THE BODY ISSUE(S)
It’s no secret that gay culture is obsessed with the perfect body. And I believe that the origin of that obsession is our desire for perfection so we are finally good enough to be loved and accepted. But the social media age has taken it to a whole other level. It has made it very clear what people “like”. And thanks to our ever-growing desire to be liked, it has spread like wildfire.
I feel like we all have a story of transformation or at least at attempting it…I don’t think mine is that different from others.
I started obsessing about my body way before the social media frenzy kicked in. When I moved to LA from a small town in Eastern Europe at the age of 21, I thought I was the hottest stuff. Confident, perky, with a sparkling personality. I felt like I owned the World. But all it took was for me to walk down the street in West Hollywood and I lost every bit of self confidence I’d ever had. Every man that walked by was muscled with perfect white teeth and a gorgeous tan. My self-esteem dropped so low that I wasn’t even able to look people in the eye. That’s how little I thought of myself. I thought nobody would ever love me. I was skinny, pale, with eastern European teeth color (I’ll let you use your imagination). And it was true. For most of the men I found attractive, I was invisible.
Fast forward about 5 years later, thanks to a boyfriend who gave me a full make over (it was more for him than me, but I am still grateful for him seeing the potential) and me going full on “koo koo for coco puffs” at the gym, I put on almost 50 lbs of mass in about 8 months. I went from 159lbs to 208lbs. And I am gonna stop you right now if you think I had some extra help. I did it without any chemical substances. I ate to the point where I wanted to throw up. Some “solid” advice given to me from a bodybuilder friend in my hometown was to eat till you can’t anymore and if you throw up eat some more. And who can’t get on board with that? I had a fridge in my office, fridge in my car, and worked out about 3 hours every single day. I was determined. I was sick and tired of being a skinny boy, sick and tired of not looking like the man I felt inside, and sick and tired of being invisible to the guys I found attractive. I remember at one point running into my old boss at a coffee shop after I put on all that size who asked me if I was juicing, and me being still oh so very gullible and naive saying, “No, I prefer green tea.”
I also remember the day when I was looking in the mirror as I was working out and thinking to myself, “You finally look like the guy you feel on the inside.” And it didn’t take too long before the guys started to notice as well. “Where have you been all my life?” They would ask. “I have been right here, for years, only 50lbs lighter. Still the same person though.” I would answer. But that very attention triggered something in me. My friends said I was like a teenage girl that just grew big breasts and didn’t know what to do with them.
I enjoyed all the attention and validation I was getting, and all the benefits that came with it. I couldn’t get enough of it. I had a new found sense of (false) confidence and realization that if I want to feel this level of “acceptance” and “confidence” I am gonna have to keep it up. Gym at this point was part of my daily routine. And I know that neither me nor most of the people were going there for the health benefits. Trying different diets, mixing up workouts. I’ve tried every fad and trend there was. The fact is, I never have and never will look like one of those ripped fitness model guys. Don’t get me wrong, I am not putting myself down or fishing for compliments, but I am also a realist. During that period of struggle I did however get to a point when I started to wonder…how the hell do I see these guys after working out for only three months turning into super heroes right in front of my eyes? What am I doing wrong? How am I not getting the same results? I work out just as hard, if not harder and drink my protein shakes… What’s their secret? So I started reaching out to those that I knew that seemed to know the secret, and they would tell me that it was all genetics and clean diet. So naturally I started hating my genetics. But I didn’t give up. Next I hired trainers/meal planners who looked like cover models from fitness magazines. I figured they must know the secrets…and they confirmed that the secret to looking jacked was genetics and clean diet and proper exercise, which they can provide for $100/session with at least three sessions a week. SIGN ME UP!!!! Still, it didn’t do the trick.
So I kept fishing around and asking more and more people until one of them finally decided to be honest… A trainer and a friend from an unnamed boot camp revealed the secret to me. Hallelujah!!!! He was like, “Boy all the trainers here are juicing”…I was like “WTF is juicing?” He said, “They’re on steroids and everyone is doing HGH (human growth hormone) of course.” That’s all I needed to hear. Finally a light. He then sat me down and walked me through photos of about 200 friends we had in common and about another 100 of his own friends to point out to me what is so obvious now but I was so clueless then. SIGN ME UP!!! My savior! I felt like I needed to get my body to the next level, I had plateaued and needed more. More attention, more validation…nothing was enough. I wanted everyone to find me attractive, to want me and desire me. And at the same time I wanted to complain about feeling objectified and irritated by people for checking me out or hitting on me. And I did. Oh, what a beautiful mess.
So I did it. I tried everything my friend suggested.
Obsessed with my body image and hooked on the validation, I let everything else that makes me who I am (and why the people that know me truly love me) take a back seat. And decided to only lead with one thing. The surface. While prancing around showing of my new body, people who didn’t put as much importance on the physical but could potentially have been amazing friends or even boyfriends didn’t approach me because of, well, what I was projecting to the outside world. And people who often resembled what I projected were usually not who I was interested in. As for most of them that was all they cared about. So I found myself stuck in the middle.
But I side tracked…
So I did what my friend had suggested long enough to realize that not only was it quite painful, but I learned that in order to keep up the very impressive results I’d have to keep doing it. Basically forever. In the short time that I felt like the incredible hulk, I messed up my joints (side effects) and injured myself permanently. In that same period of time, I heard of a couple of people that I knew died from heart failure and organ failure due to the body not being able to process all the chemicals they were putting in their bodies. Hard pass. The reality finally hit and I had a sobering moment.
It was time to sit down and get real with myself. I sat in silence with all that information, asking myself a million questions. What is it I want to put out to the world? What it is I want to project? Who do I want to be? What’s important to me? How do I feel about my body? How do I feel about all this…?
A few things came up for me.
First it was frustration and anger. All those acquaintances of mine that I asked to reveal their secrets, and most of those jacked social media models, trainers, gurus and whatever else they call themselves, they lie. Their lies and greed are literally in some cases costing people their health. While they’re all out there selling these amazing workouts and diet plans and customized special awesome VIP super unique blood type you bullshit, what they don’t tell you is that the reason they look the way they look is because of the chemicals they put in their bodies. Period. You can kill yourself trying, but you will neverlook the way they do unless you do what they do. But they don’t tell you that. Because, well, they wouldn’t make any money that way. I had the opportunity to spend a couple days with 4 pro fitness models, who ate like I never ate before, consumed more alcohol than my liver could ever handle, and didn’t worry at all about messing up their diet, or having just one cheat day because whatever they inject themselves with will burn that bad stuff we worry so about right up. When I asked about it, they just laughed. And yes, they all sell diet and work out plans on-line. I really wish people would just own their shit. Why the shame and secrecy? Having had the experience, I know it still requires heck lot of discipline and you still need to work out hard. It’s not just some magic potion you take and turn into a gorgeous unicorn. But the dishonesty in that industry is upsetting.
Second, the consequences of the quick fix are real. I can, without exaggerating, say that most guys I know (be it friends, acquaintances or total strangers) have, currently are, or are thinking of injecting themselves with something. I’ve looked at so many photos of my friends and guys I knew who were younger or my age, who just a couple years ago looked beautiful, athletic and healthy. Yes they are jacked and big now, but they’ve also aged 10 years from the chemicals. And maybe it’s just me, but it seems like everyone ends up looking the same. Like a cookie cutter. And what’s the fun in that? I don’t only like chocolate chip. And then on top of that I experienced how easy it is to lose complete sense of reality. Not knowing when to stop. Just wanting to attain the unattainable.
All this, combined with the stories of my 87 year old friend who has lived a long and healthy life, I realized some changes were due.
So after some more soul searching I started focusing my attention and time inwards. On who I really want to be. Scared, I slowly begun embracing everything else about me that in the past took a back seat. Yes, I am still maintaining my exterior through regular exercise and a good diet. And yes, I do care about it… I don’t think I’ll ever stop given the years of messed up thinking about my body image and my active lifestyle now. But it’s not consuming my life anymore and I do it for very different reasons. I feel it comes naturally with getting older, but I have a good sense of who I am, and how to project that to people around me in a way that is authentic and honest. And I’ll be honest with you. Once in a while I’ll be at the gym having a moment as I look around and I am like, fuck this. And my head instantly goes to…maybe I should do that quick fix.
But then I realize, I don’t want some temporary fix and a couple years of “hotness” and then end up living with saggy boobs, bad skin, and messed up joints. Or maybe not living at all. Plus all the money I’d spend on that stuff can buy buckets of delicious chocolate croissants. I decided to choose longevity over vanity. I choose to be healthy and be good to my body, so it serves me for long time to come…especially after all the damage and beating I put it through. I may not look like a fitness magazine cover model or the guy next to me at the gym, but I am taking care of my body in a healthy way so I can use it to do the things that bring me true joy and go on adventures to places near and far.
I also know now that my body, whatever it looked like, was never really the thing that got people to like me. Yes the initial attraction is very important to me as well, but you better have something to back it up with after the first five minutes, be it wit, kindness, or confidence. What I learned is that it really comes down to owning who you are. Flaws and all. That’s what ultimately makes anyone sexy.