Hamza, 17 from Manchester wrote to me to tell me his body image story.
”Body image is an issue that is too often neglected when it comes to men. Somewhere in the transition from boy to man there is a process of conditioning that tells us that we aren’t allowed to be vulnerable, emotional or sensitive and those aspects of our character ought to be replaced with a brutish need to be the alpha male. Of course I’m generalising here, because I never was that typical manifestation of “manliness”.
My name is Hamza Rafique, I’m 17 years old, I have little interest in sports unless you count dancing to Beyoncé and when it comes to my body I’m anything but the glorified, toned men on the cover of Men’s Health. Yet I outright refuse to feel in any way inferior to a man who fits the societal criteria of being manly and there isn’t a square inch of my skin that I don’t feel comfortable living in.
I wasn’t always so confident when it came to my appearance, in around the time of this year I felt at my worst. In addition to some issues with self esteem I spent a month or so forcing myself to throw up crouched over toilets after almost every meal. This is something that I’ve hardly shared with anyone in my life. I desperately wanted to lose weight with the hope of feeling better about myself, with the hope of looking more like the friends I was comparing myself too. And yes, I lost the weight but I felt like utter shit both physically and emotionally.
In terms of physical problems I had the constant sensation of burning in my throat and oesophagus as well as a constant feeling of being drained of energy. I thought at least the fact that I was losing weight would make me happy enough to overcome these problems but my mental state was just as bad if not worse. When you try and change your body out of a place of shame it is very unlikely that the result will make you feel any better, sure I lost the weight but I hadn’t dealt with the underlying problems that made me do what I was doing.
There was a moment when I realised that I simply don’t have time to get caught up in these unhealthy habits and I don’t have time to sit around feeling sorry for myself. I have important things to get done in my life. I want to got to university, I want to get work experience, I want to meet up with my friends and I want to try and be the most positive influence on others as I can possibly be. With all this in mind I put a stop to my unhealthy lifestyle and negative thinking pretty much cold turkey because there’s just no way I am going to sacrifice time which I can spend making those ambitions a reality. And to be honest, if my body is fully capable of getting up in the morning and doing everything it needs to do in a day to make me feel fulfilled who is anyone to say that I ought to meet societal standards because I already meet my own.
I’m very glad to say that now, five months later, I have never felt better and I even go to the gym once or twice a week. I feel like a different person compared to who I was then and it really astounds me what having self discipline and ambition is capable of.”
Do you want to share your own body image story? Whether you’re a man or a woman, younger or older, black or white – I want to hear from you. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s inspire others to love the skin they’re in!