Erik, who’s 32 and lives near Seattle, wrote to me to share his personal body image story.
”I am not fat. Do I have fat? You bet, as matter of fact most of us do. True some have very little but I am not one of those people. I would be considered a collector. Some people have more fat than I do but I tend to just worry about my own body. I am pretty healthy, and for a guy my size my agility and endurance is pretty above average. I don’t mind losing weight, I want to. I also want to have a marvel movie marathon and devastate a plate of nachos and chili cheese fries so it’s all about choices. I am just at this point where I’m not ashamed of my body anymore, that’s one of the reasons I’m writing all this down. I was ashamed for a very long time. Occasionally I still have my moments, feeling bad about your body is kind of like an addiction in the way that it’s something you deal with daily. Easy to fall off the wagon and go back to slamming yourself or believing negative things others say about you. So I’m going to say stop that. Right now. Whether you believe in a deity and intelligent design or that we exist as a random happenstance of cells and matter evolving, or that aliens made us and we’re just sophisticated machines… no matter what your idea is the fact remains that we are all unique. Don’t be negative about your body. Take care of it. That starts with your mind and not any tool you will find in a gym.
When you are a heavy set guy, every time you use your body for a simple task makes you feel like a ninja. The same could be said for a skinny guy or a muscular guy but I can’t speak for them because I am a heavy set guy. If I can balance on one foot to take off a sock without falling I feel like a Shaolin monk. If I can scoop something up with my foot and toss it in the general direction of where I want it to go then in my mind I’ve just achieved black belt status. It’s not even a conscious thought anymore; I just finish one task like this and feel my inner Bruce Lee being channelled. Just simple tasks.
I started to dislike my body at age 8 and for me this was right around third grade. That’s when I really started to put on weight. I don’t know if all kids feel awkward about their bodies around that time but for me, being a short husky kid with glasses and his nose in a comic book over half the time it was horrible. I was bullied. Constantly. Not so much in a physical sense but on the verbal scale. At one point I would turn my head if I heard the words “fat ass” just as if someone was calling my own name. The following years would get worse as I became more interested in girls and they became less interested in me. I did not have what would be considered confidence on any level, just felt ashamed. The only comfort I found was with the couple friends I did have, my parents, and my family. Especially my Dad.
My parents were both not what would be classified as skinny people and looking back now I should have let that give me hope alone because they were both well liked. My mother is the only one of the two alive now but she is one of the sweetest people you could ever know. While he was alive, my father would often reaffirm the belief in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. Well at age 8 I wanted to be a professional basketball player. He and I would watch basketball games on television and I would see these men playing that were larger than life to me. Almost everyone over 6 feet tall, in shape and their muscles had muscles. That’s what I wanted to be. I tried to stretch my body, even prayed to be taller. Daily. As a young boy I hypothesized that if I grew as tall as them then my huge tummy would be stretched and the problem would be solved. I hit a growth spurt when I was 12 but it had little effect on my body. I was discouraged. Now as a grown man having gone through several growth spurts I stand 6’3 but the belly situation still hasn’t worked itself out yet, it got larger, and I can’t even dunk a basketball as a consolation prize. Note to self: be more elaborate in your prayers because sometimes you get what you asked for but not what you wanted. Kind of like some relationships.
I am happy to report that I am not that little boy crying himself to sleep almost every night anymore. As I mentioned before, I am 6’3. I weigh 280 pounds. I have stretch marks scattered across my body and when I heard a story on the radio one time about guys with muffin tops being the new “in thing” I literally pulled my car over to the closest parking lot and got out of my car and happy danced it for a good solid two minutes. I’m sure it was a good show to any spectators that watched that truffle shuffle go down. Speaking of making awkward moves in a public place, one of my closest friends was very good in martial arts. In fact, he just didn’t feel like a ninja he could probably pass as one. He used to show me moves in his front yard when we were 18 and he would say “C’mon, do a cartwheel”. Easy words for a guy that I just watched do a couple back flips and front flips. I would tell him that I couldn’t because of my size and he would just shake his head and say “Even Chris Farley can do a cartwheel.”
Now Chris Farley was an actor that helped me feel better about being me. It’s all about confidence. There are people that inspire me to be positive about myself that aren’t a heavy set man. Meghan Tonjes is a singer/songwriter living in California that speaks on positive body image topics all the time. She inspires me frequently and I’ve never even met her. Same goes for Russell Wilson. He’s the quarterback that won the Superbowl last year, and he almost got overlooked entirely due to the fact he’s shorter than your average quarterback. He didn’t let that stop him. He smiled, worked hard and pursued his dream. I think for those of us that have felt that we’re less than ordinary we need people like that in our lives. I have dated skinny women, average women, and large women. None of them were ever completely pleased with their body. I would tell them I thought they were beautiful because I was looking at them through eyes of love. We all need to look at ourselves through our own eyes of love.
All these people I just mentioned have talent. There’s no denying that. Folks like you and I, what do we have to contribute to the world? That was one of the thoughts that helped me understand my dilemma and be positive about myself moving forward. I can’t accomplish my dreams if I’m too busy being hung up on what society deems for me as faults. What do huge defined muscles do for me? Advertise that I’m strong? I’m strong enough for anything I need to do. What do I need a flat stomach for? Show that I eat small portions and have a balanced diet? I have a slab of steak and sides sitting next to me at this very moment that says otherwise. That joke of a recommended calorie count for the day is sitting on my plate as just a meal in my day. I’m still healthy. So really what the big deal about body image boils down to is sex. That’s what our media sells! Can’t blame them, it’s what we’re buying. They say for a man to want a woman she needs big breasts, a booty that’s so fit it must do squats in its sleep, a slender figure, etc. Let me share something with the women that are reading this: just be you. A personality that pairs well with our own and knowing you are not a psychopath is all men really want. Insecurity creates a lot of craziness in women (as men perceive it) and the same can probably be said about insecure men to women. Or women to women. Men to men. Men to women to men. However it goes down in your house. Have a support system and if you are around toxic people in your life you either have to look past them or put them in your past.
So there you have it, for all that are reading this probably know more about me now then most of the girls I date. I am still goofy and awkward. Still believing one of the bravest things I do is go out in public in shorts. I haven’t said anything that will rock your world but maybe knowing that just one more human being thinks you’re a beautiful person, then that’ll be what helps you realize it too. My bros, girls I hang with, girls I date, all the people in my life know I think they’re beautiful. I don’t know if all of them feel the same about me but the great thing is that it doesn’t matter. I know it.”
Everyone goes through a journey with their body. Do you want to share yours? Write a piece and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your age, where your from and a photograph if you want to. There’s no word limit and you can be as in depth or vague as you like. Talking is often the first step to achieving body confidence!