Have you ever met a friend or acquaintance (or even a family member) on
the street who enthusiastically and effusively exclaimed: "You look
fabulous! You look wonderful!" -- and you immediately became
suspicious? Does this person know I've been depressed, stressed out,
recovering from chemotherapy, stuck on the toilet half of my day, and
swallowing more drugs daily than were available for recreational use in all
of the '70s and '80s? Does this person really mean what they say or are
they sending me a psycho/spiritual subconscious message that I look like
hell but to keep on fighting for life. You could make yourself crazy trying
to figure out these exchanges.
My personal experience is that people who know I have AIDS mean
well by expressing their support; forget their motive. Support is support
is support! Be gracious. Smile. And then tell them you feel like shit -- or
that you're in a spectacularly cool place due to the steroids and Prozac.
Chances are they are speaking honestly and are correct in their observation
that you do indeed look wonderful.
From my perspective as a long-term survivor there is tremendous
reason for hope in the accelerated progress which science, government, and
society are making. Less toxic treatments, more effective treatments,
friends and buddies living longer and healthier are all powerfully
persuasive arguments not to "bag it" and lose your humor -- and
hope. Yes, we are in a period of time of this devastatingly prolonged
epidemic when a slow rate of physical deterioration can be excruciating and
painful to fully experience and live through. Sometimes your inner dialogue
is: "Well, do I surrender the fight and give up the ghost?" or
"Damn this disease, I will not give up my life, not a chance!"
But fifteen, ten, even five years ago, those poor souls didn't have
much of a chance that they could see. They got sick once or twice, their
spirits were broken and they were gone.
We now have reason to believe that we do look wonderful or fabulous. After
witnessing the early carnage of AIDS, experiencing our own nip-and-tuck
skirmishes with opportunistic infections and the very real and positive
outlook for the near future, we all have every reason to believe that we do
look fabulous. We are all living proof of the progress and luck that has
taken place over the past 15 years. We are all in the middle of a period of
time of accelerated progress, evolution, and hope.
There will always be unfortunate elements of society that want us
to die, that could take pleasure in causing us pain. But we can be
immensely proud of who we are, where we've been, and where we're going. And
don't underestimate your own powerful impact on those newly diagnosed
persons who are in the grip of extreme fear and emotional upset.
We have a role to play in the epidemic just by virtue of our
continuing lives: our courage, stubbornness, tenacity, and continued
willingness to witness our own evolution as humans is ample reason to be
proud -- proud of who we are as individuals; proud of what we are as
individuals; and proud as contributory medallions for our commitment to a
glorious human spirit.
So when somebody comes up to you and says "You look fabulous!"
believe it. You do!
Joe Tonti was a musical comedy entertainer, night club performer, personal
fitness instructor and trainer, AIDS volunteer, and Body Positive
facilitator. He was a long-term survivor, and a devotee of life.
Editor's Note: Unfortunately, I have the task of informing you about
the death of Joe Tonti from AIDS-related illness. The title of Joe's column
this month, "You Look Fabulous," has to do with feelings about
how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself. In the relatively
short time that I knew and worked with Joe (since August 1996) I had the
pleasure of getting to see just how "fabulous" he was on the
inside. For those of you who have been reading his columns, you know that
he loved life, had a real zest for it, and wanted to pass along his
enthusiasm for life to you. He was completely dedicated to this column. In
fact, he often sent in his columns well ahead of their due date --
sometimes three or four at a time! If you knew Joe personally, you knew
that in the midst of his personal storms, he could be calm and steady. I
often wondered how he could project such peacefulness in times of
difficulty. Maybe I was just never exposed to his explosive side (if it
existed). I invite those of you who personally knew Joe, or those who did
not but were personally touched by his columns, to send me letters about
your experiences concerning Joe. Body Positive will print as many as
possible in our "Letters to the Editor" column. I love you, Joe.
-- Val Hoskins
Back to the May 97 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.