Beyond bad body image talk
July 9, 2012 | 11:00 am
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 12:48 pm)
A sociology professor once said that the two most self-conscious groups in our culture are heterosexual women and gay men. I knew it had to be true – when it came to our bodies, my friends and I often talked with disgust about our own.
The reality is that most of us look just fine. But if we decide that we don’t, how do we stop all of the bad talk and start walking the good walk to a body we like?
At one time, my own body looked horribly awkward. Being extremely underweight while having – literally – big bones, made me look not only scrawny but skeletal. It wasn’t just my own perception; whenever my aunt would take me out to dinner, she would buy me two meals hoping I’d put on some weight. I tried wearing oversized clothing to hide it all, but then I’d get stares for the way I dressed.
After a breakup with my second boyfriend, I needed a change that began with me. Even though I had complained about my body a lot, I’d been lazy when it came to doing anything about it. If I hated my body that much, I had to figure out a way to stop talking about it and do the work in order to change it. With my self-esteem at an all time low and some newly acquired time on my hands, this breakup would be the occasion.
I didn’t want to go into it blind, so I started doing online research on weightlifting, deciding which exercises I needed to do and which ones I wouldn’t. The information often came paired with discussions on how to properly eat for bulk. I decided my existing diet, with an extra emphasis on protein, would suffice.
Nervously, I joined a gym. It was hard – I imagined those awesomely athletic gym veterans would point and laugh at the pipsqueak trying to play their reindeer games. I felt embarrassed doing the bench press. I would struggle to get the weight plates off so I could attempt to bench the bar with no extra weight at all.
Over time I got into the groove of things. The gym routines began to make sense and I loved the protein shakes. But after my first full year of dedication, I made no progress – no new muscle mass packed on, and if anything, I weighed even less.
Something was wrong and I had to go back to the drawing board. As I re-read through all of the information, I realized I had gone in blind – picking which exercises to do and disregarding the difficult ones wasn’t bringing my body to the brink. Besides trying to eat more protein, I practically ignored almost all nutrition advice, and lacked the proper nourishment for muscle recovery.
I’d only walked half the walk. Instead of being discouraged by the realization, I was angry at myself for thinking I could outsmart the experts with my own inexperienced plan. I accepted the fact that I did it wrong and the anger became fuel for desire to do it right and with full force.
I went back into the gym and decided not to let the regular muscle gods intimidate me. Slowly, I went around to all of the equipment and learned how to use it correctly. I began learning my body – it doesn’t just utilize protein for working out, but also needs good carbohydrates and certain fats to reap the benefits. And most importantly, I conceded the notion I had to eat six times a day rather than the three meals I grew up with – an important factor for both gaining and losing weight.
Finally, my body began to pack on the good pounds. I didn’t care if it was muscle or fat; I just felt thrilled to see the scale tipping towards a new me. Fully committing to these fitness routines – rather than just doing it half assed – I started getting the compliments I craved. Things didn’t happen overnight. But in a few years, old friends were astounded when they saw the new me.
Though I didn’t look like the guys in muscle magazines, I did have a body that I didn’t hate anymore and that in itself was success.
Occasionally, I still caught a remnant of that “skinny guy” staring back at me in the mirror. But that was OK – I finally walked the walk, and could stop the negative talk. If a lazy guy like me can do it, others can do the same.