Like many people, I get excited for the holiday season and for visits back home…only to remember that these visits are usually boring (a fact I conveniently forget every year). Also like many people, I fill this boredom with entertainment. Specifically, I go to the movies.
One of the films I (and, I’m assuming, many people) saw was Silver Linings Playbook. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bi-polar former teacher recently discharged from a mental institution. His goal is to win back his ex-wife, Nikki, whom he is unable to see because of a restraining order, which was issued as a result of Pat’s violent beating of Nikki’s lover. Along the way, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widow with emotional issues of her own.
The film is a delightful mixture of cliché and honesty, comedy and drama. Essentially, the story is a family story, as Pat reenters the “real world” with the help of his quirky mother (Jacki Weaver), superstitious father (Robert DeNiro), friends, and the Philadelphia Eagles. Across the board, the actors’ performances were impressive, and I give a particular nod to Bradley Cooper for his performance.
But this isn’t a film review. It is, however, a commentary on Bradley/Pat’s uniform for most of the movie: gray sweats covered in a black trash bag. (Well, that’s the beginning…)
In order to win back Nikki, Pat engages in a battle against himself. He believes that if he changes himself physically, he will change his circumstances and resurrect the life he once lived, the life he has since idealized. While in the sanatorium, Pat commits to an exercise regimen and loses a significant amount of weight, which many of the characters comment on when they first see him again. He wears the trash bag as a way to increase his body heat, sweat, and caloric burn as he runs.
The irony – and, in fact, the crux – of the film is that although Pat believes weight loss and a more attractive physique will improve his chances at a better life, Pat is completely oblivious to how he is viewed by others. He was unaware of Nikki’s displeasure with him before her affair. When Pat visits his friend Ronnie’s home for dinner, he observes no social norms, wearing inappropriate clothing and blurting whatever comes to mind. To add to the rom-com flavor of the movie, Pat is probably the last one to perceive the attraction between Tiffany and himself. Ultimately, the film is one of self-realization and acceptance: Pat changes his physical appearance to recapture his former relationships, but what he doesn’t consider is how not only all the people around him have changed but about how he, mentally and emotionally, has also changed. Pat must accept more than the obvious – his bi-polar disorder, his divorce, his family drama; he must accept change in the most difficult place of all – himself.
Now, I am not bi-polar, a man, a divorcee, or an Eagles fan, but the Pat character is nonetheless compelling, in part because of its familiarity.
Ways in Which I Identify with Pat:
Belief that losing weight will fix the problem: Objectively, we all know that fixing just the physical won’t solve all our problems. Fitting into a pair of size four skinny jeans won’t guarantee me a job to love or a boyfriend to consider marrying. Often, without first fixing the mental and emotional issues associated with our weight and body image, we won’t be able to lose weight in the first place.
But how many of us, when it comes down to it, discard “objectively speaking” on the floor and stomp on it like our reserve pair of un-skinny jeans that are now too tight? Everybody tells me that confidence is the key to a truly attractive person, but I remain unconvinced that I’ll ever feel confident in my current body. I understand that confidence and (just enough) self-acceptance will help motivate me to exercise and stay committed to a diet plan, but the vicious demons of self-consciousness prevent that outcome. At my “better” moments, I tell myself that I will be dealing with a lack of confidence and self-dissatisfaction my entire life, and weight will be a constant struggle; I might as well lose weight and be outwardly “acceptable” first so that I can “move on” and deal with my other emotional issues.
Objectively speaking, I know that feeling is nonsense. But subjectively speaking, I can’t help believing that losing weight is the solution. Or at least the only one I can (want to?) accept right now.
Idealization of a past life: One of the reasons I know that belief in weight loss as the ultimate solution to life’s problems is bunk is because….I lost weight. And it didn’t fix my life. In fact, it created more problems. In the span of one high school year, I dropped 120 pounds and became some version of anorexic. For the first (and only) time in my life, boys asked me out, and I did have more confidence (and I loooooved shopping). But I have never felt more lonely and lost than during that year, when my need for control of what I was eating and my need to be “normal” made me so abnormal that I alienated all of my friends. I cried myself to sleep nearly every night and devoted my free time to more and more exercise.
But, do you know what I choose to remember most? I choose to remember the feeling of wearing sleeveless tank tops and short shorts and the look of that sophomoric love note some shy boy handed to me on the last day of school, giving me his number and asking me to call him. Those aren’t bad things to remember, but choosing to remember only them idealizes a frightening time in my life and fools me into believing that being thin really did change everything for the better.
Inability to accept change in myself: In my current weight loss struggle, one of the things that frustrates me the most is that I know weight loss is possible. That is, I’ve done it. I know how to do it. I just can’t make myself commit. Since it worked before, I’ve tried doing the same things, eating the same way, using the same program. It worked then; it should work now.
Only it doesn’t. I’m unwilling to accept that my circumstances have changed so much that I can’t recreate the conditions necessary to make the diet I ascribed to then work for me now. I’m unwilling to accept that I am a different person now than I was then. After all, I wanted to lose weight then to improve my life, and the same is true now – isn’t that enough? But now I’m 12 years older, have had interactions and relationships with hundreds more people, learned new things, received three diplomas, exposed myself to more culture and media, moved to three new cities, changed the way I feel about romantic relationships, etc. And now I’m confronted with that past self. Circumstances have changed; I have changed. The weight loss effort has changed, and I need to adapt.
But I still haven’t accepted that. I still feel like I should be able to find and apply the same resolve and system that I used last time. Only it isn’t working.
Maybe one day I’ll learn to accept change and become like Pat, getting the girl (or, in my case, the guy) at the end of the movie (spoiler alert: whoops) and changing my mentality.
And maybe I can get rid of that part of me that still insists (screams!): But Pat did lose weight first…