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Body Issues and Men.

27 March 2016

I struggle with body image in a similar way that I struggle with competence. Some days I feel like I’m fit and strong and sexy and attractive. Some days I feel fat and ugly and doughy and obese. I rarely feel much in between. It’s difficult for me to see myself as I am. Objectivity doesn’t seem to exist. I have distinctly different experiences of my body, for example, before and after exercise.

Before I exercise I usually think I look fat, round, sloppy. Afterwards, I feel like I am more sculpted. Shapes that look adipose and bulged before look lean and muscular after. Both circumstances feel “objective” to me while I see them. I feel capable of looking at my body as it is. But what I see changes from hour to hour.

Certainly, I am no stereotypically great specimen of manhood. I have a spare tire and I carry weight in my chest and around my belly. I have stretch marks left over from my twenties when I gained a lot of weight and they will be with me forever.

But this is what I am. In the past three or four years I have changed my body really dramatically. The weight I’ve lost, the muscle I’ve built. It’s changed my health. Once teetering on the edge of diabetes, I am now in good health. While still too heavy, I am fitter than ever before, and I compare favorably with athletic men my age.

While I am not athletic, it is fair to say I’ve become a bit of an amateur athlete, such as I am. I ran 1200 miles last year. I go to the gym twice a week. I compete in races and I am consistently improving. I have run a marathon, and am now embarking on my third year of multiple half-marathons.

You might think this would make me feel better about this body of mine. And I can see and feel some changes. But many days I just see my previous, thick, lumpy, wheezy old self. I see the stretch marks, or the scars from when I used to cut myself. The roll of fat around my middle I cannot seem to shrink.

Men aren’t supposed to have body image issues. We’re supposed to be comfortable with how we are no matter what we look like, or think we look like. Body image is supposed to be a female affliction that men are largely derided for, at best, not understanding. At worst we are its cause. And we feed into that. We pretend to love our bodies because it’s seen as effeminate not to. We mock or ignore women who don’t fit the ideal because we are supposed to, even if our own attraction doesn’t fit the magazine covers’ prescriptions.

It’s all a lie. And I think we men might be more sensitive to women’s challenges in this area of we were given room – by women and each other – to admit we have body image issues without being made to feel unmanly about them. Masculinity is brash, but it is vulnerable.

And I refuse to see that as a subject for mockery, or a flaw. Many women tease men unmercifully for being less than sufficiently masculine. And men often do worse. Well, I am not ashamed.

Of course I am ashamed. That’s the problem. But I refuse to allow the existence of this challenge within me to make me tremble at the fear of being called not-man-enough. I am man enough for me. And the rest of it doesn’t matter.

This is what an amateur athlete looks like. I am not proud of how I look, but I am god damned proud of what I’ve done. This is what a man looks like.

image

I am not immune to dysmorphia. I am not immune to mockery. But I have decided not to let my vulnerability be a weakness.

This is what a man feels like.

 

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 27 March 2016 18:33

    This is something I constantly struggle with, even as I become more healthy. I’ll occasionally catch glimpses where everything lines up and I think I might be sort of attractive, but I’ve mostly resigned myself to the idea that even if I’m incredibly fit, I’m never going to be comfortable with it. Instead, I’m trying to embrace the idea that even if I’m not able to feel good about it alone, as long as it’s making someone else happy I shouldn’t stress over it. That externalized approach isn’t very good overall, but if the people I care about find me attractive, I shouldn’t be trying to deny it due to my own insecurities.

  2. 27 March 2016 19:01

    Lookin good brah!

  3. Aimee permalink
    27 March 2016 20:13

    I wish I could send you a transcript of the conversation Rowan and I had after you and I had our text exchange. It was a wide ranging conversation that veered from a comparison of men’s vs. women’s body issues, all the way back to Ancient Greece which was the author of the morality so many of us feel about virtuous fitness and attractiveness and sinful, ugly sloth. Remember it was the daily duty of a man to spend some of each day in the palaestra – keeping himself fit for war, yes, but equally importantly making himself pleasing to the gods, who gave him his body and who created him in their image. To approach as closely as possible the ideal figure of a man, as expressed in the statues of the gods, was a moral, even a religious duty. Women got off easier in Ancient Greece, being imperfect by nature anyway. These cultural ideas have substantial weight, even today, even if you weren’t aware of the history. There are other ways of
    measuring worth than that one. It’s just that from our Eurocentric Greco-Roman perspective, all those other ways feel a little bit like a cop out. The reason you said no when I asked, if you would try to change the paradigm in your head, is that it would mean abandoning the moral system embedded in your paradigm. Or at least modifying it. And you know as well as I do, modifying your morals is not something you like to do. 😉 it’s not really my business. You have made objectively dramatic changes for the better in your health. I hope you someday come to feel that that is its own reward, and enough. Love, your history nerd sister.

    • Aimee permalink
      27 March 2016 20:15

      Oops meant to say “your fat history nerd sister.”

  4. 28 March 2016 07:26

    I used to feel like sort of a fraud athlete. Even though I was fit and strong and could actually RUN a fricking Marathon. Part of that was my weight. I felt fat. When I look back at my race photos, I do not see a fake or a fat woman. I wish I could have relished and enjoyed that a bit more, though I did still enjoy it a lot. I weigh less now, but still feel…. Whatever.

    I hope I don’t sound like a creep, but I think you look fabulous. Not a skinny stick figure of a man.

  5. 28 March 2016 13:09

    Hey my boyfriend suffers from similar issues! Body dysformia and men is more common than people might think! But u look amazing and should not feel this way. It’s nice that you have posted about this to help others struggling.

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