Do you ever linger while looking at your reflection? I have spent hours in front of a mirror, wishing I was thinner and had bigger biceps. I wanted the world to see me as handsome and attractive. There are many stories of women who are subject to impossible beauty standards and few stories from men. Society will have us to believe that males are exempt from these pressures however, this is not the case.

As a young boy I watched my father look into his reflection daily. My father’s weight went through cycles and I watched him as he moved up and down in weight class. I watched him suck in his gut and push his shoulders back in the mirror. I would imitate his movements and suck in my belly. My two older brothers were thinner and their bodies were more muscular than mines. I envied them for their fast acting metabolisms and their fit bodies.

The heroes in the movies were usually thin muscular men. Whereas scrawny guys, “dad bods,” and every other body type were viewed as the funny men or villains. There are many men in Hollywood of all body types, which is more than I can say for women. However, men who are higher in weight class are made to play roles that make jokes about their weight. There are men who have made a good amount of money calling themselves fat. These are men like Kevin James and Seth Rogen.

Being funny won me popularity when I was younger and people liked hearing me make jokes about myself but I did not want to be perceived as a joke. It is understood by society’s standards that those who are more attractive will be treated with more respect. Women have advocated for more representation of women of all body types, teaching younger generations that there is not one way to define beauty. That is not something men have ever been taught.

I cried alone in bathrooms in grade school looking at my stretch marks forming on my body. I made spells in my bathtub, hoping they would make me thin (weird kids who watch Disney Channel do that). I prayed night after night for God to rescue me from my own skin, I dreamed of being handsome and thin. Being thin meant being happy and I wanted to be happy.

The summer of 2012, I was 16 and working at a summer camp. My job was to run from place to place with high energy playing capture the flag and creating fun activities for campers. That summer I watched my weight drop down and I used it as motivation into the last two year of high school. Health and fitness became an integral part of my life. It would become virtually unnoticeable that I was ever overweight. My family showered me with compliments and told me how handsome I was. I thought this was what happiness looked like.

I recall a moment towards the end of my senior year with my dad when I was in thick of finals and turning in late assignments. I remember him noticing I had neglected my work out routine and he asked me what would happen if I gained my weight back. I answered with no hesitation or thought, “I would still be me.” Sometimes wisdom is lost with age…

Every pound I gained in college felt like a cage in which I could not escape. Depression and anxiety prevented me from ever leaving. Although the pounds stacked on I refused to buy new clothes. I slipped into sweats and joggers and layered myself in flannel. Every now and again I would try to work out but it seemed hopeless. During this time I wrote some of my most beautiful and sad poetry. It was not all about the weight but looking into the mirror reminded me of everything I lost when I gained.

Towards the end of my Junior year of college I started working in an office. My coworkers were of the hipster grain and I was deep into my Andy Dwyer phase. It was one of those progressive, clean and sleek offices. It made me feel both out of place and honored to be invited in. No one ever told me to change clothes, the office’s aesthetics did that.

I ordered clothes through a style profile account and they sent me clothes that were tailored to my size. They were beautiful and putting them on made me feel attractive. I danced around in my new black pants and told everyone I knew I had pants that zipped and fit me. I could feel attractive and be the size that I was. I started looking forward to getting dressed the next day and getting my clothes ready.

My co-workers saw my transformation and gave me many compliments. I did know it at the time but this was therapeutic for me. It helped me reshape my mind and gave me a reason to be confident again. Although weight loss was still on my mind, I knew I did not need to lose weight in order to accomplish all that I wanted to. I think after gaining weight in college, a part of my life went on pause and I was finally ready to get back in the game.

Through my recent health and fitness pursuits, I have lost over 55 pounds. I have been told by so many people that I look great and to keep up the good work. Although it was no ones intention to tear me down I believe I was being indirectly told that I wasn’t attractive before but I am now and if I am being honest I thought it myself. I looked at my weight loss journey as entering high society.

I do not think it is a bad thing to want to lose weight but I think it can become an unhealthy obsession. A few weeks ago in fact I was buying food at a grocery store and I walked past a section that had crash diet foods and shakes to make you lose weight fast. I was losing weight but I wanted to get back to my high school body and I wasn’t there yet. I was convinced that ugly was still attached to my layers of skin. The longer I stood in that section the more guilty I felt for wanting these quick fit diets. Although people who take them are not evil, my intentions for taking them were so I walked away.

I was reminded of a book by Andie Mitchell, a health and fitness blogger and author of It Was Me All Along. Andie Mitchell came from a similar background as me and she was obese for much of her life like me. She talked about the struggles of being overweight and changes she made to better herself. Throughout her book, It Was Me All Along, she talks about her transformation and her weight loss.

I cried so many times reading Mitchell’s work. As I was trying to change my lifestyle and become more active she was a motivator that kept me going. However, the section of the book I would like to highlight comes from her closing chapters. She talked about the fear she had of gaining her weight back and she became obsessed with making the healthy decisions. People were now watching her and gaining weight would mean that she failed. She became highly anxious and unhappy trying to stay fit. Her relationships suffered as a result. Andie developed an understanding later that her size does not give her identity. She was who she was when she was overweight and remains who she is now.

Reading this book as a person who has lost weight before and has been on a journey to be more healthy this was good for me to hear. It reminded of the confidence I had when my father asked me about my weight. I wanted to have that confidence back. I did not want to live in the fear that I might backslide or gain weight.

Society often teaches people to be discontent with their placement in life. We are shown images of what success and greatness looks like. Those of us who do not fit that image either work tirelessly to obtain it or give up trying. I want to continue in my journey to a healthier lifestyle but that includes my mental and emotional health as well. I want to be able to love myself at every size. The world has not yet embraced my body as handsome or beautiful because I am a few pounds above their standard so I must attempt to do it for myself.

To the men and young men wanting to bulk up and lose weight to find the person of their dreams. I implore them to look for them to took look in the mirror first. The perception of attractiveness should not be not solely be based off what others think. I can be a superhero and the night in shining armor in real life. I may not see myself as the romantic interest on television or the guy who saves the day but I know I can be.

It is a daily struggle for me to love myself. I have to be diligent to remind myself that my identity is not found in the number on the scale. I want future generations to see that I attempted to find happiness all throughout my life. I want to be an example to young men like myself of someone who did not let their weight define them.  I do not want to be held back by the limitations that the world has placed on me. I want to find contentment in every stage of life.

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