These two contradicting and false beliefs about his body caused a useless internal struggle for decades.
I recently had the privilege of starting to work with a life coach of my own. So far, we’ve had three conversations and from the very beginning, our talks naturally seemed to flow towards weight loss and body image. We talked about the body image issue I knew I had but then, out of nowhere, came this other body image issue I was unaware of. I then realized why these two issues were conflicting, fighting each other. My mind was blown!
The body image issue I knew I had.
Although I am in better shape than I was 5, 10, and even 20 years ago, I still have this feeling that I am overweight. Being 80 pounds lighter than I was at my heaviest, I should know that I am not overweight, but regardless, I have a fear that I am. Even worse, I fear I’ll gain the weight back.
My real fear is that I don’t have the body women are attracted to. You know, big broad shoulders, protruding pecs, and a washboard stomach. When I look at this though, I wonder is this really my fear or rather, is this fear valid? To be honest, I’ve attracted beautiful women at any weight. Whether it was at 285 pounds or 235 pounds, I’ve always been a lucky guy in this regard.
“Wow, you have no problem being naked. Do you?” I’ve heard this several times over the years—usually from women who were, themselves, insecure and wanted to cover up in some way after sex. My answer, as I looked over my hairy-doughy body, “No. I guess not.” How does a man who has swam with a t-shirt on feel so comfortable naked in front of a woman? Moreover, if I was so comfortable being naked in front of a woman, why was I so obsessed with looking better?
My answer goes back to my childhood when I was fat shamed by my own mother. A mother’s love should be unconditional, not based on your looks or how good your grades are. But I’m not going to get into this now. This may be it’s own article or even it’s own book.
My favorite elementary school teacher, god bless her, did her best but sometimes the kids got to her. One day, after observing my lack of participation in a P.E. class, she felt it needed to be addressed so she called me up to her desk. I got reprimanded often and did my best to make light of it by making a joke of it in front of the whole class. So when I got called up to her desk, the whole class watched and paid attention. “Soto, what is this?” as she pointed to my belly. “Me!” I answered. The class giggled. I knew what she was getting at but I was playing it off because the entire class was watching. I remember thinking, “OK, lady. You think I’m fat and should exercise. I appreciate your input, but do you have to call me out in front of the whole freaking class?!”
These incidents hurt then and, to tell you the truth, they kind of hurt now. It’s easy to see now the message that was sent to that little boy. If you want a woman’s approval, you need to not be fat. Being fat is bad!
The body image issue I didn’t know I had.
After adopting Primitive Eating in 2011, I slimmed down. A lot. My guy friends, who knew me as this huge bouncer, said stuff like, “You’re looking scrawny” or “You need to eat a sandwich.” I tried to ignore these comments but they kind of struck a chord. They bothered me.
“Why is that?” my coach asked. “Because I liked being big.” I couldn’t believe I said that. “And why is that?” she responded. “Because being big is intimidating. It puts forward the image that I can defend myself and the ones I care about.” “And why do you feel you need to this?” she asked. “I don’t know. I have always had this security mode about me. That’s why I was a bouncer, a police officer, and in the military. I’ve always had this desire to protect people.” “And why is that?” she asked again. This is when the wheels started turning.
My thoughts again went straight to my childhood.
One of my earliest memories is that of gunfire in front of my paternal grandfather’s house in South-Central Los Angeles. I remember following my grandfather’s lead—a WWII combat veteran—and hitting the deck as soon as the shots rang out. My father crawled to a bedroom to get to a phone and call the police. The police arrived, gave the all clear and my mom and dad took me home. The walk from the house to our parked car in the street was one of the scariest times of my life… and I have been to war. Then there was the time one of my neighbors chased her lover out of the house with a knife. The man came running out screaming toward the direction of my father and then turned to defend himself but instead tripped and fell to the ground, where he put his hands up, and screamed something to the effect of, “don’t kill me.” I have no recollection of what happened next thanks to my mother grabbing me and pulling me into the house. Decades later when the story was retold the words “crack” and “stabbing” were used.
As corny as it sounds, I became the man of the house when my parents split up. I was 7. At this time we had moved from the place where the stabbing took place to an even worse part of Gardena, CA. – to a house that was robbed, several times. There’s nothing scarier to a little boy than having to sleep in a house where earlier that day someone had kicked in the front door without a father there to protect him. My mother tried her best to hide the fact that we lived in a dangerous neighborhood, but I was smart enough to figure things out. Like why she would leave the TV on when we left the house in the morning. I also overheard her stories of seeing gangs hang out on our street, or that a neighbor confronted a man standing outside of our house one night and he responded with, “Go inside the house or I’ll kill you.”
We eventually moved in with my mother’s parents in South-Central Los Angeles where I was no longer the man of the house, but still lived in fear. This neighborhood was so bad that my mother lied about where we lived so that I could go to a safer school… back in Gardena. Playtime for me was restricted to the back yard and during daylight hours. This added precaution wasn’t without good cause. For a time, the next-door neighbor’s home served as a crack house. The report from the police was that they knew drugs were being sold out of there, but they could never find any when they raided the house.
Somewhere around this time I faced my first bully in school. At some point he thought he was take his bullying to the next level and physically handle me, instead he got picked up by his hooded sweatshirt and flung to the ground. With all my pent up rage and fear, I swung my closed fist, as if I was holding a hammer, down onto his back three or four times. He never picked on me again. When this story was later relayed by another boy to those who missed it, he closed it with, “Dang, Soto. You’re strong!”
That’s when I learned that I could use my size to protect others and myself.
As the years passed, the increase in my height and weight seemed to be celebrated. Especially when it came to the prospect of playing sports. I remember standing on the scale in high school as the coach dialed in the precise measurement of my current weight at the time. This was our “official” weigh-in and these weights were going to be posted in the program for the entire season. I weighed-in at 235 pounds. The actual weight in the program, 255. I was basically encouraged to weigh more!
I was a terrible athlete, but it didn’t matter. Everywhere I went people were in awe of my size. I seemed to always get asked how tall I was and how much did I weigh. The more I weighed, the more positive the response. I was constantly rewarded for being big. So I did everything I could to get bigger. I took supplements, ate protein bars, ate big meals, and of course lifted weights. One day, at 6’7” and 275 pounds I walked in to a bar and asked if I could be a bouncer there. The manager’s immediate answer was, yes!
Through the years I was given nicknames like, “House,” “Big Dave,” and in Mexico, “Chiquilín,” which basically means, “Tiny.” Yes, being big was good.
The conflict: being big was good but being fat was bad.
I remember dropping to a weight I never weighed as an adult and thinking, when is it going to stop? I liked how I looked and even had to drop down from XXL to XL, but with my weight loss came the loss of being this big guy everyone liked. The big guy who could protect himself and others just by intimidation or if need be, grabbing them by the throat and throwing them to the ground. Yet, I still had these love handles that girls were going to find unattractive. So I still had some work to do, right?
My doctor once told me that I should weigh 225 pounds. Impossible, I thought. Until, I found myself just three pounds away from hitting that weight. I didn’t maintain that weight for very long. Now, I see why.
I put myself in a lose-lose situation. If I lost the last of my love handles that would possibly put me at the weight I was when I was 14 years old and that is not the bodyweight of a man who gets mistaken for a professional football player.
“Do you know of any smaller men who can defend themselves or others, as you say?” asked my coach. “I know of several.” “Do you know of any women who are attracted to you now or when you where heavier?” “I know of several.” Just kidding, I didn’t say that, but I did answer in the affirmative. “How many do you need anyway?” she asked. “Actually, just one and I have that.” “Exactly!” she exclaimed. “So, are either of these beliefs you have true?” “No,” I answered, “they are not.”
When we got off the phone I went for a walk and instead of listening to a podcast on how to improve my business or get in better shape, I took the time to reflect. You’ve just read most of what I concluded.
At 6’7” and a “measly” 235 pounds I can defend myself or protect those whom I care about if it came down to it. And, even without a body like Ryan Reynolds, I am still desirable by women. By at least one anyway and that’s really all that matters.
Photo: Getty Images