The right angle

‘My hair became matted and curly – not the good curly (90s Hugh Grant) but the bad curly (90s Justin Timberlake)’ – Violet columnist Will Hall laments about his bad angles

Will Hall

To be a concert pianist, you need talent and a confidence in your side profileInstagram: melbwarehousefest

A while ago, I saw a photo of myself somebody had taken at a party. I was standing, chatting to a friend. It was side on, profile – an angle I had come to fear ever since a few years ago when my face had decided to stage a Broadway revival of itself, entirely out of tune. 

My hair became matted and curly – not the good curly (90s Hugh Grant) but the bad curly (90s Justin Timberlake) – and that was only in the places that it hadn’t started to recede. My nose had chosen to grow much faster than the rest of my face, without informing my mouth, eyes or ears, who were left looking sheepish, forlorn and normal-sized. It would be many years before they would catch up. And to top it all off, I was short. The long-promised growth spurt – much-fabled among great-aunts and godparents, who would prophesy its imminent coming like early followers of Jesus (albeit preaching something far less plausible) – was still a tall order. And when it did arrive it was less of a spurt, more of a trickle.

"Poor bastards' I thought, as they told the whole table how they were 'being good', and mournfully passed me their chips"

All of these teenage insecurities had meant that there was a strict profile prohibition when it came to photographing me (something which didn’t happen as often as I would have liked, in any case). My vanity even forced me to abandon my life-long dreams of being a world-class concert pianist, as I couldn’t bear the thought of being perched perpendicular to my army of fans. It’s only the greatest good fortune that I didn’t have any life-long dreams of being a world-class concert pianist that makes this heartrending story ever so slightly less tragic. Even so, for me, 90 degrees was anything but a right angle.

Still, over time, things improved. Sort of. I got a bit taller. Sure, I was no Richard Osman, but I could at least hug my friends without us inadvertently going to third. The hair, after some attention from a sympathetic barber, became less unruly. And in time, the rest of my face caught up, meaning my aquiline nose is now just huge as opposed to enormous. The once ugly duckling had become, if not quite a beautiful swan, then at least a passable duck.

But then, looking at this photo, I noticed something I hadn’t before. What was that beneath my chin…? It wasn’t? Surely it couldn’t be? More chin. Oh great, I thought, to add to it all, now I’m fat. 

This had previously been the one thing about my body I was content with, my weight. Growing up my disproportionate features had meant, while I was hardly a rake, I was, at least, as skinny as one. And the best bit was, it was completely accidental. I didn’t even need to try – if anything, I did everything in my power to scupper my slimness. I never once went to the gym, I plied myself with food and I fell in love (yes, love) with chocolate. The only running I remember was out of Dairy Milk.

It was like I was tempting fate. Asking the gods of excess to show me some love handles. But they never did. I seemed to remain slender with every mouthful. My friends would start to order ‘bunless burgers’ in restaurants or buy those little watches which track your heart-rate. Poor bastards, I thought, as they told the whole table how they were “being good”, and mournfully passed me their chips. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I shouldn’t be kowtowing to the unreasonable (not to mention unhealthy) expectation that we should all be stick-thin (thanks a bunch, society). And of course, there’s nothing wrong with being fat, nor is there any correlation between beauty and size. But, even so, I’m ashamed to admit I quite liked not having to watch my weight. It meant I could combine my two greatest loves in life: food and not being on a treadmill.

"The only running I remember was out of Dairy Milk"

Sadly, it wasn’t to last. The same prophets who’d preached the oncoming growth-spurt had also warned, like the oracle of Delphi, that someday my luck would run out. “You’ve got to be careful,” they’d sermonise earnestly, “a minute on the lips…”. I’d politely ask them to change the topic, and pass me one.

But now, a few short years later, here I was, their divinations coming back to haunt me. And I was just having to take it on the chins. Sure, it’s still early days. I’m more at the need-to-renew-my-gym-membership level than Channel-4-documentary. But I haven’t looked at a pudding menu in months.

Just to check that all this clean-eating hellishness wasn’t some mad delusion (although slightly hoping it was), I showed the photo to a friend. “Do I look fat?” I asked, all puppy-dog eyes, hoping he’d tell me that this was a ridiculous suggestion. “No more than usual,” came his four-word reply, three words too long. 

It turns out everyone I knew had noticed this happening for a while, but hadn’t thought to tell me as they were too busy doing Bikram yoga and betraying their friend. For me, though, it had come as a shock. It felt like that moment you hear your voice on tape, and instead of sounding suave and charming and seductive, you sound like you’ve put on weight.


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Mountain View

Abide with Me

So now, I’m having to do all the stuff I should have done a long time ago. I’ve joined a gym. I’ve bought a pair of trainers (as in shoes, not staff). And hardest of all, I’ve had to cut down on my beloved chocolate. In fact, my friends aren’t allowed to mention it – or any related confectionary – for fear it’ll set me off. It’s been a rocky road (fuck), but I’m getting there.

A few weeks in, and there’s been a slight improvement. I can squeeze back into my jeans (just about), but the belt is still on sabbatical. Exercise remains the devil’s work, but I’m now an employee (well, an intern). And if you ask nicely, I might even let you have a photo. Just don’t dream of taking it in profile