Once upon a time, I told a story about how I lost 15 pounds from cutting carbs. In the telling of that tale, I mentioned that I had a narcoleptic doctor and a lecherous acting coach that prompted my weight loss. Today, I thought I’d write a little bit more about them, in response to the outpouring of curiosity I received after that story was published.*
Some names have been changed so that no one gets mad at me.
Johnny Schneider, my acting teacher in Los Angeles in 2004, was a short, scrawny man with a dingy gray beard and a propensity for leering at his students. His class was held once a week in a large, flourescent-lit auditorium on Santa Monica Boulevard, and in between lessons, he would sidle up next to me so that I could practically taste the leather of his coat, and rasp descriptions of his various turn-ons into my ear: “See that girl over there? She used to be a stripper. I’d love to see that ass in a little schoolgirl outfit.”
Why I stayed under his questionable tutelage for more than a hot minute I’m not really sure, but I did, and it was long enough for him to see me up on stage and formulate an opinion of my nonexistent acting career.
I found out what that opinion was one day at his office – a second-floor, one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood that was always strewn with lounging, unemployed actors – when he nonchalantly took me aside.
“Jessica, are you interested in booking roles?” he asked, holding onto my arm and standing close enough for me to smell his stale cigarette breath.
“Um…yes,” I said.
“Well, I can tell you what’s standing in the way,” he said.
As much as that sounds, in hindsight, like the beginning of a bad porn, at no point did it cross my mind that he was going to ask me to do something illicit. Rather, I thought I was finally going to get the information that I was paying him for — the secret to great theatrical success.
“It’s your weight,” he said. “Drop 20 pounds and you’ll start getting more work.”
It stung like a slap across the face. Not a deep, mortal wound, but a painful truth — after all, I had been to enough auditions to know that I wasn’t quite as lithe as some of my competition.
Still, I probably would have disregarded his suggestion in favor of pizza and late-night Jack in the Box had it not been for another person repeating, almost verbatim and no less than a week later, the same message…
My doctor had a short gray bob and big glasses, and I sat across from her in a dimly lit room just days after being told that my tubby ass was blocking my way to stardom. Hers was the kind of medical office that hasn’t been redecorated since the 1970s; the kind that makes you quietly wonder if you’re really getting the best care available.
I was there because my lower back was bothering me, and I actually thought that the pain was the result of some sort of cosmic alignment – as a Libra, you see, I’m prone to lower back discomfort. The doctor weighed me, measured me and took my blood pressure. Glancing at my chart, and then back up at me, she began lobbing some questions.
“So you’ve been having this pain for a few months now?” she asked.
“And it’s fairly consistent?”
She flipped through my chart as I clenched my hands between my knees, convinced that she was about to tell me my pain was the result of some sort of terminal illness. I braced for the news.
Instead, as she pondered my health history and my current state of distress, her eyelids began to close and her chin began to head southward. Was she losing her place? Resting her eyes? Stopping to wonder why she chose this profession in the first place, a profession in which she had to assuage the fears of paranoid 24-year-olds hell-bent on using their astrological sign to diagnose their health problems? No. None of the above. Suddenly, right over my precious medical information, she fell asleep.
It was only a second before her eyes popped back open.
“Well, it looks like you’re in pretty good health,” she continued.
I had no idea what to do. Was I that boring? Maybe, I quickly reasoned, she wasn’t asleep but just looking at my chart really hard, at the very bottom. I didn’t want to be rude, so I said nothing.
“Do you exercise often?” she asked.
“Probably about four times a week,” I lied.
Again, she flipped one page, her eyelids drifted down, her head nodded to one side, and she was out.
That’s when it hit me: she has narcolepsy.
I had never met anyone with the disease before, and I didn’t know the protocol. I assumed that she was leading the way by example, so I didn’t ask her any questions or mention it at all. I just tried to focus on her diagnosis, and that might have been difficult, had the following sentence not pierced the air:
“Well,” she finally said, “I think that this has to do with your weight.”
It’s difficult to describe the particular pain of being told by a doctor that you’re so fat that it’s making you unhealthy, although I can tell you that it briefly takes your mind off of whatever neurological illnesses the MD might be suffering from. For me, frankly, the hardest part of receiving this news were the unforeseen questions it raised — at 5’4, I was a size 10, a 12 after Thanksgiving. I knew I was no Kate Moss, but I didn’t think I was an obese person who might suffer cardiac arrest at any given moment, either. Did that mean I was in denial? Did I have the opposite of body dysmorphic disorder, in that I thought I looked fine when I really didn’t? Or was she perhaps making a mountain out of a few adorable rolls of fat? [tagbox tag="weight loss"]
Maybe I should have been angry, and maybe I should have marched right out of there and taken my chart with me.
But I didn’t. Instead, the message that I needed to drop a cool 15-20 lodged directly in the part of my brain that controls weight loss, and I think we all know what happens from there.
Ironically, after losing the weight I also quit acting, because really, who wants to be part of a field that tells you you’re too fat to play? But perhaps less ironically – and of course, this might just be because the stars have realigned – my back hasn’t hurt since.