We are who we are. We are also what we eat.
Both realities have presented a problem for Axl Rose, the once-wiry lead singer of Guns N' Roses who traded Appetite for Destruction for Appetite for Just About Anything. His girth has become something of a social-media meme, with pictures of the performer paired with juvenile (and funny) fat jokes.
Axl doesn't like being called "Fat Axl," nor does he like being the subject of a #FatAxl hashtag. I wouldn't either. No one likes to be teased, after all. But Axl Rose is taking it a step further, opening his equally fat wallet to hire attorneys to demand that Google take down pictures of him that he feels leave him in an unflattering light, claiming they violate his intellectual property.
He's far from alone. Many celebrities have waged battles to have photos removed from the web. Beyonce, for instance, prefers that snaps of her hot-mess period be stricken from her record. Alyssa Milano famously won a lawsuit in 1998 when a website posted topless screengrabs of her from a low-budget vampire flick she appeared in. Clearly it was a major victory, since you can't ever find celebrity nudes on the Internet today. Go ahead. Try to Google them. (Just not at work.)
It's maddening that people try to squash their life histories from the web. It's worse that regulators are more and more allowing that to open. In Europe, you have a "right to be forgotten," which means search engines can be required to de-link embrassing information about you. Since we live in a global world, American companies like Google and Bing might soon have to comply domestically, even though a right to be forgotten runs afoul of publishers' First Amendment protections.
That's a shame, because our failings are a part of who we are. They are part of our authentic experience as humans. We make choices, and many of them turn out to be wrong. The response should never be to call out the people who point them out to us, but rather to look inward, find lessons, draw strength and figure out how we can be comfortable, productive and meaningful with who we are. No doubt, Axl Rose has handlers who claim the images hurt his personal brand. But one of the biggest flaws with most personal branding campaigns (and content marketing in general) is that they lack sincerity. Folks are so busy trying to pretend to be someone else, they fail to see the value in who they are.
I understand that, when it comes to girth, there are other issues involved. Kids do get teased for being fat. Obesity and depression go hand-in-hand. And, online at least, women tend to get the brunt of the negative comments when it comes to weight. But Axl Rose is not some lonely kid in a schoolyard. He is a music legend. He is an innovator. Even with his size-46 Luckys, women are likely still throwing their bras at him on stage. In my humblest of opinions, if there's anything to shame him over physically in these photos, it's his 1970s-porn-era mustache. His weight is a part of him -- a big part, yes -- but certainly something he can't hope to erase from the public record.
I know. Like Axl Rose, I, too, am a "person of size." I may identify as buff, but my ample touchas still qualifies for both its own zip code and a congressman. The potholes I leave behind when I jog are responsible for a full percentage point of my town's property taxes. SpaceX's next mission is to land on me.
Kidding aside, I have struggled with weight -- pyschologically, professionally, physically -- for most of my adult life, but I've always known where that responsibility rests. I could blame Baconators, Maker's Mark or the ghost of General Tso, but the truth is that I'm fat because I over-consume and under-burn calories. Science isn't to blame. It's how I perpetrate it.
There are plenty of images from my life I'd like to burn on a cyber pyre (all those weddings I've had, for instance) but they are a part of me. I've done great things in my life and career. I've screwed up. I've been fat and thin (well, at least, not-so-fat). I've sported long hair and short. There's a rich history of all that online. I look back and learn. I embrace my faults, what I have done and what I have failed to do. That history is a guidepost, a hospital chart of my progress as a human. I can't preach to people to be authentic in their messaging, branding and lives if I don't do that in my own. I have to...um...eat my own cooking, as it were.
Axl Rose is a legitimate trailblazer in music, and he wrote the soundtrack to much of my teenage years. I can't hear Sweet Child o' Mine without thinking about my 1985 gun-metal gray Chevy Monte Carlo, driving down Broadway in Bayonne, N.J. Those memories, the sounds coming from Slash's guitar, evoke something raw, passionate and emotional in me, because of the authenticity and innovation of the music I was hearing. Hearing Axl's voice does remind me of that warm, safe place where as I child I'd hide. His size doesn't matter to me. It shouldn't matter to anyone, least of all to him.
If anything, his crusade to stamp out his fat period threatens to take away something from the Axl Rose mystique, which more than anything is his unique selling proposition. He always came across as someone who didn't care what anyone thought of him. This is pettiness I'd expect from the New Kids on the Block, not him.
Axl Rose is rotund. He is authentically overweight. So what? It doesn't make him any less of a fantastic performer, nor any less of a hero to long-haired 1980s rocker kids like I was.
Rather than fight silly trademark battles, he should overcome his handlers and his ample waistline, and just embrace who he is. Sadly, I think there's fat chance of that.