Talking more about male body image

Graphic by Serena Truong

I firmly stand behind the body positive movement that society has been embracing — especially over the past few years — even if we still have a long way to go in terms of progress.

I believe that people have a fundamental right to feel comfortable with who they are and not be judged for it.

I don’t want to detract from that or act as though my issues are more important than the problems that — women specifically — have to endure everyday because of how they look. I’m incredibly lucky that as a man, my physical appearance is not nearly as scrutinized.

That being said, I’ve struggled with body image issues for most of my life because I’m naturally very lanky and I find it hard to put on weight or any substantial muscle. I don’t feel as though body positivity is discussed that often in regards to men and that’s a problem.

If I ever tell people that I was on the football team in high school and was athletic for most of my early years, I’m usually given an odd look. And I get it. I’m built like a cartoon character, not a Hemsworth brother.

I was always teased for not being very bulky or muscular and it’s typically been connected with me being feminine.

When you’re a teenage boy, the go-to insults thrown around in locker rooms always seem to focus on sexuality, lack of manliness and perceived weaknesses. I’ve grown to realize that the problematic bullshit associated with those “insults” stems from insecurity and — as the information I’ve learned from women and gender classes has revealed — toxic masculinity.

I enjoy running more than anything else, and if that makes me a basic “cardio bunny” according to the bodybuilders who only hover possessively over the squat rack, then so be it.

These kind of remarks were said by my own family as well. Jokes about looking starved and child-like were often paired with snide chuckles over their unsuccessful efforts of bullying me into eating more and their thinly-veiled attempts to humiliate me at the dinner table or at large family functions.

There’s really no better motivation to isolate yourself from family and other people than shitty jokes made at your own expense, especially about your appearance. It became easy to hate how I looked whenever I had to change into gym clothes for sports practice or when I started actively stressing over what girls would think of me if I didn’t start hitting the musty, testosterone infused basement closet that was the high school weight room.

To add insult to injury, entering the tumultuous and formative years of teenage-hood, I had to be on steroids because of my early diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease.

They weren’t the vein-popping, Arnold Schwarzenegger kind of ‘roids either. They were the chubby cheeks and man boobs on a twelve year-old kind — with a side of stunted puberty. I looked like a deflated balloon with twigs for limbs by the time I was fourteen, so my scope for body confidence was pretty limited.

It left me feeling very angry and confused when I was younger, because I just couldn’t figure out who I was supposed to be. I had preconceived notions of what a man should look like by the people I admired — television, movie and video game characters, other family members — and I just never measured up. I wondered if I never would, or could.

Luckily, my peak in life didn’t happen in high school. I work out now for my own benefit and no one else’s. I’ve learned to not give a fuck about meatheads at the gym who judge me for the amount I can bench, or about how many gains I get from pumping barbells.

I enjoy running more than anything else, and if that makes me a basic “cardio bunny” according to the bodybuilders who only hover possessively over the squat rack, then so be it.

At the end of the day, it really shouldn’t matter what someone looks like. Everyone has their own way of doing things and I’d be the last person to think I’m somehow entitled to judge others for their appearance — I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. Just stick to what makes you happy and — as long as you’re not hurting anyone else or yourself — do you.

I’m probably never going to look like Captain America’s stand-in or be overly “swole”, no matter how many times my friends drag me to the gym — and that’s okay.

Being confident with yourself shouldn’t be connected to what other people think or expect of you.
   Positive body image should start and end with how comfortable you are in your own skin.

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