“Since I was 17, I’ve always hated my body and it feels like my body’s hated me…”
- Happy by Pink
Rarely has there been a verse in a song or sentence in a book that seemed to echo my sentiments as the opening line of Pink’s song Happy. Since I was a kid I have hated how my body looks. It is a shocking and scary thought for a kid to have. Where do we develop this idea? How do we let it drive us mad? Why do others have the need to torture those that are different?
I remember what event changed me so profoundly that caused a lifelong hatred of myself. I can see it so clearly… Husky Jeans!!!
The road to weight loss
In a Road To Weight Loss, I talked about words that had such negative impacts on me, made me hate by body for most of my life. HUSKY!!! Having to wear jeans that sported that term was the ultimate of embarrassments for a young kid. Right up there with having to kiss your parents in public or your mother still licking her finger to get dirt off your face. This is the beginning of my hatred for my body and the constant battle with body dysmorphia.
If you aren’t familiar, body dysmorphia is a mental disorder where you excessively focus on or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance. That’s exactly what bullying and negative stigmas do to a child.
I remember standing sideways to make myself appear smaller. I would hunch over so I wasn’t as noticeable. I would also not participate in groups, class, or extracurricular events so that I wouldn’t be seen as the fat kid. Then the name calling from other kids start and it only solidifies your insecurities. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy of self hatred.
I remember when I worked at the local grocery store and started having money that I would buy diet pills or weight loss shakes, looking for the miracle fat cure. All failed and since I snuck around to take those things, no one was there to tell me that they could be dangerous for kids.
Still I tried…
My last shot at the miracle cure-all pills was after I left college and ephedra became the new cure all. I bought the subscription and took them for months and never lost a single pound. All that I managed to get from them was my heart beating faster with an occasional palpitation. I stopped four months after I started.
College weight loss
I am sure many of you remember hearing the saying “the freshman twenty” or “the freshman fifty.” These were sayings that implied when you started college that you would put on between 20 and 50 pounds your first year from being away from home. I never had that problem. I hated a lot of the food that the cafeteria made and didnt have my own money, that left options for food very limited. When I ate in the cafeteria, it was limited in what I would eat. I didnt want to give more people ammunition for calling me fat.
Being a freshman in an out of state college, I wasn’t able to take a car my freshman year. Anytime I needed to go anywhere, I had to ask for a ride, tagalong with others, or walk. Walking was the method that I most often employed to get around. I learned shortcuts across campus that would get me to places I needed to go shopping, food or clothes. When I got a job off campus, it was how I got to and from work, no matter the weather. When I entered college, I was probably around 265, maybe 270. All of this walking, all of the time, had a great effect on me. Oddly, I didn’t realize it, at first.
Once I noticed the weight loss, I started buying clothes that made me feel good. Slowly the negative body images receded to the darkness and I had a brief time in happiness. I dated more, felt more confident, and also ended up skipping classes more. I kept the weight off through college and it was the best I had ever felt.
On being an adult and weight loss
I kept my weight off after I left college. Since I had been struggling with coming out, being thinner was a huge help. Lord knows that as queer people, body shaming is a commonplace. The euphoria I had from my weight loss was short lived. Once back in Virginia, riding the high of weight loss, I started going to gay bars. I got noticed quickly. Being shy made it hard for me to act on any of it, but I enjoyed the attention.
It was during this time that I met Shawn. He never once made negative remarks about my body, whether my weight was up or down. He lavished compliments upon me and it felt amazing to have someone who saw you how you wanted to be seen. When he passed, so did all of my self esteem. It was at that point I started putting weight back on. Gradually, but it still came on all the same.
I moved to Cleveland five years ago this year. During this time, I put on a lot of weight. When I moved here I was just about 265. By December of last year I was at 295. Thirty pounds in five years. In my eyes, I looked 395. I was disgusted with how I looked. Oddly enough, there would be days where I felt like I looked okay. I looked past the weight and saw, what I thought, was an attractive guy with potential. That feeling was fleeting. My inner gay voice made sure to point out how large I looked and how no man would want me. Imagine my surprise when I met Karl.
Here I met a man who would back me to achieve my goals and push me to take care of myself.
Body image issues and being queer
It is no shock that the LGBTQ community has a much higher risk of mental health issues and eating disorders. Daily we are faced with stressful life experiences and battle low self-esteem. There are plenty of studies that show LGBTQ kids are at higher risks off binge eating and purging than their heterosexual counterparts.
Coming out is hard enough to deal with. Bullies who love to target us because we are different in some fashion. The media is great for showing only overly effeminate gay men, brutish, butch lesbians, cheating bisexuals with little regards to relationships, and transgender people as raging predators. This created enough negative stigma for us to deal with and fuel for bigots to attack us with. It doesn’t end there.
The media, whether it be regular media or LGBTQ media is great for showing thin and fit members of our community. Growing up, I was awash in images of skinny and ripped gay men. Sure there was the bear community, mostly they were looked down upon. The media only seemed to show happy gay men who were thin and surrounded by lots of hot men, if they were showing us happy at all. Our own community pushed words like twink or gym bunny and taught us that to be desirable we had to be young, thin, and beautiful.
We are surrounded by people who believe we cannot be happy because we are gay and we will end up being alone. I remember when I came out to my mother that she had two fears for me, that I increased my chances for getting HIV and that I would die alone. If you lived in an area that wasn’t close to a city that had an LGBTQ population, that seemed like it may be true. You were left to live in a place that did not accept or understand you. This is part of the reason why so many queer youth move to places like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. They had communities of like minded people and we felt we could fit in. Or at least more so than where we grew up.
Mirror, mirror on the wall
Here I sit, six months after my diagnosis of cirrhosis, seventy-three pounds lighter than where my journey started. It would seem that after losing this weight that my idea of who I am should also change. Surprise, it has not.
When I look at myself in a mirror or happen to catch my reflection, my mind still reaches back to where I was in December. Sure, you can attribute that to not enough time for my mind to have wrapped around the massive and sudden changes. That is part of it, my body is just now starting to tighten up the loose skin from the weight loss. But those are empty words echoing in my head. When I am sitting down, I notice how the loose skin billows around me and all I see is the same fat guy I was in December. My head tells me that if I have truly lost seventy-three pounds, then I should look different. I should look like those skinny models on the front of porn advertisements or Men’s Health magazines. That somehow 220 should have a very different look that it does on me
Obviously, my current wardrobe doesn’t fit. I am down almost four sizes from where I was and those clothes are baggy on me. I remember being taught that to hide my weight that I should wear loose fitting clothes. That way, it wont accentuate the fat rolls or overly round stomach. That same mindset causes more grief for me now.
The big loose clothing seems to trick my mind in believing I have not lost the weight my scale assures me I have. The loose skin reverberates in my head that its actually still the same fat I had in December. I cant celebrate the improvements I made because I only see more that need to be made. A new number to get to that will give me happiness, finally.
Changing a lifestyle
Healthy changes to the body are amazing and beneficial. What we also need to realize is that those changes also need to incorporate healthy changes to the way we think about things. That is the hardest part, changing your lifestyle. Coming from a place of not liking how my body looked for so long, I often feel trapped in the mindset of how I “used” to look and not enjoy the progress I have made. This is a part of the change of lifestyle I am still working on.