Body Image and Self-Esteem

gymby Michael A. Brazell

CW: discussion of body image, body shaming, and disordered eating

I remember stepping on the scale and seeing the 210 mark cross the window, and even my size 38 pants were cutting off more and more circulation with each passing meal. I didn’t workout, I didn’t run unless I had to, and I didn’t feel like I really needed too much of anything. I was set in the fact that I was going to be overweight, tired, and not able to find a guy that would love me for looking the way that I did. Then I found my first issue of Muscle and Fitness. I flipped through the pages, and by the time I got to the last page, I had decided that I was going to change, that these guys were what the boys wanted. Well, I was sure this is what the other guys wanted, because that is what my friends told me, and we all know that our friends are always right on issues of looks and beauty.

I began my journey into the gym taking my trusty magazine with me to be sure I did not skimp out on any sets. It was my goal to be fit, lean, and to look “hot”. I was tired of being lonely, tired of not having the guys look at me when we would all go out. My friends would rip off their shirts and go out to the dance floor as I sat in the shadows, embarrassed to even be seen. I knew what I had to do, and now I had the motivation to get the job done. I slowly started going more, and more often to my workout sessions. I found the joys of fat burners, and protein shakes. I soon realized that meal replacement shake meant just that, and I began to eat less and less. Who needed to eat when all the nutrition I needed was in this one bottle of goop. The weight began to drop off, the heads were beginning to turn, and I still felt ugly. I would look into every mirror I came across trying to see what everyone else saw, but all I could see was that fat kid looking back at me. I began going to the gym about 8 hours a day, eating no solid foods, and drinking 4-5 protein shakes a day. Fat burners galore, supplements on every shelf of my house, and the blender running on high. It should be only a matter of time now before I finally looked like the guy in the ad on page 99.

I would read my muscle magazines religiously, GQ came in close second since I REALLY needed to know if square toed shoes were in this season, and so began my transformation. I went from 210 to 150 in about 3 months. The gym ruled my life, and I still did not have that guy that I was looking for. I would still look in the mirror and see that kid whose mom had to buy him pants in the husky section of the K-Mart. I hated what I saw; I couldn’t stand looking into my eyes, because I felt like I was letting myself down. Everywhere I went people told me they wished they could look like me, they wished they could have as much dedication and drive as I did, they wanted to be me. The only problem is that I didn’t want to be me.

This isn’t an uncommon scenario for many of us today. We face the constant pressure of living up to an ideal that is set by the society we live in, running on that constant treadmill never really getting anywhere. Many people head down the road towards eating disorders or to a greater extreme suicide. I don’t know when I changed my habits, or broke free from my magazine, but I did it. I know a lot of people are reading this hoping to find a solution, but before we can do that we must look into where the problem begins. We must look to our own lives for inspiration and find the motivation to break free from society’s definition of beauty. We can’t let the world around us define what is “hot” or “not”. What a dull world it would be if we all looked the same. I am not a doctor, nor am I a psychologist, but a professional fitness consultant and someone who has been through “dieting” extremes I can relate my own experiences. I have seen clients get gastric bypass surgery and liposuction, only to reverse the process because they never really addressed the issues behind why they were overweight to begin with. We need to start looking in the mirrors and loving who we are, instead of looking in a magazine and loving what we are not.

We live in a society where images on screens and in advertisements tend to justify what we are supposed to look like, who we are supposed to be, and what clothes we are supposed to wear. Do I pop my collar today, or do I spike my hair with the green gel?

I can’t remember the last time I opened a copy of “Out”, Instinct, or any number of magazines out there and wasn’t hit with image after image of chiseled guys in their underwear lounging around gingerly. You flip through a few more pages, and the same buff models are lifting weights, running on treadmills, and all the while never a hair out of place. Is this what I am supposed to look like? I work out, I run, I eat healthy, but where am I going wrong? First off you aren’t doing anything wrong, but are doing a wonderful thing by wanting to improve yourself, but you have to be sure you are doing it for the right reasons. For some of us, we may just look past the ads for what they are, but for others it can push us down a road of self destruction.

How do we break free? What are we supposed to do to not fall prey to the images that we face each and every day? Here are a eight tips that I have used, and in later articles we will look at more specific issues that arise in defining our own body image:

  1. Work out to feel good, not just to look good. When you address what is on the inside, the outside will reflect it. When we are healthy it shows through, we feel good, and in turn others will see that change.
  2. Keep a journal. Sometimes it can be hard to talk to others about what is going on inside, but a journal is something that wont talk back. You can also talk to that tail wagging companion that looks at you with nothing but loving eyes, they are always there for a good chat.
  3. Find a hobby. We are all good at something. Learn to play an instrument, and put your talents on display. When we show others that there is more to us than looks, we don’t have to spend our time looking in mirrors, but can spend our time reflecting the beauty around us.
  4. Volunteer, take up an issue, and become active in your community. Stand up for the things in the world that are wrong, become a voice for the voiceless, spend time with those that are need your help in your community.
  5. Realize that your differences are your strengths. Being different is what helps each of us stand out in this world. Love who you are, when you look in the mirror—love that person looking back at you. Own that image, and run with it. In the words of Christina, “You are beautiful, in each and every way.”
  6. Meet new people. Go out, make friends, and surround yourself with positive people. Bring those around you up, smiles are contagious—spread a few.
  7. Take a class.
  8. Read a book about interesting people, different cultures and expand your horizons
In the words of Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Until we stop defining ourselves by the Abercrombie catalog, and just start being ourselves, change won’t happen. We don’t all need to be a magazine advertisements, or supermodels. What we need to be is our own image. Define the image yourself. Break the mirrors that surround you and open the world’s eyes to the beauty that is you.

Source: Michael A. Brazell, CFT CSN MAT, Campus Pride, 2006.

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