Boxing With Bad Body Image

Sometimes, a reader will ask or say something that hits home so hard, instead of responding to it in the “ask” section of this blog, I’d rather write an essay about it.  And at the beginning of March, a reader (by the name of “Ricky S.”) wrote this:

    I have to get this off my chest. I have a difficult time with guys who tell you to be comfortable with your body when they are already hot themselves. Take Davey Wavey or… and sorry about this… but even yourself. It’s so easy to say things like “it’s all about inner beauty” or “just accept yourself as you are” when you are already built and hot. Try being 100 pounds overweight, older or just not model material. Think of it this way... do you think you would have as many followers as you do if you had a big spare tire? Or, if you were in your 60's or 70s? As much as the gay community seeks acceptance, it is also the most unaccepting community towards its own members. Heaven forbid you are not a model or over the age of 40. You might as well be dead.

I can’t tell you how many times I have rewritten this essay.  Every time I think I am on the verge of some insight, I get taken down an unexpected path that derails me.  All I know is that struggling with body image in gay culture is a bit like stepping into a boxing ring, and we might be throwing more punches than we realize.

I can’t imagine what it feels like for Ricky.  Except, I can… because I didn’t always look this way.  In his comment, I felt like there was this assumption that I just walked out of my mother all bearded and barrel-chested.  I don’t blame him though.  I mean, I just made the assumption that babies walk out of their mothers.  I’ve never been with a woman so I don’t know how babies work.

The fact of the matter is that I grew up an ugly duckling.  As a baby, I looked like a fat duck when I smiled.  As a teenager, I was a greasy mouth-breather who always had food stuck in his braces.  And if twinks were mice, then in my early twenties, I would have been a feral rat.

By young adulthood, I had faced my fare share of rejection from the mens.  The anger and rage of my rejection had caused me to long since put on the boxing gloves.  I constantly stepped in the ring for a match that always left me feeling sore and exhausted.

Finally, the day came when I was diagnosed with HIV and I realized that I wasn’t just throwing punches at those who rejected me or made me feel “not good enough.”  Rather, I had been throwing a majority of these punches at myself.  In the wake of my diagnosis, I didn’t want to be sore and exhausted anymore.

All I wanted was to be happy.  I wanted to be grateful for those who accepted me the way I was (because they did exist, I just didn’t see them while fighting).  And, I wanted to be healthy.  So, I got out of the boxing ring, took off the gloves, and began lifting weights instead.

Yes, I can see how it is obnoxious to hear “hot guys” preaching self acceptance (side note: thanks, Ricky, for thinking I’m hot).  While I can’t speak for for everyone who supports such messages, I can say that this was the journey that led me to looking the way I do and saying the things I say.  This was how I came to not internalize bad body image.

Since Ricky dropped the name, I reached out to Davey to see what he thought.  The bastard had the audacity to write back in less than twelve hours.  Do you know how incredible that is?  It can take weeks for me to reply to my emails.  So clearly I need to step up my game.  But here is what he wrote:

“I totally understand where your reader is coming from. And I see a lot of this myself. There are lots of models and porn stars that I follow who espouse similar messages of body positivity. I understand that, for some people, it can feel like the right message, wrong messenger. But for other people, hearing a message of body positivity from someone they admire may actually mean a lot. I try to see both signs of the coin.  Having said that, actions speaking louder than words. What I really appreciate is when influencers use their platform to challenge and expand the definition of beauty. That's where I see real value and the potential for substantive change.”

I loved what Davey had to say and it had me thinking about how I might, in fact, be the wrong messenger for some.  But it also reminded me of all the messages I get each week from folks who say they feel encouraged by my posts on self love and body positivity.  

Then I thought about how Ricky said that our community is the “most unaccepting community towards its own members.”  This made me sad.  Here I am, trying to put good affirming energy into our community from the tools I have gained from my journey, and then seeing how it can completely fly over some people’s heads.  

It made me realize another benefit I get by staying out of the boxing ring.  I get to have this third eye that sees the better sides of our community - the ones that ARE accepting.  I don’t think I had noticed this back when I was too busy fighting all the time.

I mean, it wasn’t heterosexual people who coined such fantastic terms as bear, otter, dad bod, daddies, etc. Alec Baldwin’s character on 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy, confidently said it best.  “Do you know what a prize I am in the gay community?  There’s a term for it.  I’m a bear… and I’m a daddy.  I’m a daddy bear.”  One cannot deny the wisdom of 30 Rock. 

 

Did my appearance help me gain the following that I have?  Sure.  Are there a plethora of cliche muscle men who have gigantic followings on Instagram?  Absolutely.  But this isn’t to say that there aren’t men who are older or who have nice, big bellies that aren’t highly celebrated too.  

Here’s just some of the ones that I have seen (and follow): @buckscapes (10.9k followers), @stof604 (82.6k followers), @official.rafa.ess (19.1k followers), and, a personal favorite, @over40notdead (12.3k followers).  Side note: I just went down a freakin rabbit hole of some hot ass bears to follow.

Our community is abundant in diversity.  Hell, just a week ago, while in San Diego, I met a gentleman who coined the term “sugar bottom” for himself.  I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, but this guy didn’t seem to have any boxing gloves on - not that I could see anyway.  He confidently embraced himself while also giving a fresh sense of embracing those around him.  How awesome is that?

Meeting people like Sir Sugar Bottoms re-energizes me about our community.  Because the fact of the matter is that I do still face rejection.  And, each time it happens, I’m tempted to put those boxing gloves back on.  I want to go look in the mirror and take inventory of the things I hate about myself.  The list currently goes something like this:

One eye is bigger than the other.  One nostril is bigger than the other.  When I smile, my crows feet become pterodactyl feet.  My posture sucks.  Sure I have cum gutters, but my lower tummy seems to pooch which destroys any ability to legitimately have abs (I can kind of have abs for photos if I do a simultaneous suck and flex).  And, sure I have pecs, but my extended sternum pushes them so far forward that I think I look like a chesty freak. 

Okay, I’ll stop there. But did you notice how much bloodier I got after making that list?

To me, self love is a practice more than it is a destination.  Working to see past these things is an active process for me - not a passive one.  If I didn’t practice it, I wouldn’t feel confident enough to put myself out there.  If I didn’t put myself out there, then I wouldn’t create the opportunity for people to tell me that I am indeed good enough.  And for that, I am grateful.  I take those compliments and run for the hills… THE HILLS I TELL YOU!  Then I practice more self love in a cave somewhere.

Perhaps the reason why these self-acceptance-preaching-hotties end up being the wrong messenger is because we don’t know their stories.  We don’t know how they got to be this version of themselves or their motivation behind spreading such messages.  Perhaps those of us who preach need to go beyond the tag lines and hashtags, and tell our stories with true authenticity.  

I preach self love because after I hung up my gloves, I learned the value of self confidence.  People are more prone to like you when you like yourself.  It tells them that you know you are worthy.  Confidence is universally sexy.  

This is the reason I want other people to step out of their boxing rings.  When it comes to dating, nobody really wants a boxer.  Boxers are just sweaty bloody messes.  People want someone who can lift them up and inspire them for a better future.  They trust that you can offer that when you first and foremost, love yourself.  

And if one simply cannot stop throwing punches, then something has to change.  It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  We cannot change the outcome until we change our story.  

It can start by taking off those gloves - letting go of the frustration with others as well as the ones with yourself.  Don’t let those messages of self acceptance pass you by.  Find what you love about yourself and build on it.  That’s where confidence begins.  And it may even inspire you to work on yourself physically too.

In the end, I didn’t look like this before and, at some point, I won’t look like this in the future.  But this is me now.  And I have to learn how to love it.  So do you.  The greatest thing I learned from getting HIV was to get out of that boxing ring… because life is too short to punch others and especially to punch yourself.

All photos by MusclePix. Website: musclepixphotography.com Instagram: @musclepix

Special thanks to Davey Wavey for commenting.  He would also like to mention his new adult website: [website removed for safe version].  "The site has plenty of 20-year-old stars with six pack abs," he says. "But it also has people who express their sexiness in other shapes, sizes and ages. We recently posted a video featuring an 83 year old man from North Carolina. It's a really beautiful video."

 

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