of jokes, the subject to a lifetime of insults and the target of subtle jabs. It always hurt the most when it was over something I couldn’t change: how I look.

It started when I was young and overweight. I was a happy kid who spent most of my time playing with action figures, creating a fantasy world inside my head or watching television. I loved eating food and wearing jerseys of teams I knew nothing about, but loved their mascots.

At lunchtime in elementary school, I still remember my best friend telling me his mom didn’t want me hanging out with him anymore because she said I was “obese.” That afternoon I got off the bus and told my mom. I asked her what “obese” was and before she told me, she picked up her phone and started swearing at whoever was on the other line. She loved her boys and still does. I’d get people calling me “chubby” here and there, but nothing ever too bad. As I got older and taller I was usually the one who would get asked to play tackle football with everyone at recess. My size was an advantage only in some aspects. I also have really big feet and had to deal with being called “bigfoot” and made the mistake of buying red shoes so people called me a clown. I couldn’t make my feet any smaller.

After making my awkward journey through puberty and deciding to become vegetarian, I was finally, happily losing weight. I went from wearing XL shirts to L to finally M. I still remember wearing my first medium shirt out in public and being terrified—I thought it was too tight and I’d look like a total weirdo. I said hi to a girl in my grade by the gazebo in downtown Fenton and I still remember to this day she said, “Hey, I don’t know what happened, but you got hot.” I never knew if she was serious or not, but it was a huge confidence boost. Wearing clothes that fit me and looking the way I did was starting to get me noticed. I didn’t just have to play music for people to acknowledge my existence anymore. I loved it.

Fast forward a few years later and that’s when things flipped again. I finally wore jeans that fit me, shirts that weren’t baggy and people started with the skinny jokes. Band members, friends, family, strangers, it started to happen everywhere. I liked it at first, because I was fighting my whole life to be skinny and I considered myself healthy and active, but the more it happened, it was just this terrible flashback to my past. Now I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum. People would tell me I would need to eat more and bulk up, so I would try to gain weight by eating past the point of being full and going to the gym. I was already active, but having a bodybuilder brother didn’t exactly help when we were standing next to each other. The comparisons were instant. Why didn’t I look like him?

I ate too much, which messed with my acid reflux I’ve had since I was seven. I’d go to the gym and try to overdo it to be “bigger” and “acceptable” like my peers and end up hurting myself. I think back to being the happiest kid playing tennis in seventh grade and pinching a nerve in my lower right back. Something happened and I fell over and started crying and I couldn’t explain it. I gave up on sports and focused fully on music after that. I fought through my asthma until I was able to run and do cardio. Fast forward to after high school when I started hearing comments about my legs. “You look like you skipped leg day,” was one; I still hear it regularly. I have skinny legs. I wear pants that don’t look baggy, but it looks like I’m wearing tighter pants because I have skinny legs.

That’s when I started doing squats and other leg exercises as much as I could until I did something terrible to my right knee two years ago. I was being the most active I’ve ever been in my life, playing softball on a punk rock league, volleyball with my girlfriend and her friends in a bar league and going to the gym five days a week. I felt like a million bucks and then the injury showed up. I blew out my knee somehow. I was limping for close to a month. I had to stop playing everything, take time out of the gym and that’s when that strange depression started to sink in. I finally could feel like everyone else and then that was taken away from me. I always get so close and then it gets bad again.

My knee hasn’t fully healed, but I was able to get back to the gym and start doing more and more weight. I was feeling great again. Then one day my neck tensed up and I couldn’t look to the side. I took some time off and kept going again and then my hands and my right arm started to go numb, a problem I noticed when I was drumming on tour for months on end. I couldn’t take it anymore so I got a deep tissue massage, went to my doctor and finally started seeing a physical therapist.

The therapist quickly diagnosed me with scoliosis. The right side of my back noticeably sticks out more than my left due to a curve in my spine. The muscles in my shoulder blades and neck are extremely weak and overworked due to hunching over with bad posture. When you’re taller than everyone you tend to slouch. So drumming, sitting at a computer to write articles and lifting weights, my three main hobbies and two of my professions, are the things that hurt me. I was starting to blame everything and it was a real downer, and I was eager to get back to the gym and brush everything off all over again. After my second physical therapy session, I noticed my back began to constantly ache.

I saw a status on my brother’s Facebook about a benefit compilation I’m doing for my town, but quickly turned into a group of people making fun of me. I had to get thick skin being on tour with many self-proclaimed assholes, and there are a lot of them around which I still feel uncomfortable. I developed a sense of humor at a young age to fight things that upset me as distractions. But of all things, I got to witness several people telling me how skinny my legs were again while I’m still in pain after going to physical therapy for an injury I incurred while trying to not look skinny. It actually upset me and I finally said something to one of my friends. I know he had no idea what was going on because he’s used to my sarcastic and snide humor, but for once this got to me.

I’m an able-bodied white cisgender male and I’m privileged because of those things and I completely understand it, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t feel like shit when someone makes fun of me out of the blue. Whether it’s in a joking tone or not, it still bums me out. It always has and it always will. I have ears that stick out more than normal and usually when people are drunk enough they’ll make some stupid comment about it or worse of all, flick them, the thing that makes me almost shut down completely. I’m incredibly embarrassed about my teeth because I was embarrassed having braces through high school then didn’t want to keep wearing a retainer after and they shifted all over again. I could go on, but the point is even if you assume someone is comfortable, there’s no need to make fun of them and especially about something they may not be able to change. It really, really sucks. If I’m skinnier than you it isn’t endearing to make fun of me for it, thinking it will make me feel better.

The most upsetting thing is realizing that the world bases a lot of their opinions of others on looks. I’m guilty of it too. People want symmetry and familiar things, but if we don’t have that, you don’t have to act like a Hollywood casting director. There are personalities inside everyone and you should at least acknowledge that. When people in our music world started making shitty comments, they were no better than the bullies that made me want to start playing punk rock. If it happens to you, tell the person why it makes you upset. Don’t sugarcoat it. If they’re your friends they’ll listen. Everyone has a history that you may not know, so please think before you act.