Friday, February 4, 2011

The Naked Truth...Pt 2: Body Image And Our Inner Critic

Sometimes simple stories bring up themes that go far beyond the simple details of the story itself and last weeks feature on Tom Ford was no exception. To refresh our memories...Tom Ford, the famous fashion designer and film director was featured in an issue of Interview magazine and in that article he discusses societies discomfort with showing naked men and his own penchant for not wearing any clothes while at home. Which lead me to ask my blog readers why it is that Americans are o.k. seeing a woman completely naked yet we censor a similarly naked man.

But as with most good topics, there is so much more to talk about than just what lies on the surface. I don't know about anyone else, but when I read that Mr. Ford hangs around his house in the nude, my first thought was how confident he must be with his own body to be comfortable doing that. That is simply something that I would not be comfortable doing for obvious reasons...like my families horrified looks...as well as those reasons I will explain below.

But first a disclaimer....Last week I got accused of parading around my house naked in front of my children simply because I posted about Mr. Ford doing it and probably because it was a rather frank discussion about an adult topic. So let me be clear....I am not advocating any such thing. This topic is meant to address the attitudes we carry in our most private selves as adults navigating an adult world. This is not meant to address how to appropriately teach kids about the human body...that said...Let's move on...

Very few of us can stand in front of a mirror and be 100% happy with what we see...some of us are not even 50% happy....many even less. We see mirrors and scales as harsh task masters, reminding us of our shortcomings. We stand in front of the mirror and ignore our good features in favor of a laundry list of flaws...how our shirt pulls too tight exposing a belly that just wont go way...the gray hairs that weren't there yesterday, and the hair on our heads that used to be. Maybe you don't like your nose, your teeth, your body hair, your butt...you name it and there will be a voice in your head to tear you up for it.


My own experiences with negative body image began at the age when kids begin to get the notion that there are "cool kids" and that you may not be one of them. I was a really skinny kid...and, yes I know that's a problem that lots of people would love to have and I would have gladly traded...believe me. This was not good skinny, this was unhealthy skinny. The biggest part of my entire body was my ears. I used to get teased from my parents as well as from the kids at school and it didn't take long before I learned to hate everything about myself. When I looked in the mirror at my twelve year old self, all I could feel was disgust. I wanted to obliterate everything about myself and change into someone else. I wanted to have a handsome, manly face instead of a childlike one...to have smaller ears...a bulkier, more muscular body...blond hair and blue eyes like the cool kid in my class that everyone followed around...I would have changed it all. While my body did eventually change and fill out, it was not until I was out of high school and by then it was too late...self hatred had become a way of life. By then it was the nineties and all that had changed in terms of the ideal man was that big hair was out....tanned and shaved muslcle men were the order of the day. I remember looking at the men in the Calvin Klein cologne ads like Obsession...or like Mark Wahlbergs underwear ad and wishing I could look like that...but fearing that it would probably never be.

My husband Jays experience was not unlike my own...just on the other end of the spectrum. His mother teased him everyday about being a fat kid. It became so harsh that it became psychologically scarriing.  He loved to be at school because that was where he could get away from everything that was happening at home. So it's no surprise that he was a popular kid with tons of friends, played sports, and was probably one of those people who made my life a living hell in order to avoid his own...life's just funny that way. Yet, no matter what other people saw on the outside, Jay could only see himself as "the fat kid" on the inside.

Careful observers of our YouTube video's may notice somethings about Jay.  he always wears baggy clothes that hide his shape and does his best to hide his stomach...that's just the way Jay likes it. Clothes shopping with him is a nightmare. When he tries something on and I don't have an immediate and definitively positive response to his outfit, it gets taken as confirmation of his worst fears about himself. he comes out of the dressing room looking sheepish and uncomfortable. It's got to be either thumbs up...or thumbs down...there is no middle ground or I have a crazed and neurotic husband on my hands who's angry at me. Who knew shopping for tshirts would be that fraught with danger!?

And he can not wear anything that hugs the shape of his body...it  makes him feel exposed and uncomfortable. Now...I happen to like the way my husband looks. He has a great shape to his back, broad shoulders, and a nice chest. But put him in a tshirt that shows that off, and he will tug at it fitfully like a four year old in his first church suit. Lets just say that I tread lightly when I hear the words..."be honest. does this look ok?" That usually translates to, "This outfit pushes all my anxiety buttons and you better tread lightly or I might unexpectedly strike out like a cornered mongoose."

To add insult to injury, getting older means our bodies become more prone to holding on to excess weight...and I am one of those people who does not put on weight in an attractive way. It all tends to go right to my stomach and nowhere else. The end result looks a little like I'm in my second trimester of pregnancy.  I often tease myself that I look like a snake that swallowed a baby. I see lots of guys who are a little heavier and find them attractive...but I do not like it in myself. But...no matter how my waist size may change..or my beard get grayer...I still always see myself through the eyes of that painfully skinny twelve year old boy who wanted to be anybody but himself.

What we find attractive in others..we may not be able to tolerate in ourselves. The men I most often find attractive are a far cry from underwear models. They are beautiful because of their natural masculinity. Body hair, a little extra weight around the middle...all these things can be just as attractive as a guy who was born with perfect genetics. However, while a little extra weight around the tummy can make a guy look cute...  that  doesn't mean I like it on myself. The first gray hairs and wrinkles around the eyes that I think makes another man look distinguished, make me feel different about myself. What you may not like on you..someone else may love.... Calvin Klein aesthetics be damned. As harshly as we judge ourselves...and as narrow as societies depictions of beauty may be...who we find truly beautiful will always defy that.

So Tom Ford is comfortable enough with himself to do something that most of us would be uncomfortable doing. And I think I made no bones in the last post that I think Tom Ford is an extremely handsome man...and...the thought of him reading the morning paper in nothing at all gives me palpatations. However, I bet even Mr. Ford flinches a bit in front of his own mirror. Somewhere deep in that man is the ghost of a long ago version of himself that colors who he see's today. Maybe he's fortunate enough to have healed those scars such that they are only a faded echo and maybe that helps his work today. I know that Ford claimed that his method of creating clothing is to enhance the beauty that he already sees in his clients but his clothing lines continue to cater to the ultra slim models that make the rest of us feel like that clothing just isn't meant for us.

The naked truth is being able to look in that mirror and ask yourself some hard questions about why we think the way we do. Are the attitudes we have about the naked human body a consequence of our own personal taste, or the worn out echoes of our parents telling us that our bodies are something to be ashamed of. When we criticize ourselves..is it coming from our own sense of whats beautiful, or what we see projected on to us everyday. The naked truth may not be easy to face...but it is quite often beautiful. Maybe the next time you look in the mirror you will see it in youself.

until next time dear readers.....

17 comments:

  1. I am 55 and hated when my hair started going grey. Hair died black does not look natural and I never did die it black. Now with my hair mostly grey I really do like it. Couple of weeks ago, a stranger came up to me and told me I have pretty hair. She liked the color and cut. But like you said we all wish to do something different with our bodies. Thank you for your blog and wishing you lots of hugs and love for each of you

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  2. The gay community like the black community created a falsehood in relation to what is attractive. All one sees in gay publications are muscle mary's. I have come across many gay men who because they are fat will not venture into gay bars/clubs because they have been led to believe that BEING FAT IS BREAKING THE GAY CARDINAL SIN.
    I have battled with my weight(still am) all my life . At my heaviest I was 27st 12lbs which is under 400lbs. I would focus on others who were bigger than me, taking anti-bloating tablets, slimming bills & etc.
    From Black gay men I was rejected & disrespected!. They would talk about me behind my back when my back was not even turned. I would think they do know I can see their facial expressions/hear every last word they are saying. But they didn't care.
    The truth is that there are gay men out there that are not remotely attracted to muscles(even they are muscular gay men who aren't!).I go into gay bars/clubs & 99% of the guys are slim-untoned-skinny, fat & slim NOT 99% MUSCULAR LIKE THE GAY PRESS LIKES TO LIE THE SCENE LOOKS LIKE.
    I have the added bonus that am very tall at 6ft4 1/2 so I carry it well. I am on a weight control path & have lost a whole person & am aiming for being slim. I do this for me NOT TO GET MEN BUT FOR ME DELE ALADE XXXX.

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  3. I agree with you that we should focus more on our perceived good traits rather than the bad ones.

    I think media and society in general have conditioned us to dislike a lot of things about ourselves, so we look outside us and buy stuff that we feel would make us feel better about ourselves.

    Btw, 12-year old Bryan and toddler Jay are just so adorable, who would have thought they'd grow up to be such hot studs. (IMO at least). (",)

    ---

    Anyway, this is my first comment in your blog. I have recently been converted by this blog and your YouTube channel, depfox. It's truly inspirational what you guys do. Someday, I hope an uber conservative, predominantly Catholic country like mine could accept and embrace gay marriage and rights.

    Lots of <3 <3 <3!!!

    Mic

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  4. I think you make a fine point: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and I think that we need to listen a little bit more to ourselves and separate that voice from the baseline standard of beauty pushed upon us by society.

    One thing though: Why do you think this topic is inappropriate for children? Couldn't teaching that beauty is a matter of perspective alleviate a lot of the self-hatred and bullying that goes on for children?

    just a thought

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  5. You talked about so many great topics that I'm going to have a long wordy response (like usual) to the different topics.

    It's funny that this topic just came up, because yesterday was one of the first times in my life that I finally felt like I achieved a look that I think looks "bad". I've been working out for awhile now, but only lately have I achieved the gains that I wanted and only like now have I achieved the type of look that I can have a modicum of self confidence with and not feel disgusted with looking in the mirror. So I so know what you mean when you said, "Very few of us can stand in front of a mirror and be 100% happy with what we see...some of us are not even 50% happy....many even less". Yesterday was literally like the first time I've ever hit the 50% mark of me being content with my own self image. And the silly thing is that I even learned about body image and stuff so I know that it's mostly a figment of my imagination and internalized self-hate. But I guess that little voice that you develop when you're young is hard to stamp out huh?

    I also totally relate with your skinny kid woes Bryan. I've been extremely skinny all my life and have always naturally hovered within the unhealthy body fat range. I got picked on all throughout my life about my weight and as I'm sure you can relate that did a number on my self-esteem.

    Like you I also wanted to trade bodies. Including with fat people. Heck, even including other skinny people. People would tell me, oh yeah I used to be skinny like you. When I first started working out I weighed 135 lbs. And at that point I wanted to stab those assholes (figure of speech of course lol), since I had barely reached 135 lbs AFTER like 8 years of working out and trying to gain weight. I literally just stopped going out with people altogether unhappy with the way I've looked.

    I have come to realize though that I'm actually okay with being stuck with the skinny genes though. I'd much rather have been gifted with a more mesomorph body type of course, but I think it's probably easier than being born fat. I don't think looking fat is necessarily bad, but let's face it society is pretty harsh on "fat" people, and also health wise, it tends to be more disadvantageous than being ridiculously skinny even. And like you mentioned, as you get older, your metabolism slows down little by little each year, so even us skinny guys are capable of putting on some fat, whereas "fat" people have to work that much harder if they want to lean up. So yeah that helped me stop complaining and hating myself as much lol

    I know you'll never admit it (or realize it) because you're modest Bryan, but you're above average attractive now. So at least despite the harsh start, things worked out for you! I think it's probably better to start off looking/feeling unattractive, because it keeps you grounded, appreciative, and non-spoiled by your looks. But you still get the happy fairy tale ending of blossoming into somebody hawt. So you've got the best of both worlds Bryan! You're a good looking guy, but you've got that great down-to-earth personality =P.

    I'm continually amazed about the common experiences I have with people who I've never met and live miles from and seemingly have little in common with besides the sexuality thing. When I was a kid, that exact Mark Wahlberg underwear picture you posted was 1 of the first pics that made a real impression on me and helped me realize that I was gay. In the absence of porn and/or magazines (this was before the internet), I would circle around in the store to get more looks at it without trying to look like I was staring at it to get my eye candy fix lol.

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  6. I would've never thought Jay thought he had "fat" issues. He's nowhere near being fat, and he seems like such a confident guy. How sad is it that so many perfectly good and fit looking people feel horrid about their bodies?

    I feel you guys on the fat going right to the belly thing. 1 of my old gripes I had with my genetics. Like I'm extremely skinny, but if I am lucky enough to put on weight, it all goes right to the stomach where it looks the least attractive. Just great. Worst of all worlds

    But I've learned that apparently, that's how it is for most people. Biologically, our bodies were made to store fat to prevent starvation back in our cave man days (not including the great genetics of those blessed mesomorph assholes). So that made me feel a little less awful about my genes once I learned the logic in that. Apparently us belly fat storers are the majority

    To be okay with my body image I try 2 different approaches. I still try to work out and mold my body to my ideal figure. Yet I don't let that ideal body image rule me knowing full well that (1) it's unhealthy if you take it too far (2) it's the product of psychological neuroses and internalized self hate, and (3) my ideal body image isn't everybody's ideal body image. As you mentioned, the category of "good looking" differs from person to person, and that was a great revelation to me. So it helped me with my own issues once I learned that even though I personally hated the way I looked that somewhere out there I may be somebody's favorite look lol

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  7. I'm pretty comfortable about aging, so long as my hair is cut and colored regularly. :)

    Yeah, I'm a bit on the heavy side myself, always have been. But it never stopped me.

    The one thing I can't stand is getting dressed up in suits. A cousin summed it up for me at my grandmother's funeral:

    He said I looked like either a mobster or a high price attorney. That did it. Only time I'll wear a suit now is to a job interview.

    My normal mode of dress, t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. And at the decrepit age of 46 I constantly get from my doctor, co-workers, etc. that I look like I'm early to mid 30's.

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  8. Bryan!!! After you read this I want you to IMMEDIATELY get the Windex out and clean all of the mirrors in your house!! Trust my judgment..as a gay man I can honestly say that you AND Jay are two very handsome men! You are not only physically handsome you are spiritually handsome as well. Your souls are both brilliant and they definitely shine through through to the exterior.
    Even though we have only know each other in cyberspace I am so happy and thankful that our paths have crossed...
    We love our Leffews!
    Hugs..Jim and Dave

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  9. Ohh boy! First, I would liked to say I liked your article, but think Bryan you should just ask people," tell me what you like about me". Don't be so sensitive to questions regarding the clarity of your first article. I didn't accuse you of running around naked, I simply asked you a question regarding your article and you turned into a big cry baby. When you look at yourself with your wish list of things you want to change, try asking for a thicker skin... maybe like Jay, who is fine as fine gets.

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  10. I would like to say that this is another great post, I think body image is something that has a lot of impact on how we live our lives. I have always battled my wiaght and still do, at my heviest I was 250-255lbs and am now down to 195ish. I still see my self at the very fat kid and teen that I was, I can't stand close that fit to tight and absolutly hate pictures of my self.

    I also hate shopping for clothes as I feel that very few things look good on me let alone that a lot of the stuff I like or thinks looked good make me look even fater then I am. It got to the point that some of my frineds and coworkers told me that when I was not at work (in uniform) they thought I dressed like an old person I worse such baggy non stilish plane cloths to hide any shape to my body.

    I still to this day don't like the way I look or how much I waigh, I hate scales and the information they tell me. I used to when I was younger love to swim, now I fake a fear of water so that I don't have to tell people, that the real issue is I don't want to be seen with out my shirt on becuase I can't stand the way I look when im not hidding under my cloths. I constantly stop wairing my favoirt cloths after only several washes becasue eventaly they shrink just enought that they are to tight (well and more properly fitting) for me to be combfortable in them.

    I to can rember as a kid and still now at times wishing that I could change every thing about my body to become what is considerd to be ideal and atractive, even though for the most part that is not even what I find highly atractive.

    There are times I even wish I could be more like my borther in the fact that he seems to be so much more combfortalbe with his physical aperance no matter what, while I worry about my waight, about getting age lines and my hair thinning, he makes thinks its funny as he dose not care much about that let alone his already receding hair line.

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  11. Jay and I are a lot alike! Lol
    Really fitted clothes are a nightmare/self confidence destroyer. booo.

    love your blog.

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  12. Wow... I am glad this is a topic. I didnt realize until reading this blog, where my hate for my body came from. I remember at age 8, I was ashamed to take my shirt off. I wonder where that started? Earlier than this I remember a person came to me and mentioned how skinny my arms were. (I had never thought of it) I was then obsessed with Mr Atlas. Somehow my body would end up that way!? My first recollection of my belly, was @ 18yr when my Aunt pinched my belly and pointed out I had fat. I cant imagine it was really fat? But I see it now a sign as my body was changing. No longer lanky or skin and bones. I guess we better figure out how to accept our bodies.. no one out there is going talk us into it. Only remind us how imperfect we are. I recently had a Yelp review made of a service i gave at work. To my horror, this woman criticized my stomach. She said it was very large. What that had to do with anything??? Again, a step back to daily work of self acceptance.
    A perfect body = love. Fired from Calvin Klien type body = reality, struggle for self love.

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  13. Sometimes I find it curious that when people put negative comments on people's blogs they are always "anonymous"..they have the courage to type on a keyboard but they are "anonymous." That says a lot about the person doing the typing..
    Jim Stone from Cleveland

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  14. Artjommm from YouTubeFebruary 17, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    Jim Stone's comment on the 5.02. says it all. Dear Bryan and dear Jay - you BOTH are much sexier and more beautiful than most of those perfect bodies all together. I'm 28, feel comfortable in my body and have seen and touched *blush* enough of those "super models". Well, they have their problem areas just as well. Many of their problems though lie within. And I wouldn't trade with them, for no money in the world. You both are so much better off! Believe me. And I do admire you as a couple. :)

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  15. And Jim's comment on the 7.02. is just as great.
    :)

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  16. As another very skinny kid (well, I'm 18, but I still consider that being a kid) I can definitely relate to your body issues. It's interesting though, because you're gorgeous and not all all scrawny now (don't take that the wrong way, I'm not calling you fat, lol. though I personally prefer a man with meat on his bones) but you still seem to have those issues.

    I think it's probably not only due to the media's portrayal of what's attractive, and what people say about us, but also because that sort of attitude sort of prepares us for negative comments. Like, if you were to go around thinking you're the hottest stud, and someone told you that you're ugly, it would be crushing. Similarly, if you think you're ugly and someone compliments you, it feels even better. It's just like how we doubt our ability to do certain things - if we assume we're the worst, the only way is up.

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  17. Another well-written, thoughtful article, Bryan. Thumbs up. You make me think.

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