The Body Image Blog You’ve All Been Waiting For

I look pretty good in a suit again. This was taken in November 2014.
I look pretty good in a suit again. This was taken in November 2014.

This one has been a long time coming and I have a lot to say on this subject – from my own neuroses and self-image to fat shaming, fitness shaming, celebrity worship – there is a lot to be written about body image and self-esteem. I am going to relive a lot of painful memories and personal experiences. There are many reasons why I am the way I am. I have lived for 45 ½ years, I have taken abuse, given some, been bullied, done a measure of my own bullying and most of the time I just ride the wave of my life. But when I look in the mirror, I mean really look, I wonder why I am the way I am. All I can come up with is that we are the sum of our experiences and choices.

I have had problems with self-esteem and body image my entire life. When I was a child I was skinny. So skinny in fact, my mother once asked my pediatrician, the eminent Dr. Joseph Incavo of Rochester, NY, if I was underweight. He replied with a “hrumph” and dissuaded my mother’s fears. As childhood continued I grew to hate meal times. I don’t remember breakfast much, I ate the lunch my mother packed for me, and there were home-cooked meals every evening and weekend. It was dinner I had issue with. I couldn’t stand to sit and eat supper. My mother was a wonderful cook but I just couldn’t do it. I liked sweets, baked goods and whatnot and I didn’t start with pop (soda) until 12 or so.

We kids in the 10th Ward were active to say the least. We were constantly playing something and you couldn’t keep up indoors. Even in the winter, we’d don anything that would make our mothers feel better about sending us out in a blizzard just to play outside. I don’t know about food conspiracies of today or if the food was made or grown differently 35 years ago but there weren’t many overweight kids, let alone parents, in my neighborhood.

I think I was 13 or 14 when I played for "Fred's Snack Wagon." See? Skinny.
I think I was 13 or 14 when I played for “Fred’s Snack Wagon.” See? Skinny.

It was clear, however, that when I really started playing with larger group of kids that I was the skinny one. Even the younger kids who were shorter than me were sturdier, for lack of a better term. My house was the one with the basketball hoop and we played basketball whenever the weather permitted. We’d play one-on-one and four-on-four half court. They called me Jerry “Bird.” Not because I resembled the Hall of Fame forward for the Boston Celtics or that I had a deadly jump shot, but because I was skinny. Looking back at pictures from that time I don’t think I was that skinny. But I was picked on mercilessly because of my slight build.

My hair wasn’t much help. I never embraced the naturally curly locks as I grew up. My school pictures were terrible – my hair was a mess.

High school was hell in many regards. Please don’t get out the Kleenex for me now. I know I am not the only person who went through a tough time in high school. However, some of those memories are way too painful to bring up in this forum. I’ll just focus on those recollections that are pertinent for this blog.

I have a real problem with celebrity worship. I have a real problem with the poster on the wall. Maybe I was different, my buddy Jean-Paul can attest to that, but I had pictures of Mary Lou Retton (1984 Olympics), posters of the Go Go’s, The Cure and pennants of some of my favorite sports teams on my bedroom walls. When I was younger I watched Charlie’s Angels and I had a thing for Farrah Fawcett. I like to think that I never held any female in my life to an impossible standard. Well, mom was the impossible standard. But all the amateur Sigmund Freuds out there can pipe down.

Those were the days of Tiger Beat magazine and the dawn of pop idols like Steve Perry of Journey and Bon Jovi – I really hate them all, the music, the image, all manufactured to make girls swoon. Right or wrong, need therapy or not, I started to get it stuck in my head that I would be never good enough for whatever female held my attention. That if [insert pop idol/actor’s name here] sauntered in or through I’d be cast aside like used Kleenex. The poster on the wall was better than me. The poster on the wall was more talented than I ever would be. The poster on the wall was better looking. The poster on the wall was sexier. The poster on the wall didn’t look anorexic. The poster on the wall had better hair.

Looking pretty svelte in San Francisco last July.
Looking pretty svelte in San Francisco last July.

I also remember counseling many female friends on the phone about their boyfriends on any given Friday night. I was good enough for advice but not enough to go out with. I was all too frequently on the wrong end of “let’s just be friends.”

To this day I bristle about celebrity worship. Pop star du jour, athlete object of minute, and now the new things that permeate social media that objectify men (for a change) such as #WetWednesday are things that drive me nuts. Yes, I realize there is a #WCW (Woman Crush Wednesday). Trust me I realize men have been objectifying women for centuries. I guess turnabout is fair play.

I do realize that fantasy is a healthy part of the human psyche, but I also believe that for millions of people, if their celebrity crush walked through the door and asked them to run off, they’d drop everything and run off with Matthew McConaughey, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Adam Levine, David Beckham, etc. I guess when your reality is gaseous and overweight and unemployed, these crushes help people get through the day. I am not even going to get into how much I loathe boy bands. In my late 20s, the poster on the wall thing happened again and this time is was much closer to home, much more personal. It didn’t sit well with me as teenager and it didn’t sit well with me then either.

Is your life that drab or droll, is your significant other that repulsive, did your dreams not come true…

I guess my point to this rant is that I never had the confidence others had. I didn’t have good enough looks, I wasn’t that good at sports, I wasn’t enough. My personality developed while my looks did not. My intellect developed while my physique did not.

Couple this with my father’s work ethic, which I have inherited. It took me awhile to discover it, but believe you me, I have it. I firmly believe that what I do for a living is a privilege and can be taken away. I never take it for granted and I bust my ass for my employer. I sweat blood and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am passionate and I am good at what I do. This is one area where my confidence is not lacking. However, I always have that sense in the back of my head, neurosis if you will, that it’s never good enough. No matter how hard I work, no matter how successful something I create is, it’s not good enough…I’m not good enough.

I like celebrities too.
I like celebrities too.

By the time I was in my mid-30s I started to fill out some and I looked pretty good in a suit. Since I have been working in my current job I have only really been vain about my hair. However, vanity has become a real problem the past few years.

When you gain weight like I did one of the things that sneaks up on you is your wardrobe. Things start to not fit anymore. You buy a bigger belt, you suck it in when you’re trying to fit into those favorite jeans and then it really hits. For me it was my neck size. When I couldn’t button the top button on a dress shirt, oh man, did I flip. Getting dressed then became a real struggle as I continued to gain weight. Nothing fit, I got out of breath putting my socks and shoes on, I sweat as I pulled my pants on. I started wearing baggier and baggier clothes.

For a while, as the clothes became comfortable and I got used to my size, I really didn’t care. Hey, I wasn’t the skinny kid anymore. I had some size and girth. You were going to have a real hard time pushing me around. The sleep apnea came and that didn’t convince me to lose weight. Having trouble playing in the yard with kid didn’t convince me. This is the guy who was shown countless photos and video of black lung and people with lung cancer and still smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. It was going to take more than sleep apnea and having to go up a few sizes to convince me I was fat and needed to do something about it.

A funny thing happened on the way to theater…vanity woke up. I caught myself in that wide bathroom mirror and I finally saw. I didn’t just look to brush my hair or my teeth. I really saw and I was mortified. I didn’t recognize the guy in the mirror. It wasn’t me. The whys and the hows and the reps and the miles have all been well-documented in this blog.

Fast-forward a little bit. I finally am starting to like what I see in the mirror again. Yeah, my hairline is receding and my hair is thinning a little bit. And maybe the color isn’t my natural color. As I mentioned in the previous blog that I actually care what I wear and I now endeavor to look good.

So, I posited what my next move could be and should be. I am going to carve up the Jello, I’ll see if the Stay Puft Marshamallow Man can get ripped.

Which brings me to my next point and for the most part, I really don’t care if I offend some over-sensitive folks. I am tired of the overweight’s “this is the way I am, deal with it” attitude. This has now led to “fitness shaming.” We all know about “fat shaming.” Trying to get the couch potatoes into the gym and exercising but making them feel bad about themselves in the process. Yeah, that works.

Look, it’s really wrong to make fun of people and make them feel bad about themselves. I was quite disturbed that there are folks out there who want to classify obesity as a disease. It’s not. It really isn’t. Now, I am not stupid to think that there aren’t factors unique to every individual that create what we are. Everyone is different, everyone’s metabolism is different.

So rather than make the obese feel bad about themselves or engage in any form of arm-twisting, I write this blog. I am trying to demonstrate what can be done if you decide to do it.

This “take me for what I am” mentality is bullshit. There are so many reasons to do something about obesity. Vanity is one of the least, but the health risks and concerns are real. If you want to blink out early, keep stuffing your face with donuts and cheeseburgers and don’t exercise. It’s been nice knowing you. Insofar as it is wrong to make fun of people and shame them for being overweight, the opposite is true and this is a disturbing trend that really has pissed me off of late.

Fitness shaming is absolutely bat-shit crazy. The thought that a lazy person who has let him or herself go would ridicule someone who is fit or has fought hard to get in shape is appalling to me. I read recently that a woman who had recently given birth had posted great pictures of herself on social media proclaiming she was getting her tummy back. It was suggested in the comments she had used a surrogate, that there was no way she had a flat stomach just four months after giving birth. There is a mom out there with several kids who writes about her regimen and what great shape she is in and folks try to make her feel like she is doing something wrong.

I made excuses for a long time. Ask anyone around me. But, I had fitness envy when I was overweight. I never thought or said that this is the way I am now, take it or leave it. I always thought I wanted to try to lose the weight I just kept making excuse with regard to why I couldn’t try. I didn’t want to stay overweight and I was envious of the people with the flat stomachs or the fit runners zipping through my neighborhood. I watched the P90X and Insanity infomercials and I thought, “yeah, I want to be that.” There is this thing called the Internet – there are no excuses.

Again, I am no dummy. I realize that there are impossible beauty standards perpetuated by the fashion industry and magazines. I am not an advocate of trying to achieve the impossible. But there is a difference between being obese and being fit. One is good and the other isn’t. There is nothing wrong with being “thick” or “curvy.” There is nothing wrong with not having the “warrior” body or carrying a few extra pounds. And, there’s nothing wrong with looking the way I do right now. I’ll be damned if I am made to feel bad about being fit. There is something very wrong with the lazy and unmotivated ripping into those of us who stopped making excuses and found a way.

So, when I rip up this 45-year-old body and drop my body fat down to about 15 percent from the 24 percent I carry today, go ahead and try to tell me it’s unrealistic. Try and tell me I found magic pills from Dr. Oz or that I’m on the juice. Then I’ll hit you in the face with this blog.

This 40-something is better than the poster on the wall. I always was. Only now am I starting to believe that. The only thing I can do is try to be the best me I can be. If that’s not good enough for you…I’m okay with that. I am more than enough. And I am more than most can handle.

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