That gay men are often vain is nothing revelatory. The latest styles of outer or under-wear, designed to make the most of whatever God’s given us body-wise tend to fill our closets and hang on our bodies. There’s nothing quite like the feel of a new pair of shoes or a well-designed suit on one’s body…not merely seeing a photograph of it, but actually wearing it.
I’ve loved clothes for a long time. I remember when I went to college, my goal became to own clothes that I really loved…a goal I finally achieved after college when I had my first ‘real’ job.
But one of the reasons I love clothes is that they hide a body of which I am ashamed.
Until I was almost 25, I was very, very skinny. Even through high school and most of college (and then again when I was student teaching), you could have seen my ribs if my shirt was off. The messages I heard as a child repeatedly told me that I should never be unclothed, not even to take my shirt off. It wasn’t often off, as a result.
I observed how lots of other neighborhood boys would remove their shirts on hot days. It’s everywhere, even in broader culture: men can and do, in appropriate contexts, walk around shirtless. But not me. It made me feel like I wasn’t really a man.
I remember the first time I ever took my shirt off to play sand volleyball in college. I was 19 or 20. I practically had to talk myself into it because I was so ashamed. I felt like an imposter…someone pretending to be an adult man.
After I settled into teaching post-college, however, I began to eat in order to deal with my stress. I began to steadily gain weight, which was encouraged by my family–both immediate and extended.
But their approval of my weight-gain only made me wonder if they didn’t want me to be like most of them: overweight. I saw many of them dealing with emotions by eating lots of food instead of actually feeling and enduring emotions. Are you sad? Have a biscuit made with yellow cake mix. (Not that I’m against them in principle…they’re every bit as good as they sound!) Are you angry? Suppress it and eat an extra portion at dinner. My family is no stranger to comfort-food.
Being skinny enough for my ribs to show made me feel like I wasn’t really a man and having a stomach which isn’t perfectly flat makes me feel fat.
I have somehow related this insecurity and concern for my appearance to my sexuality. So many people tell stories when they come out of feeling different from others and I have tended to view this as being part of that difference.
But one particular good friend who does not share my orientation but does share my insecurities has made me feel very, very loved in the past few days. I don’t feel like less of a man right now just because I worry about the way I look and it’s comforting to know and live alongside others who are also insecure and who don’t let it rule their lives.
Men having body-related insecurities is surely nothing new. Since Adam in the garden covered up his naked body from his wife Eve, shame has colored the way we see and present our bodies. This insecurity and shame are, I think, one reason why there’s a rise in boys experiencing eating disorders.
When I look into a mirror, I tend to only see a gut. My stomach isn’t perfectly flat. How do I see anything else?
I want to.