Spring is in the air… I think. Ignore the snowstorm this week and the below freezing temperatures. As we turn our calendars from February to March each year, I immediately shift into a spring frame of mind. It’s as if everything is actually coming up roses even if they’re buried under snow and road salt.
But Spring is a double-edged sword. With it comes the realization that Summer is nearby meaning tank tops and bathing suits and beach parties and the occasional skinny-dipping. Thus initiating my usual guilt cycle as I notice the ways in which “winter weight” has turned my svelte summer self into a more insulated container.
I’ll start to examine every angle, bouncing around checking to see which parts have become extra jiggly. I will admonish myself for every wrong turn that led me here and swiftly devise an intense fitness routine that will get me back up to snuff in time for my first excursion to the beach.
Over my gay years, I’ve developed a healthy love-hate relationship with my body. I first discovered going to the gym right around the time I came out. But this was only a correlation, coincidental even. The first time I actually set foot in a gym was after I was cast in a play my sophomore year of college that required I get naked on stage. There is no greater motivation to get one to start pumping iron.
I stopped eating my daily pizza with a salad smothered in Ranch dressing (extra so I could dip my crust in it,) actually found my school’s fitness center and then by ShowTime, I felt really good about my body.
While this physical obsession was budding, I started accepting myself for the beautiful gay creature I am. There was a lot of change happening for me. A few years earlier, I was sitting in my childhood home thinking that it’s too bad I’ll never get to experience these things; kissing dudes and looking fabulous. I believed having a hot body was for models and athletes, not for friendly theatre nerds, and coming out was for any one but me. Sigh, pass the Doritos and turn on The OC.
But eventually I realized being happy and satisfied is something I could be as long as I was honest enough with myself to identify what I really wanted and brave enough to pursue it.
It’s six years since that transformative phase of my life. Being open and working out have become habit.
I mean, I’m living out loud all day every day. But I’ve been rather lax this winter when it comes to the body stuff. It all stems from the break up. You see, the Ex and I created a life that put everything one would need to be healthy right at our finger tips. We had a Bowflex in the office plus all the P90X and Insanity videos. We were even vegetarian thanks to too many Netflix anti-meat documentaries and his penchant for expensive organic foods (plus he had the income to back that up.) My skin was great, I was BMing like a rockstar and I was fit as a fiddle.
But he was such a dick about it. He some how turned our healthy lifestyle into an ugly power game (not atypical.) So once I got out of that relationship, I went meat and cheese crazy, gobbling everything that once bled as fast as my grubby little paws could get a hold of it.
Eventually, I calmed down and stopped using gluttony to demonstrate my freedom. But the damage was done.
I noticed subtle changes to my body. I’m rounder around the haunches. Bending in some ways produces ugly rolls where they had not before and suddenly I’m counting chins like you count rings on a tree. I’ve ripped the butt out of three pairs of jeans now.
If you know me, you might be thinking “Aw, Tim you look great.” Or more likely “Girl, enough. You look fine. Stop mugging for attention.” I know I’m not overweight by any stretch of the imagination. I know that. But there are definitive changes that I have noticed, that you might not see unless you’re looking at me naked on a regular basis (which is only me right now), that remind me that I’m not at my best.
So here comes the question: Does it matter?
Short answer: hell yeah!
Long answer: Because I hold myself to a high standard, because I can check myself at any given moment of my life and compare it to how successful I’ve been in previous ones whether we’re talking professional accomplishments, friendships, love, money, body, etc, because I’m always striving to be better than I was yesterday, I reserve the right to acknowledge when I’m less than what I know is my best and feel some type of way about that.
Self-satisfaction ebbs and flows. So the fact that my body isn’t at it’s peak right now isn’t doing any real psychological damage. It only makes me work harder (ok and maybe fills me with a touch of anxiety.) But what I am making time for is understanding why the way my body looks is something I value this much.
I know I’ve thought one or twice before that if I want some one with a rocking body, then I have to look like that. As if we’re making an equitable trade off with our physiques. This weekend, I was hanging out with my dear friends, David and Brian. We were talking boys and perusing one of those Instagram accounts that show hot guys in their underwear when David says, “I just want a man who when I take off their clothes I think, ‘Why are you with me?’” Truer words ne’er spoken.
(Although after I emphatically agreed, David also followed up with the more empowered, “Eh, I’m just going to keep working on me so I’m the one they’re lucky to be with.” He’s so fierce.)
But it’s not always tit for tat. What attracts some men to others is an absolute mystery [to me.] I mean sure, we all probably find ripped guys to be very sexy, blah blah blah. We get it. That’s why we put them in speedos and buy cheap shots with hardly any alcohol from them.
This summer, right after the Ex and I broke up, we were at one of the famous Gay Boat Parties. It was the night before I moved out. I reluctantly went because of the monstrous day ahead of me but there I was. We were all about ready to head home when I caught the Ex hopping into a cab. I rushed over and kindly reminded him he better be back to help me move in the morning and then I noticed the guy waiting for him in the backseat.
He was way too attractive. Like super hunky, coifed, bearded, plastic, looked rich. Way out of both our leagues. And yet, there the Ex was heading off for a late night canoodling session.
It was in that moment I realized nothing about attraction makes sense. People want what they want. Even if you’re obviously the cuter one, sometimes hot guys have weird taste.
I have weird taste. I’ve gone on record saying my dream man would look something like Chubby Andy Dwyer from Parks and Rec or Jason Segel. I mean, sure I wouldn’t kick Jake Gyllenhaal out of bed, but the heart wants what it wants.
So understanding that attraction is ultimately senseless takes a lot of the pressure off of me to think I have to look a certain way to attract the types of men I want.
I know that I can’t control how attractive some one finds me. I can message them until my fingers bleed insisting we’d look great together and even OkCupid thinks we’re a great match, what with our 92% score. But if they don’t want me then I gotta move it along. I can’t control what some one else wants.
So my body hang-ups are not about how attractive my possible suitors may find me. It’s really about how I see myself. When I feel I’m at my best, when my hair looks the way I want it, I’m wearing an outfit I love, when I don’t feel bloated because I ate too much food, I trimmed all the unwanted hairs, my eye boogers are handled and there is nothing in my teeth, I feel free. Because even if I seem ever present, if I don’t feel good about some part of my appearance, there’s always a portion of my attention that’s focused on it and it’s really distracting.
I don’t think it’s superficial. I think it’s very human.
I’m never going to look like this.
I understand that that body type comes with rigorous diet and exercise and boo, I love nachos and beer. I also don’t really want to look like that. I define my personal best based on my own standards. We all should. We all have that power. Sure, we’re inundated with images from the media that tell us what is desirable and what’s not. And sure, they probably have subconsciously affected our own self-perception.
But my body is not built like those guys. I’m cool with that. Feeling satisfied with the way I look doesn’t mean I’m vain or shallow. My version of satisfaction is a product of my own values and sense of self. Just because I like to look a certain way, also does not mean I think everyone ought to look like that either. We’re free to define for ourselves what our best is. Future Husbands of the world, be damned!
I feel underwhelmed with myself body right now and I’m working on it. That’s ok. But it’s important to love ourselves all the time even when we’re not at out best. Isn’t that what we’re looking for in a partner?
If I work out a bit harder for the next few weeks and abstain from too much booze or cheese, it’s because I’m trying to make me better for me. To any one who says, “But you look good!” I say, Thank you, really, that means a lot. I do have to head to the gym now, but sure, I’ll eat one more scone with you before I leave.
And to my friends out there who are looking in the mirror right now feeling like I’m feeling, we’re fine. Maybe we’ll go to the gym a bit more and maybe we’ll pretend we’ve stopped eating bread. But we’re fine. It’s ok to feel less than your best. It means you actually possess advanced self-awareness. But whatever you do, make sure you are improving yourself for your sake alone.
There is no greater love story than the one we share with ourselves.