Body Issues and Men.
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.
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.