Can I say something a bit personal? I’m not comfortable in my own skin. I’m a five-foot-nine, 115 lb. male with lanky proportions. My arms swing sometimes, knocking my boney hands and my fingers into walls. I’m like Jack Skellington in the flesh (per se). My face is long like a Munch painting. I have more forehead than face. My nose is a sight: an elongated beak that evenly splits my bad side from my worse side. Speaking of birds, have I pointed out that my general frame is akin to that of a flamingo? I’m all ankle, shin and neck; a stick man come to life — coconut shaped head included. Honestly, who am I trying to kid with my hoodies? I’m a toothpick waiting to be snapped in half.
Was that uncomfortable? Good. You may have guessed by now that I do not have the best body image for myself. Some of those statements were inspired by what others have told me about myself — some are inspired by what I see in the mirror.
Body image is a struggle I face. I’ve been working on accepting my body for a long time now. It goes without saying that some days are harder than others. With plenty of years of experience, I’ve found there is a particular time of the year when my body confidence drops dramatically: summer.
Summer! It’s all beach vacations, pool parties and don’t forget the crippling anxiety that comes with showing skin! As I’ve alluded, I’m skinny. I’m (thankfully) healthy and I recognize there are people skinnier than me, but I still struggle with my own body acceptance. Being skinny is probably my greatest body image issue since my lankiness, coordination and stature would all improve if I worked out. Pumped the iron, drank daily protein shakes, and built a workout regimen.
With that said, will you see me in the gym combating my body image struggles one rep at a time? No.
I don’t see why I should. Working out, whether in the privacy of the home or in a communal sweat factory, has two main functions: health and aesthetic.
To my knowledge, I am healthy. That is not to say skinny people are immune to health problems. Despite the proclivity to aspire to thinness, studies in the past handful of years have shown that underweight individuals (BMI score < 18.5) face increased rates of immunity weakness, nutrient deficiencies and even diabetes. Taking for granted their thinness, people may start to indulge in unhealthy foods/practices that result in health issues that go unchecked. Being unhealthy is equated to looking fat, but fatty livers in thin people don’t lie.
Luckily for me, I am healthy. Unless my next general check-up says otherwise, working out for health reasons is not applicable in my case.
And aesthetics? I know this seems paradoxical. On one hand I admit I have body issues that could potentially be solved by working out. On the other hand, I recognize that working out is not for me.
The reason behind my reluctance for increasing my muscle mass to be more traditionally masculine-looking is that I would be a hypocrite to body acceptance.
How could I stand up for my aunt, my mother, my brothers or my friends that do not meet the “norm for beauty” if I then change my body to conform to society’s ridiculous standards and expectations? There is no right and wrong way to look. Each and every one of them are healthy and beautiful the way they are. Some of them rock their bodies, and some don’t. But the issue is not our appearance, it is our perception on weight.
Whether you are thin, fat, normal or muscular, your body is fine the way it is. I accept whatever shape you come in. For me to say that, I have to recognize that changing myself for aesthetic reasons would be hypocritical.
A quick word to those who do exercise frequently: I am not delegitimizing your workouts. Keep pumping iron, drinking whey and doing yoga. My concern, for myself and others, is when the reasons for working out come from negative responses. Responses like…
“I’m too fat to be pretty.”
“She’s never going to date me unless I have abs.”
“I was bullied for being scrawny.”
“Everyone stares at me.”
If working out is enjoyable, have fun. If working out is a healthy outlet, be my guest. If working out is a source of personal strength, occupational necessity or activity for health purposes; I am not opposed in the slightest. Feeling unworthy, lesser than, a punchline or a subject of ridicule are not healthy reasons to change your appearance. If I change my physical appearance it will be because I want to for me, not for someone else.
I know summer is still a ways off. I’ve come to learn that Utah weather is mercurial (to say the least). When the temperatures balance out in a few weeks, tank tops and shorts are coming out of the closet for most. At that time I’ll stare into my closet wondering if I can keep pulling off a hoodie. Summer is a struggle between choosing to be uncomfortable in hoodies or uncomfortable in my skin. I don’t have a “summer bod.”
One day I will be okay with that.