The social pressures that exist in our society around body image seem to be more aimed at women. For instance, through advertising, magazines, tv, etc., the ideal female body image marketed to the masses has undoubtedly put destructive, negative social pressures on women to look or strive to look a certain way.
I know men go through this too, but I just don’t know that many personally who have ever spoken of their struggles themselves. Men in general, but not always, seem to have it easier when it comes to their looks- they are less judged than women are generally; but they are still judged.
I guess I am an example of a guy who has always struggled with body image issues.
Growing up in high school I always felt unattractive and lacked self-confidence because of my looks. I don’t know the origins of this issue, but it’s been a burden I’ve held for a great portion of my 39 years.
Looking back at pictures of me in high school I actually didn’t look bad or overweight!
A transformation in my body happened in my early twenties, when I began to work out at the gym on a regular basis. I lost a good deal of weight and looked good by societal standards. Still if I did gain any weight or saw a picture of myself at that time I was unhappy with my looks.
And so for a period of ten years I matched the societal view of “good looks” that men were supposed to have, though I always had a negative view of my looks in the back of my mind.
I followed a vigorous exercise regime which allowed me to eat pretty much whatever I wanted. Things changed in 2009 when I tore my meniscus on the treadmill. No longer could I push myself to new heights and speed as the injury slowed me down…. And no longer was I getting the calories burned that I once did. Still I moved on to other forms of exercise, including the exercise bike.
In 2010 the other shoe dropped when I began taking a medication that had a side result (effect) of weight gain. Along with that side effect, I also became lethargic and didn’t keep up with my exercise regime.
I changed jobs in 2011 and moved away from Knoxville- got homesick and came back in 2012. In that time away I had gained a considerable amount of weight and hated the way I looked. I wasn’t working out as I once did either.
But the worse part-
The criticisms I began to get on my looks from people I know.
People who hadn’t seen me in several years were the cruelest in their remarks. During one meeting I attended after coming back to Knoxville in 2012 a friend remarked “man you’ve gained a ton of weight” (and it wasn’t done in jest or jokingly, it came off as a criticism).
Hearing that was like a punch to the gut.
Another event was at a banquet when another acquaintance made the point that the way I looked was going to hurt me professionally and that I must have given up on being healthy.
Man , those words hurt a ton.
It got to the point that I hated having my photograph taken– I hated seeing myself.
And the voices of second guessing myself in social interactions got louder and louder.
The rational side of me said “hell no they aren’t focused on your looks”, but the demons in my head said otherwise.
Truth is I had gained a good deal of weight and looked differently than I did 4 years earlier. And some were judging me not based on my character or work, but on my looks.
Finally in 2015 I rejoined a gym and started using a fit bit. Over time I have taken to going to the gym on a regular basis, and my health has improved. Problem for me still is my diet– my biggest challenge. I am stronger and in better shape but still weigh more than I should.
I had professional photos taken of me and my dog Samuel in February– and I really wasn’t happy with how I looked in them. It wasn’t the photographer’s fault, it was my own damn body image.
I sought out the opinion of my good friend Dee Dee Constantine on which pictures she liked best and -which ones I should use on print and web publications. I’ve always appreciated her honesty and insights, and on this occasion her words were incredibly helpful to me.
She picked out a couple of photographs from the shoots, and in response to the ones she had chosen I complained about how fat I looked.
“There will come a time when you will better accept your body but will never be totally satisfied. Anyway, we are always more critical of ourselves than others. You have a big heart, a beautiful soul and friends and family that love you. That’s who you are!”
Her words woke me up and I am thankful for our interaction.
For all the bs that has stuck in my mind—the self-critical voices that are you ugly, fat inferior—her words convinced me that it was time for me to throw this crap in the dust bin and start being appreciative and show some gratitude towards myself that I am good, decent, and that I have many people in my life who love me. In the end this is all that matters.
The body issues are still there but I don’t cringe as much when I see a picture of myself. And one day I hope to get back to my old weight. But in the meantime, I am being conscious of the thoughts in my mind that have been destructive in regards to my body image issues, and I am trying to be nicer to myself.
After 39 years I think it’s time for me to do that one thing for myself.