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?

  • Ryan – I’m new to YOB and have yet to share or comment, but I couldn’t NOT comment on this post.
    This post was as if someone was reading from the monologue of my own brain.
    Every. Word.
    ‘I crush on guys I want to look like.’
    ‘I remember being endlessly frustrated by the seeming futility of exercise, endlessly disappointed in my own lack of eating discipline’
    I wanted to look like the guys who, as you said, seemed so at ease in their own bodies. Frustrated at myself for not being able to perform the way that they were. And each day in gym class was an exercise in terror, because who knew what type of Hell was to be inflicted?
    I was desperate to look different than I was, but was fearful to share with anyone about it. To this day, if I modify eating habits, or start a different exercise, I really don’t want anyone to know. Everything is kept close to the heart because it is so deeply personal I’m afraid to be judged because of it. But you are so correct. We already HAVE value, so our bodies are WORTH the effort. Thank you for the reminder.
    I so appreciated this post, Ryan. Both your vulnerability throughout it, and the hope you shared through it. Your Oak and Acorn metaphor at the end resonates (that’s for Tom!) with this plant lover. It’s an exciting prospect to think that on the day I am with my King, I will NOT be burdened by everything I thought was wrong with this body. What a day that will be.

    • Welcome to YOB, and thanks for your comment!
      “Everything is so deeply personal I’m afraid to be judged because of it.” YES! I remember for the longest time I could not talk about diet or exercise with anyone, even in a good or healthy way. I wasn’t only ashamed of my body, I was also ashamed of trying to change for some reason? Shame is whack, man!

  • I resonate with this so much. Between eating disorders and minor self-harm, I have experienced that wrestling with my body image for many, many years. What was so powerful though was your statement, “we need to invest in our bodies because they are worthwhile, not to make them worthwhile.” Man, that’s a powerful statement.
    Thank you for sharing, brother. I greatly appreciate your openness with this post.

  • I didn’t think that I would ever be commenting on here again, but I have to agree with this post. If you read any of the works or Dr. Joseph Nicholosi, he indicates that envy of other males is at the heart of male homosexuality. When you peel away all of the layers, we don’t really want to have sex with other men, we want to be them. Therefore we are attracted to what we perceive that we don’t have — muscles, athletic ability, popularity, etc.

    • Well, welcome back! Like I said in the post, I certainly do feel like envy is a significant component of my sexual attractions. I guess I’m not ready to completely reduce my attractions to envy, though. (Do straight men envy the women they lust after?) I can only speak for myself but I think I can also identify an aesthetic component to it. I just think men are beautiful, independent of what I wish I looked like!
      I am not familiar with Dr. Nicholosi, but I do wonder if there are different mechanisms of same-sex attraction, such that his framework addresses some people pretty comprehensively, but doesn’t connect with other people. It would certainly help explain why, for example, some people feel very strongly that their relationships with their fathers (or lack thereof) gave rise to their sexual attractions, but some people struggle to see themselves in that narrative, or why some people who set out to change their orientation attain some level of success in that goal, but some do not, or why some people can trace their sexual attractions back to abuse, but some cannot.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • I think you are absolutely correct about different mechanisms, Ryan, though I think Dr. N’s work is spot on for many. As you suggest, we do have to be careful to resist trying to shove everyone into the same box.

  • Such a good post Ryan. I’m with the other guys on your quote about our bodies having worth. I played sports thru college. and was athletic to a point, just not an athlete, which meant I was in shape enough to play badly. When I get attracted seeing other guys it’s that I’m imagining they have character qualities that I’m seeing and sexualize it. I don’t want to be like their body, I want to be like them. It’s stupid of course, visuals are a bad indicator of character. It’s also lacking courage having the faith to find those things following Jesus.
    When I’m feeling bad looking at my body turn into Jabba cause I’ve eaten too much and spent hours couching it, I eat less and move more. Just doing something puts me in a better frame of mind that I’m heading to something better.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing, bluzhawk! It’s interesting to hear other people break down their attractions–there’s so much to learn there.
      I wish it were as simple as just eating less and moving more for me! Like on the one hand it is, right? But feeling bad about my body puts me into this spiral where it feels like it’s not worth the effort. I have found exercise (particularly cardio) to be an important tool in stress management recently, though. That’s an application where I can see the difference it makes pretty easily.

    • Yes, visuals are a very bad indicator of character, but I still fall for it often. And I like to think I am wise with good discernment.

      • I think you’re wise and always appreciate what you have to say here John. I get into trouble seeing badly. Jesus talks about the eyes of the heart and being filled with what we want, be it good or bad. When my heart’s not right, I’m looking for the wrong thing, or seeing the wrong thing that’s not true.

  • While I may never have been “fat,” I never felt like I looked especially athletic or manly growing up, so I think I get this.
    And – ” 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.”
    While some of my reasoning for being oblivious may be different, this is me to a T.
    Thank you for sharing brother.

    • Haha! I remember specifically one time a girl walked up to me in Barnes & Noble and had a lot of questions about my shoes. (They were pretty good shoes, to be fair.) But the conversation progressed VERY quickly to talking about my hopes and dreams; it left my head spinning. Also had a guy approach me in the gym and ask about my workout routine. He said I look like a football player. I know I just wrote a whole blog post about distorted body image, but I feel like I can pretty objectively say I do not look like a football player.
      Gosh, it’s all so awkward, I don’t know how anyone does it.

  • I really relate a lot to this post Ryan. In fact, I have a very similar post like it coming down the tubes (you just beat me to it, grrr). Although mine is more about getting fit. About seven years ago I was definitely overweight and rocking the muffin top. But through personal training, hard work, and exercise I made myself a lot slimmer and more in shape. I was super self conscious before (although for some reason in high school I never seemed to care) and dreaded looking in mirrors but now its great. I agree so much that it is our duty to take care of our bodies as they are gifts form the creator.

    • Yeah I definitely think stewardship factors into the conversation very prominently. We are entrusted to take care of something the Creator loves very much! I have more thoughts about getting in shape for aesthetic purposes, but I’ll save them for the comments section of your post ; )

  • Hey Ryan, yes I do still struggle with body image, even though I have dropped one hundred pounds since leaving social work and have an exhaustive workout routine at the gym. And yes, envy remains a struggle. Envy has always been at the center of my SSA. I envy what I think I don’t have and sometimes fail to appreciate all that the creator has given me. Those pounds were put on largely to help me bury my SSA and to protect myself from unwanted male attention in my youth. So it became a convoluted mess. But it is all getting better and better as I give Christ more control. What you said about our bodies being worthwhile is profound, and should help us all to stay on track with kingdom thinking. Thanks!

    • John, thanks for reading and sharing your story! I can relate to everything feeling like a tangled mess. May God give us all grace and patience with ourselves as we sort through it!

  • I’ve also struggled with body image since I was a kid. Ever since the great acne onslaught of ’99. I purposely avoided my own reflection because I recoiled every time I caught it. Kinda hard to let others love you when you can’t even love yourself…and that was only the start. Too skinny, too hairy, not enough muscles, the gamut.
    I think it’s fair to say I’ve come a long way since ’99. As have you, Ryan. Grateful for stories like these that can chart our journeys. Self-care and self-love are not selfish; they are so vital.

    • Boy…I remember when I had the great acne onslaught myself. I could not look in the mirror as I recoiled at how I looked too. I hated having such…and it took many years to clear up…it was a severe case. You are right, self-care is so vital. Thank you!

    • Man, I have come SO FAR since ’99! I like to tell people that so far my 30’s is my favorite decade because I’ve started to actually kind of like myself. I was always suspicious of that feeling. It seemed like a narcissistic mistake. But it doesn’t have to be. When you realize and accept that God likes you, it’s really just agreeing with God.

  • Such a timely post…thanks Ryan! Currently I am taking a wellness class after a test revealed I was pre diabetic…which proved to be wrong. I don’t have it at all. But…I am still enjoying learning and being held accountable. I am glad to see I am not the only person who struggles with this vital issue.
    When I was at a Christian college, I had a roommate who was deeply cruel in his remarks…I was too skinny…not masculine and on and on it went. His words were like piercing swords that hurt deeply. I learned something valuable from it all though…I saw the value of building others up and finding something to encourage them. I like to compliment others, but you won’t find me making comments about one’s physical being as you never know what they are struggling with. Rather, I try to find something like “you are a thoughtful person” to encourage another.
    For me, reading Psalms 8 and 139 have comforted me when I find myself sliding into despair over feeling I don’t measure up to what others think or say. In the end, I am grateful to have a Heavenly Father who proclaims my worth and value as shown in His Word.

    • Such good psalms! Psalm 139 has been so important to me. I love the image it paints of God’s intimate, tender love for us.
      There’s so much power in words. They can be used to pierce and to tear down. But I think what you pointed out, something we can often forget, is how powerful they can be for healing and building up.

  • Ryan,
    I had a tough time believing you the first time you told me that you were once significantly overweight. You are nowhere near overweight now!
    Obviously you have changed your attitude toward food and have worked very hard to accomplish this transformation. You have also succeeded in keeping your weight off for years. That is all a very big deal and I hope you can inspire others to do the same!
    Bro, you are so humble about this. Many attractive guys have a certain …um…overconfidence that is off-putting. Thanks for staying approachable and empathetic instead of looking down on others who are now like you once were.
    Love you!

    • Thanks Marhsall!
      To be clear to other readers, we don’t want to ascribe morality to weight loss, or at least not simplify it to “losing weight is good” and “keeping/gaining weight is bad.” I do think God has done a lot of work in how I view food and exercise and my body, which has been good. For me, in one particular season, it resulted in some weight loss. For others it will result in some weight gain (even increased body fat). For others it will not result in visible effects.
      And even when we don’t take care of our bodies because of skewed body image or any other reason, God has more than enough grace for us!

  • Hey, Ryan. I’m 57, so I am closer to being the acorn Paul talks about in I Corinthians, which makes me a little nutty. ha, ha.
    During my adolescence the body part I was self-concioius about were the biceps on my arms. I know they are there, but hard to find. I knew this was a problem when I felt the muscles in other boy’s arms when they flexed their muscles. This doesn’t matter to me, today. At my age I think about what the capabilities of my body will be twenty years from now. So I envy young men, not only for their muscularity but for their youth. But I know that the youth I see is fleeting. So, enjoy it will you can.
    Dale

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Dale! Whatever a healthy body image is (still working on that, like I said), I am hoping to arrive at an outlook that will allow me to enjoy my body and be glad for it even as I age.

  • This is so hauntingly familiar in so many ways. I sympathize greatly! After years of much the same struggle and reflection, I’m not at all surprised to find this is a common narrative. Thanks, Ryan. ☺️

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Aaron! I’ve known on some abstract level that this struggle is common to a lot of people, but it’s been so good to hear real words from real people sharing their real stories.

  • While I don’t have a lot of body issues (I am long past the age of being attractive) I am sensitive about my face since the right half is paralyzed. I don’t like my picture taken, and would rather not speak in public (it took a miracle to give my testimony) It has been suggested I be a YouTubber; yeah right. I do not want to be seen. Too much like vanity I suppose.

  • Oh those horrid days of shopping for husky jeans! I remember being between a 12 husky, and any kind of men’s size. My mom always had to cut the bottoms of the pant legs off so they were the right length. Of course that made them look like shorts that came to my ankles… I try not to dwell on those days too much. 😀 Sure, I’m skinnier now, but I often find myself being way too concerned with how I look. I need humility to just accept that God cares about the inside, not my lack of color coordination, or unathletic looking torso!

    • I’m picturing the cutoff pants and… oh no.
      Regarding God caring about the inside, of course I agree, but I think it’s both-and, not either-or. I think God cares about our hearts and souls and also our bodies. He created them, and his ideal eternity includes them. I think spiritual growth in this area looks like growing out of the world’s valuation of our bodies (sexiness or athleticism) and learning God’s valuation.
      Much love, C. : D

  • Ryan, you just sang my life with your words! I am so proud of you for your vulnerability and honesty in this post. I still have to work with God on loving myself and my body for what it can do, not for what it looks like. I have my ups and downs with my body image, but like you I’m striving to find God’s love in everything. One thing I always think to myself is, “my body has allowed me to hug and comfort others when they are a at a low. It’s allowed me to smile and laugh with those I love most. And it’s allowed me to show and express my love for God’s other children,” and those are much for fulfilling than what the “perfect body” could give me (or at least that’s what I tell myself, lol).
    Thank you so much for all you do for this community, brother.
    Love,
    Kastle

    • Oh my goodness, this is so well-said! “Loving myself and my body for what it can do, not for what it looks like.” I love that so much. God has purposed our bodies for serving and caring for others, and showing affection (among so many other things!) and it’s so good to see the value in our bodies for fulfilling those purposes! I can tell you right now I’m going to be thinking about this all day.

  • Okay, I’m coming at this from a different perspective, I guess. I never had body issues growing up. And it wasn’t because I was athletic or anything of the sort (I certainly was anything but). Sexual abuse has a way of really messing with your mind. My abusers always made me feel like my body was worth something. So I didn’t grow up with that kind of shame. My shame, rather, was based on the fact that they were doing things with me in secret that were obviously wrong.
    Isn’t that awful?
    So, I felt fine in my own skin growing up.
    I didn’t have body image issues until as an adult I let myself go, got a stationary job, and started gaining weight. Now I’m in my 40s with body shaming problems trying desperately to turn the tide. Hence, you will find me at the gym. And guess what? I’m also still dealing with the fallout from the abuse.
    Double whammy.

    • Yeah I guess it’s not much use wishing that I hadn’t grown up with body image issues–you can easily develop them as an adult. It’s hard to not be affected by the culture! Thanks for sharing, KD.

  • I can relate to your struggles with your image of your body, with all my heart! The difference, if it can be considered a difference, is that I am told that I have been thin since I can remember. Notice, I said that I was told, for me if I look in a mirror I see FAT! I think my image problem started in grade school or middle school because I was surrounded by thin girls with boyfriends on the football team and so I thought the problem was that I was too fat. It never occurred to me the obvious reason why I didn’t have a boyfriend on the football team! I was very uncomfortable with gym class and what they called “dressing down”, and for the most part I just refused to do it. As I grew and matured and into high school I understood the logic behind my inability to attract a football type guy, but it didn’t matter. It was about that time in late middle school, early high school that started my battle with anorexia.
    In college it became worse because I made the mistake of beginning to try to have a career in modeling. And if you think that it’s hard battling just yourself, then imagine being 6’1 and weighing in at 165lbs and being reminded, at every opportunity, especially on a go-see, “Just don’t gain anymore weight and try to loose a few.” My weight began to fluctuate and before I knew it I would be 220 pounds so I began to run 10 miles three times a week and do aerobics on the other days. I know it’s hard to believe but once you get past being hungry you’re not hungry anymore so I would go for five days without eating anything and then on the fifth day for my dinner I would have a slim fast shake, (Hey it was a Protein Shake) at my lowest point I was 6’1 and 145 pounds. I could count my ribs, my hipbones, my vertebrae but still when I looked in the mirror I would think, “If I could just take off 10 more pounds!” and what made it even worse was that the guy I was with at that time thought I was so hot. Don’t believe me? He left me when I stopped the destructive behavior and gained to 170lbs, but at least he didn’t make any excuses about it he simply said, “You’re fat and I found a skinny guy that I’m moving in with.”
    The strange thing is that while it hurt at first, I began to notice that life got easier and I never cried because he left. I still have to watch myself and be aware of the fact that what I see if I look in a mirror (I try not to do that at all) is not the truth of me. There’s a little thing that I say to myself sometimes and maybe you can too: “ If you can believe in Santa Claus for like 8 years, then you can believe in yourself for like 5 minuets.”

    • Thanks for reading and sharing, Bryan! Ugh, it breaks my heart whenever I hear about the disorders and skewed perception common in the modeling world. On top of that it’s frustrating that the suffering doesn’t fuel anything all that good or helpful, it just perpetuates our culture’s unreasonable body expectations.

      • Ryan,
        what I don’t think that most of us realize is that this infection does not only or even have a greater application to gays, but I read in a recent webmd that it is just as prevalent in multitudinous populations of straight males.
        I have studied this field for years and years and in the process have obtained much information that I would be partisan to share my dantam in hopes that you would find a lagniappe, not for yourself but, for anyone that this new epidemic is or has effected and/or affected.
        May I end with a little lite humor?
        After talking about these things and not Barbara S. I’m feeling a little verklempt! I’ll give you a topic…The radical reconstruction of the South was neither radical nor a reconstruction…..talk amongst yourselves.

        • I guess I’m not surprised to hear that negative body image is quite prevalent among straight men, although I do suspect it has different causes and affects the two populations differently.
          P.S. As someone who lives in the South, I can confirm that the history here is murky and complex.

  • Ughhhh the struggle is REAL! It seems the last year has been one of the best in my life regarding my perception of my body, but I know I still have a ways to go. I was the fat kid up until my sophomore year of high school, but even after losing 50 pounds and having people constantly affirm my fitness, I still felt like an eyesore. Even when I became underweight, it was never enough to convince me that I wasn’t morbidly fat.
    I’ve had to accept that I’ll probably never have a body like the men on whom I develop crushes, but that I need to find contentment in being healthy. I need to honor God’s gift to me (my body) by eating healthy and exercising, both of which don’t come naturally for me, but the least I can do is refuse to harbor hatred for something the Lord Himself designed.

    • Thanks for reading! Yeah, I think the heart of it is finding contentment in being as healthy as you can be, and loving your body for the Divine Image it bears.

  • Oh how this rings true for me. In high school I was always one of the heavier guys. I hated my looks and my body. After high school and through college I kept gaining weight until just a few years ago. Like you, I never had the greatest self confidence and was oblivious to flirting as well. At my heaviest I was at 300 pounds. And being a porn addict, seeing all these guys who were so fit didn’t help the way I felt. Now I’ve lost 100 pounds and am the smallest I’ve ever been, but I still get jealous of others who have the type of physique I crave. I’m still working on my body and I just have to remind myself that God loves me the way I am and I have to take care of the body he has entrusted me with.

    • Being addicted to porn can trigger the desire to turn to food as a coping mechanism which in turn can lead to excess weight then to depression and dissatisfaction, porn, food, weight gain, depression/dissatisfaction, etc — it becomes an never-ending cycle. It’s when the cycle breaks — and it looks like it you’ve broken it Chris. There are a number of factors that can play a role in why these guys you’re jealous of attained the body they have — legitimate (faster metabolism, etc) or illegitimate (light or heavy steroid use, magazine air brushing, etc). Focus on making your body as healthy as you can make it, continue working on it as well as reminding yourself of God’s truth along the way. Easier said then done, I know, but again, keep God’s truth near and dear as your anchor as well as taking care of your body, enjoying the process as as you transform it. To be 300 lbs at one point and losing 100 is quite a feat — be proud of that! That’s difficult to do. Keep going!

  • Ryan Burger

    Reporting LIVE from the tension between hope and reality, between longing and obedience: inveterate single, complete cheeseball, total nerd, bewildered homeowner, serial relaxer, and long-time Jesus-needer. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I am a software developer by trade. My passion is helping non-straight followers of Jesus discover their place in the body of Christ. All my "comfort music" is about being far from home and/or returning home. I'm an Enneagram 9 if you're into that sort of thing. I have recently started reading poetry for fun; please send me your recommendations!

    See All Posts
    >