I stepped out of the shower the other morning, dried myself off, wrapped the towel round my waist and turned to face the sink. I reached up to retrieve my electric toothbrush from it’s charging point and caught my reflection in the mirror.
I don’t really look at myself all that often, I’m not exactly my greatest fan in that respect; I’m all too aware and disapproving of my shape so I don’t tend to dwell on my appearance as all I ever really see is a fat man staring back at me. I know I’m not as fat as I think I am, but there’s one part of my body that I struggle with, all the more now that I’m seeing the difference that a year at the gym has brought to the rest of my body.
So let’s focus on that for a minute, the good stuff, if you’ll excuse the vanity (and believe me, this is more of an effort for me to write than it is for you to skim-read).
For one thing, my arms have definition; my forearms actually have visible muscles, and my neck and shoulders have some new lumps and bumps. I can see the difference in my back and my legs, that walking challenge earlier in the year has definitely helped with the latter (1 million steps in two months, boom!).
Mind you, I’ve always been happy with my legs and still have fond memories of being complimented on them when I was at school (I can’t remember who said it but I’m sure it really did happen). It’s perhaps telling that the last compliment on my physique that I have stored is from when I wasn’t even aware of the term body dysmorphia. No doubt there have been other compliments, but they’ve never ‘landed’ with me which is an issue and part of my problem.
A few years ago I was at a charity burlesque/cabaret show. I knew many of the people there, both performing and attending, and felt comfortable in that company. As it was for charity there was a raffle and I won a prize. A pair of sequinned nipple tassles no less! As I walked up to graciously accept them, someone shouted that I should put them on, specifically that I should take my shirt off and put them on. The terror that gripped me was immediate. The thought of taking my shirt off was too much, I tried my best to laugh it off but it ended up ruining the rest of the evening for me and I left early.
I always knew my weight was an issue, a burden on my mental health, but that was probably the most visceral example of how much it preyed on my mind. And looking back from that point I realised that it’s ALWAYS been ‘a thing’, even as a kid I knew I was fat, or at the very least chubby. Other boys in gym class had flat chests and stomachs, some had definition in the arms and chest. I had neither, I was always a little heavy around the middle. Yet looking back at photos suggest I was pretty average size wise but my (self sabotaging) memory suggests I was, and always have been, fat.
With a father who was a PE teacher I had plenty of resources available to try and understand why my body looked a little different to so many of my friends. In one school of thought my body is a classic Endomorph; “Big, high body fat, often pear-shaped, with a high tendency to store body fat.”
And where does my body store all that fat? Around my belly. No getting away from it, no matter how I try and hide it, I have a classic ‘beer belly’. I am fat. I am fat and no matter what I try and do, how I try and shy away from it, how I try to cover it up, it’s immediately what I think of when anyone asks me to describe my body… right before I change the subject completely.
My self-image has been present so long that I barely even register it as something I can change. It’s who I am, after all, right? I’m fat, always have been, always will be? Yet I go to the gym, I try and eat better, I know that more calories out than in will help me lose weight, I know the benefits of building muscle, the benefits of cardio, the best way to perform exercise x, the proper technique for exercise y (regardless of whether I can actually do it or not), but always, ALWAYS, in the back of my brain I’m just that fat kid that got picked on (ohhh did I not mention that bit?).
Having this as a constant state of thought permeates everything, every single day. From the clothes I wear (shirts that bulge open mean I’m more frequently found in shirts that are a size too big or t-shirts), to what I eat (look at that fat guy eating THAT, no wonder he’s so fat!), to how I hold myself when I walk (if I stand tall maybe people will notice my height first?).
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not debilitating, it’s not stopping me living my life but it is always, ALWAYS there.
And believe me, intellectually, I’m aware my entire body image is skewed. Take, as an example, this question Lynsay poses at the end of her post “what is your favourite body part?”. My first answer, the one that popped straight into my head was ‘my legs’. Which is a great answer, until you ask me why.
“Because they aren’t fat”
Walking home through the parks of Glasgow this past summer, I saw plenty of men employing the now popular vernacular ‘taps aff’ approach to the sunshine. I envy them their freedom and ease, their glib disregard of what others think as they are safe in the knowledge (presumably) that they conform, that they are the “right shape”; there is no shame in their smooth hairless stomachs.
That’s another thing, hair. I don’t really care that I’m balding, nor that I have a hairy chest, but a hairy back seems to be a bad thing and whilst it doesn’t bother me day to day, I wonder how much of my dislike of that aspect of myself is borne from hearing and seeing reactions to it on TV or social media.
But hey, I could shave my back, right?
Equally I could just lose some weight, right? It’s not like I don’t know HOW but in the litany of failures that make up my life, it’s the one that has remained for the longest time. I don’t mind that I’ve failed at many things in the past as I’ve learned a lot about myself by doing so, but being fat is a permanent state, a futile exercise (pun intended).
And so it starts to self-perpetuate. I get upset and annoyed that I’m fat and turn to food for solace. What harm is a bar or two of chocolate, or a share bag of Doritos… and is it really bad if I have pizza for a dinner twice a week?
And there you have it, my body confidence is low all the time, not because I’m bald, not because my beard is more grey than any other colour these days, not because I’m getting an inordinate amount of hair growing out of my ears (why!), not because I’m unfit and can’t touch my toes, but because I am and always have been fat.
It doesn’t seem to matter that I go to the gym three times a week and push myself hard, it doesn’t seem to matter that I can see the progress I’ve made there, that I can lift more, do more, push myself further than before.
All I have to do is look down at my stomach. I am fat.
Body positivity is a wonderful WONDERFUL thing, and some days I will say that I don’t care I’m fat and almost mean it, but not quite, not completely. No matter how many calories I burn at the gym, no matter how many compliments are given, none of that will really matter until I’m happy with me. I’d love not to care, but I do.
My body is weird but I’m not quite able to admit that it’s cool.
But that’s changing.
Ultimately I want to learn to be comfortable with my body, I want to get to a place where I can look at myself in the mirror and be happy with what I see and for me, that means losing some weight. I’m never gonna be the type of guy who is ‘ripped’ with a well chiselled 6-pack, but I’m pretty sure I can at least be a guy who isn’t ‘fat’ (for my own interpretation of ‘fat’ obvs).
On the flipside, why is being ripped and toned with hardly any body fat the image I have of a ‘healthy’ me? I know it’s not realistic for me, but that is the image being pushed and peddled by Mens Health and the myriad of health based adverts thrust into my social media feeds – ever seen an exercise app advertised by someone who clearly already spends most of their life working out? Show me a fat man doing the exercises suggested please. ‘Now bend and touch your toes’… I can’t my belly gets in the way, gahhhh!!!
When I first started going to the gym it was to lose weight and to ‘get fit’ (whatever that means), I set out a long-term goal to hit my target weight and a short-term goal to be able to do 10 push ups as I couldn’t even do 1. Pretty good goals, right? Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and loosely time based.
Well perhaps not as, over a year later, that long-term goal is still there I’m still not getting close to it. I’ve gotten close before, just by reducing my calories and I’ll be the first to admit I could be better with my diet but my weight remains roughly where it is despite all that effort at the gym, and generally being way more active this year over last. Mind you, I can now do 10 push ups, so that’s good!
Let’s look at the facts. I currently weigh about 107kgs (16st 8lb). That target was 95kg (just under 15st). The lightest I’ve ever been is 96.6kg for reference. Looking at the trend of my weight over the past two years is pretty much a flat line. So clearly focussing on my weight isn’t working, so maybe it’s time for a new long-term goal.
Ultimately I want to look in a mirror and be happy with what I see. And truth be told, aside from that fat beer belly, I can see that my body is changing. I can see the muscles developing on my arms, shoulders and neck, I can see my face is less chubby, my man boobs are now starting to look more like pectoral muscles than A-cups.
Additionally I know my overall fitness is improving. Sure I still get out of breath climbing the stairs but I recover a LOT faster. 10 push ups? Easy! I can deadlift and squat more than my bodyweight, and my bench press is getting close to that ‘bodyweight’ goal as well.
On top of that I feel healthier, I don’t really get ill too much, I’m more flexible and I’m generally starting to feel a lot more positive about this weird body of mine, starting to accept it a little more, starting to appreciate it.
AND – hold the front page – I’m getting the odd compliment here and there so I guess I must be doing something right.
Yet that fat belly remains but it is going. Slowly, for sure, but it’s going.
I’d love to be able to accept my body as it is today, and I think that time is getting closer but it’s not quite here yet. Somewhere there is a graph that charts my changing physique to my acceptance of my body as part of who I am but I can’t quite see where those points cross so, until they do, I’ll just continue to keep on working on it.
Perhaps it is those little changes and the work I’m putting that is actually what is important, perhaps the fact I’m still going to the gym, and still working on ‘me’ is actually more important than the end result itself. I’d like to be the case but it isn’t yet, not quite. But that’s ultimately the goal, to get to a point where I accept my weird body, to get to a point where the end result isn’t what matters, where I’m looking after myself well, eating well, exercising enough and enjoying life to the fullest.
The good part is that it finally feels like that time is getting closer. I don’t think it’s anywhere near. Realistically that target weight is still in my head so until I get to that I won’t be able to know if it’s enough, or not. Yet the signs are there that things are changing.
I’ve not been at the gym this past couple of weeks as I injured my back, nothing too serious but it needs rest. I’m annoyed and frustrated that I can’t work out. That is not the Gordon of a few years ago. Equally in the past I’d have reverted to my comfort eating habits but that doesn’t seem to be happening this time. I’m far more conscious of eating healthily whilst I recuperate, which is not something that would have happened in the past.
Baby steps perhaps but it makes me believe that one day I won’t see myself as just that fat guy in the mirror. One day I’ll see myself without quite so many flaws.
There is one final thing, one final realisation I’ve had recently, that suggests that my own internal thinking may be changing, that I might be starting to feel more confident about my body, that I might be making my peace with it. It’s something I know has helped me with other things in the past, helped me process them. I do a lot of it, but not all of it is shared here; the simple act of writing down your thoughts and confronting them is one thing, sharing those thoughts with others is quite another. So the fact I feel comfortable doing the latter means, hopefully, things are changing.
Thank you for reading.