I’m not sure when I first felt fat. I remember shopping for clothes with my mom and trying on “husky” jeans. I remember being ashamed of my body during the summer and wearing t-shirts in the pool (has this ever helped, ever?).
I remember being embarrassed about how my thighs spread flatly across the chair in 7th grade band class, trying to lay my trumpet across my lap in a way that I hoped would disguise this phenomenon from the kid next to me who I was afraid had noticed.
I remember being out of shape, having little physical strength or stamina. I remember hating P.E. class.
I remember being envious of the other boys who seemed so free in their bodies, so free with their bodies. I remember being envious of their slenderness, and later on, their muscles.
I remember lying in bed wishing so hard that I could wake up and be miraculously thin. I remember being endlessly frustrated by the seeming futility of exercise, endlessly disappointed in my own lack of eating discipline.
I remember knowing that I shouldn’t hate my body but having no idea how to stop.
From what I can tell, body image is a rampant issue among gay men, but I know that my battle with body image predated my sexual awakening of puberty. Nevertheless, I don’t think my struggle with body image and my experience with same-sex attraction are unrelated.
Body envy and lust have always been two sides of the same coin for me. Even when “lust” is too dramatic a word for how I’m feeling, there’s some element of envy in the attractions I feel. I crush on guys I want to look like.
It’s almost like part of me believes that if I can consume these men somehow, achieve union with them, I will be able to assume their traits and characteristics that I wish were mine.
A funny side effect of this is that I am completely oblivious to flirtation, because I never imagine that the person I am talking to finds me attractive. This has led to a number of hilariously awkward one-hour-later realizations that lend a bit of zest to my life.
Even though I’ve lost a lot of weight and gotten more fit and active since college (when I was at my least fit), I still struggle with body image. I don’t think I’ve suffered from an eating disorder, but I know what it’s like for my friends to tell me I don’t need to lose any weight only to look in the mirror and see fat.
“Ah, but due to my clever wardrobe, they don’t see my muffin top, or how my chest sags here and here. Yes, my ribs are visible but only because I’m standing a certain way.”
I wish I could tell you I’ve learned how to love my body in all seasons. But the truth is that when I gain weight I get really anxious about it. It makes me afraid that people won’t offer me the kind of love and affection I want. I go back to feeling trapped in a body I don’t want.
There are lots of deep issues that I’m still working through.
One thing I’ve learned that I must keep reminding myself is that we need to invest in our bodies because they are worthwhile, not to make them worthwhile.
I need to work out and eat healthily because my body is already worth that effort, not in order to give it value.
God lovingly created my body, sculpted its every intimate detail, set in motion its staggeringly complex systems within systems within systems. It is the work of his hands; this is where my body’s worth comes from.
This is a truth that my brain assents to quite readily. But bending my heart around it has been much more difficult.
Fortunately, God’s grace and mercy abound, and he provides tangible reminders of my body’s worth in the touch and embrace of friends.
And while this may be a lifelong journey, I am relieved to know it won’t be longer than that. This body is just a seed, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15.
Who was it that said followers of Jesus don’t die; they are planted? One day this body will be planted, and glory will take root. Our bodies in eternity will be as different from our present bodies as the oak is from the acorn.
May God help us all remember how much glory we have stored up inside us.
Do you battle with body image? Do you envy other men’s bodies? How do you find and embrace a healthier body image?