Carnie Wilson's story is a journey from the darkness of a lifelong struggle with emotional rejection, compulsive eating, and morbid obesity into the light of health. In her new book, Gut Feelings: From Fear and Despair to Health and Hope, Wilson divulges how she regained control of a life that was spinning away. Read the excerpt below.
Chapter Three: Songs, Sex, and Smoke
My first love is music. It always has been. It's such a huge part of my being, and I've always known it. I remember feeling it when I was as young as four, certainly by the time I was six.
I knew I wanted to be a singer when I heard voices like Barbra Streisand and Karen Carpenter. My parents loved the Carpenters, and we played their records all the time at home. It didn't matter whether you liked that style of music or not. It was the magic in Karen's voice that was so soothing, and the lushness of the layered harmonies that were like soft clouds of sound.
My dad particularly loved the song "Be My Baby," by the Ronettes. He played it every single day — sometimes over and over — for as long as we lived together. Dad was blown away by Phil Spector's "wall of sound" production, and Ronnie Spector's voice had a yearning quality that knocked him out again and again. He couldn't get enough of "Be My Baby." To him, it's the greatest record ever made.
All kinds of music were always playing in the house, so Wendy and I were just constantly exposed to it. We had a big family room with an incredible stereo system, and my Mom and Dad had this huge wrought-iron shelving unit filled with albums. We used to go through the collection and just blast the music and dance and sing. It was something that gave us so much pleasure.
There was always someone visiting, and whoever came through that front door would have to watch us perform. They didn't have a choice. We'd bug them until they sat down, and then we'd sing our hearts out into hairbrushes or broomsticks with the big fireplace as our backdrop.
Sure, we did other things that little girls do-sports, putting on makeup, playing dress-up. But that was more when we were alone or with Mom. We'd be in her bathroom and put on her nail polish and makeup, and she would teach us about beauty.
But we spent most of our time singing to our favorite music. We had no idea we'd ever do it in front of thousands of people, but at the age of five, I made my stage debut with Wendy. It was the first of many times we sang back-up for the Beach Boys in concert.
All the Beach Boys took their kids on the road. We'd go to the gigs, sing onstage, hang out backstage, eat constantly, and have so much fun. Grandma Audree was often there with us, laughing and having a great time. There was nothing she liked better than to see her sons perform. It was a wonderful musical experience, and everyone supported each other in those days. It felt more like a family than it did at home.
But Dad didn't like going on the road. He didn't like to perform. He was in and out. But most of the time he stayed home.
I remember a huge thrill one night at the Forum in Los Angeles. It was the first time Mom ever let me wear high heels. They were actually wedges, but they were high, and I was feeling really cute.
Daddy was back on the road with the band, and there was a huge banner saying Brian's back. Welcome back, Brian. I was really proud of him, and it was a great feeling, because usually he wasn't on the stage. But that night he was there, and it was awesome.
I went out to the center of the stage all by myself, stepped up to the microphone, and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Beach Boys!"
Memories like this are so special because Dad didn't share himself with us that often. Most of the time he didn't really think about us. He was always busy at the piano, and once in a while we'd make him play something, and we'd sing it. But these moments were very scarce.
I've been making music of my own since I was 18 months old. We had a fantastic Hammond B-3 organ that my dad played now and then. Sometimes he'd put me on the bench next to him, and my little hands would go for it. I loved to watch him and be like him.
I started on the piano when I was in kindergarten, and Wendy and I took lessons for about ten years. We loved to perform for Mom and Dad, especially because it was the best way to get our father's attention. He'd sit back, close his eyes, and smile as he listened.
It was a rare chance for us to make a connection with him, and these were moments we cherished. There are only a few others, and even though they're little moments, they're all I have so they mean so much.
When I was ten, Dad taught me how to play "Rhapsody in Blue." He'd learned it by listening to a recording over and over until he got every note. He didn't read the music. He just played it on the piano every day. When he showed me how to do it, I felt like I tapped into something very close to him, and that was the coolest. Another time he taught me "California Girls" and "Sloop John B," and I was so happy to share this bond with him.
When I was 12 — this was a year after my parents were divorced — he came over one day to our new home in Encino. He sat down and said, "Play something for me. I love to hear you play."
So I played, and he sat back like he always does and closed his eyes. I could see how much it meant to him, and I felt so proud that somebody who knows music and just is music was so deeply affected by my playing. I think he enjoyed the way I played, but what he loved was that it was his daughter playing.
It was like, "Hey, this is my daughter, and I'm her dad. This is her talent, and some of it came from me. I may not have been the perfect father, but I gave her something beautiful that will last forever."
Music was our connection — our easiest connection — and it still is. We have painful connections, too. But music is our most natural. We can't explain it. It's just there.
Harmonizing came naturally to Wendy and me. Mom has the gift of harmony, too. I remember riding down Sunset Boulevard in her little brown Mercedes convertible, listening to Bob Seger or the Beach Boys and singing along. She'd teach me how to go below the melody for the low harmony, and Wendy would go for the high part. There's something magical about singing harmonies together, and when we'd make our voices blend just right, I'd get off on it so much. I dreamed of making music and having an acting career.
At Oakwood I started working in the drama department in the seventh grade. After years of subjects that didn't hold my interest, it was like coming home.
I'd done two national commercials when I was younger, and the feeling had been so positive. Okay, I may be heavier than the other kids, I thought, but I can do this — and I'm good.
Drama was the perfect outlet for my outgoing side. I could win people over with my acting. A wonderful teacher named Sabel Bender constantly encouraged me to work hard at bringing my characters to life. On the opening nights of our productions, I'd tell her how nervous I was. "Good," she'd say. "Now direct that energy into your performance. You'll be great!" She'd always compliment me on my strong stage presence, and her inspiration helped me build confidence that has influenced me for the rest of my life.
By this time, I was already into boys, and my attitude toward my weight began to change. I had a few close girlfriends, and we were chunky together, but boys weren't part of our social life until around the fifth grade. I remember at that time I had a crush on a couple of boys, but they wouldn't give me the time of day. They wanted the thin blonde girl with the big blue eyes. Everybody wanted her, including the guy I just adored.
I was so in love with him, and we became close friends, but he never really wanted me. I'd go over to his house or call him on the phone, and we'd talk about the girls he liked. I'd give him advice, but inside I was dying for him. I was dying for that moment when he'd finally realize that I was the one for him.
"I really appreciate your friendship," he'd say. And I wondered if he didn't want me because I was heavier than his ideal girl.
Later we wound up having sex together once, and I was his first. But he never wanted me for a girlfriend, and my heart still aches a little when I think of him. I ran into him several years ago. He's now the dean of an exclusive private school in Los Angeles, has children of his own, and is still as handsome as a god.
But I had other boys who liked me. I always had a boyfriend. So it wasn't like I was this loner fat girl who never had a date. I was very popular, but I know the feeling of being rejected by the men you want, how it is to feel like you're not worth anything because you don't look a certain way, and the loneliness when they're not paying attention to you. It's sad, and it can be self-depleting.
There were times when I was attracted to guys and they'd just tell me that they couldn't get around my weight. It was so crushing that I can't dig up the actual memories. But it's one of those things that needs to be verbalized. When you feel rejected, you need to talk about it with people who care, and hopefully they'll comfort you.
They'll say things like, "He doesn't know what he's missing. You're a great person. One day you're going to find someone who really loves you for who you are." That's what I got from my mom and all my friends. They helped me believe that having a good personality is so much better than having looks — and that the boyfriend of my dreams would be there for me when the time was right
I actually had my first boyfriend when I was five years old. He had the cutest freckles, and I had a major crush on him.
"Do you think he likes me?" I asked my mom.
"Sure he does," she said.
I remember going to his house to play. But we were five. What were we going to do?
At six I was taught how to French-kiss by a gorgeous boy named Jeffrey Knott, whose parents were friends of the family. I remember how unbelievably warm and fabulous his mouth was.
In the fifth grade, I had my first feelings of wanting to kiss the boys like the other girls did. During lunch period or recess, there would be games of Truth or Dare or Spin the Bottle. I always watched, but I never had the courage or confidence to play. I was afraid to be embarrassed. There were so many boys I wanted, but God forbid if they were grossed out and said no — it would have been too devastating.
A year later, I had two boyfriends on the string, and kissing was no problem. I was actually starting to think about sex. Looking back, I remember feeling sexual at a young age. I always knew there were ways to feel good and that the hormones would kick in. Growing up, I felt very open, and my mom was very cool about sex and feeling good. She caught me playing with myself early on, and she said it was normal, but there was a time and a place. She told me it was natural to discover your body, and that as I got older, these feelings would come more into play. I was mature for my age, just like my mom was, and I had my first period when I was ten. Once it all started, I knew I was a sexy little thing even though I was 25 or 30 pounds overweight. I lost my virginity when I was 13, but I didn't realize I was more advanced than most of my group. I thought I was the oddball and the outcast, when I was actually the one having sex before everyone else was.
Now I wish that I'd waited. I'd never encourage anyone to have sex at 13 years old. But I wasn't promiscuous. I'd been with my boyfriend for two years when we first made love. I remember going to spend the night at his house.
"Now don't do anything I wouldn't do," my mom said.
"Don't worry," I said. "I will."
"Carnie," she said, "please be careful."
My boyfriend had put the stereo together and had changed his room around just for me. His parents were home, and we tried to be very quiet. He had a little condom, and it was a very sweet thing. We thought we were being responsible, that we were ready, and that we were in love. Even so, I was nervous that I'd gotten pregnant, but my period arrived on my 14th birthday.
A year later, I had my first experience with marijuana, and I found my drug of choice — next to food, which has been the most powerful drug in my life, and probably always will be. But I loved the feeling of being stoned, and the smell and taste of pot — I still do. I'll smoke it occasionally now, but I don't buy it anymore or keep it in the house-and that helps me-because if there's dope around, I'll smoke it. I can't control myself.
© 2001 by Carnie Wilson, Published and distributed in the United States by: Hay House, Inc; P.O. Box 5100; Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100; (800) 654-5126