We are surrounded by messages that whisper,
“You need to be leaner and stronger.”
“You’re not attractive unless you have muscles and abs.”
“You need to push more, go harder.”
“If you’re fat, it’s your fault.”
“If you lost weight, you would be happy.”
We know deep down that these are lies. We understand the pitfalls of becoming fixated on a particular body image. We know the Truth — No matter what we do, our body will eventually wrinkle, grow old, and pass away.
Yet that doesn’t make these realities go away. Tainted messages still attack our minds and impact our bodies. And they do so silently, invisible from most conversations.
As men, we may feel like we shouldn’t complain about the pressure to look a certain way. After all, women have it way worse when it comes to social expectations around their figure and appearance.
Perhaps they do. But that doesn’t mean men have left the body image arena unscathed. I have worked with many men on food, eating, and body confidence, and I can tell you there’s plenty of shame and insecurity to go around.
On the outside, it’s easy to put on a front. You can tell others that you don’t care if you are fit or muscular. You can wisely proclaim that a lean body won’t get rid of emotional baggage or that big biceps don’t make you a compassionate person. You smugly say, “Why bother getting attached to exterior appearances. They’re fleeting.”
Yet deep inside, these coveted goods are so close, so tantalizing . . . and so we keep reaching.
I know because I’ve been there myself. I’ve been held hostage by self-judgment about my body. I’ve been duped by media messages that say I should look a certain way and believed they were right. I have allowed a well-intentioned pursuit of health and fitness to be clouded by a dark shadow of insecurity, narcissism, and neediness.
It is time to fight back and restore a sense of humanity to the conversation around men’s bodies, weight, and health. But first an apology.
I Am Both A Victim And A Perpetrator of These Tainted Messages
I ask for forgiveness if I have perpetrated these harmful beliefs about body and fitness.
~ I’m sorry if any of my social media pictures or videos vainly screamed, “Emulate me. I’ve got my sh*t together. This is how you should look.”
~ I am contrite about ever implying that you need to change your body to be valued.
~ I sincerely apologize if I’ve ever made you feel that that looking a certain way on the outside is the path to feeling a certain way on the inside.
Truth be told, that’s all nonsense.
What matters is taking care of your body so it gives you the freedom to live the life you want. Today, tomorrow, and decades from now.
I Don’t Care If You Look A Certain Way
It may seem strange that as a professional dealing in the business of body transformation, I really don’t care about how your body looks. I’m concerned about how you take care of it.
A lot of people set foot in a gym because they have body parts they want to tone. Deeper down, they’d rather disown their body rather than care for it. Exercise can easily become a stomping ground for egotistical judgments, and unfortunately, a lot of personal training feeds into that.
But there is another path. I want you to see exercise as a form of self-compassion. I want you to pay attention to what your body needs in order to feel and function at its best.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you have nice abs or sculpted shoulders. I just want you to feel empowered to use your body as a vehicle for love and adventure.
How you look on the outside only matters as much as you believe it to matter.
But, and this is a big “BUT”…looks matter
So many people believe that appearances matter…that they do.
We live in a material world and first impressions are inescapable. Whether you’d like to admit it, you make hundreds of snap judgments about someone’s character based upon how he or she looks. It’s automatic and unconscious in the same way that our attraction to symmetry, curves, and tall posture is woven into our DNA.
We cannot help but make assumptions about good health, fertility, and an ability to provide and protect based upon a person’s stature. As animals, we need to survive and procreate. Our relationships will always be impacted by how we look on the outside.
So if you have ever felt insecure about your body, I understand why:
~ I recognize the biological imperative to have youthful contours.
~ I understand the cultural pressure to fit into accepted bodily norms of beauty.
~ I understand if past experiences have left scars of bodily judgment and shame.
~ I know the stress of having to deal with a body that doesn’t look or feel the way you desire.
I have been through all this myself, and as much as I try to rise above it, these tensions are inescapable. I cannot offer a way out, only a way in. The more I work with, through, and in my own body, the more I see that the task is not to become perfect. The task is to create space for all these tensions to exist, and then to love the hell out of it.
Struggles of Trying to Transcend the Superficial
As a health coach, I want to help you manage the biological drives and social pressures to look a certain way. At the same time, I want you to transcend the bullshit of becoming well-adjusted to an arbitrary and profit-driven norm of beauty.
Taking care of your body is not about chasing a particular look. It is about learning to listen to what your body needs and having the tools and resources to give it the TLC it deserves.
You are under contract to live in, with, and through this body. You may not have agreed to the terms and conditions, but you must honor this contract nonetheless. If you want to live well and do good in the world, start by taking care of your body. If there is ever a reason to start an exercise routine or change your eating, this is it.
Here are some simple practices to help you get started.
- Learn to inhabit the body you already have. This is simple as slowing down, focusing your attention inward, and allowing yourself to feel whatever is present inside of you. Stay there as long as you can.
- Learn what your body can do now. Don’t get caught up in what you can’t do. Begin with what you can. Experiment with different types of movement, not for the sake or burning calories or building muscle, but as a creative expression of being alive in a body. See how you can bend, twist, reach, and stretch. Explore the space around you and allow yourself to be surprised by how you can already move.
- Let exercise be a tool to add more life to your day. Working out is not a punishment or chore. It’s an opportunity to say to the world, “I’m here. I’m alive.” Use exercise to experience aspects of life that carry a different energetic charge from your other activities. Practice moving breath and energy through your body. Notice the subtle and gross sensations. Let your exercise provide a sense of freedom, accomplishment, and empowerment that infuses the rest of your day.
- Explore the edge of your comfort zone. To know what your body feels like to be centered, you must know what it feels like to be off-balance. Life will often do this for you, but it is different when you deliberately challenge yourselves. Choosing to play at the edge of your comfort zone creates a sense of control, autonomy, and mastery that empowers you. Your body wants to be used to its fullest potential. Occasionally take it there.
- Balance self-acceptance with self-improvement. I’m not asking you to give up your aspirations for better health or a body that allows you to do cool things. I’m asking you to approach your physical journey on planet earth from a kinder perspective, a place where desires for a better body can be held simultaneously with love and appreciation for the body you currently have.
- Focus on the quality of your presence. It’s more important than your bodily appearance. How engaged you are in the moment matters more than how you appear physically. I’m talking about how you light up a room simply by being there. Not by saying or doing anything. Just the energy you are putting out. Your body is the medium. Your presence is the message. Focus on what message you want to be putting into the world.
- Loving yourself is a daily choice. Recognize that anytime you set foot in the gym, start a workout, or look at yourself in the mirror, you are making a choice. You are either choosing to show up from a place of love and sufficiency, or you are letting those shadowy whispers infect you with inadequacy. One path empowers you. The other erodes you.
I’ve made a choice to take care of my body, not so I can fit into a socially acceptable image of beauty, but so I can best express my love in the world. I want the same for you.
~ Jeff Siegel
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.