Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Just the way you are

What is a healthy body image? Do you think you have one or might you have a body image disorder? These are tough questions that require rigorous honesty to get truthful answers buried deep in our middle-age man minds closely guarded by a fortress of denial. Well, maybe not for all of us but many for sure.

It’s easy to blame the media, perhaps, for this body image disorder but that doesn’t address the underlying reasons that may have their origin in something more significant than the television programs we watch or the advertisements we read on the internet or in magazines and newspapers.

In one of my earliest and favorite Pierini Fitness blogflections, I wrote that every man who looks in the mirror sees a 16 year old. If I took myself seriously, this would definitely be a king size example of body image disorder. If you missed this classic Pierini Fitness blogflection, you can read it here:

Every man who looks in the mirror sees a 16 year old kid

What about something a little more real and serious?

One of my cyberspace fitness brothers from a different mother recently acknowledged on a fitness forum that he may have a body image disorder. He’s a fit and strong person with a physique that reflects the training dues he has paid. He is at the tail end of young manhood, a couple of years from entering the great period of middle-age manhood. In an exchange of e-mail chat, he shared the following with me:

"I have unhealthy image of my body. I am constantly evaluating and JUDGING how I look or worry how I will be perceived by others. In fact, when I look in the mirror I still see a 16 year old skinny kid who desperately is trying to get bigger. That's the inner child in me screaming for acceptance and positive feedback; something obviously I really didn't get growing up and now it has surfaced in my body image. In my desperate attempts to gain weight, I remember downing gallons of whole milk and Matt's chocolate chip cookies daily. The tighter my shirts or jeans felt the better I felt about myself. The power of feeling "big" gave a gigantic surge of self-confidence and increased my self-esteem.

If someone said, "Mark, are you losing weight?” it would send me into an eating binge so I could hear, "Mark, you look bigger". I dreaded being sick because that meant I couldn't eat and thus would lose weight. I still dread being sick to this day for the same reason. The gallons of milk and boxes of cookies eventually gave me lactose intolerance and a 38 inch waistline. But, I didn't care because I was big. I was powerful. I didn't feel like a child anymore. I was, and still am somewhat, a grown man living in a child's view of the world.

As a child we are constantly seeking positive feedback and approval from the adults around us. Some of us carry this natural attitude into our adult life. We are always thinking about how others view us or whether we are liked. How does this relate to body image? If our inner child is not healed, it will cry for attention and demand approval. It lives in a world of self-centerism. It’s all about me. How am I looking? Do you envy the way I look? Why aren't you complimenting me on my physique? Somehow I have to heal my inner child of the lack of acceptance and approval I didn't receive which has now surfaced in how I view my body and my unhealthy, obsession with feeling "like a grown-up". I constantly remind my inner child that he's ok. He's safe and protected and to let myself drop my child-like view of the world in general.

The process is slow but It’s improving. Certain thoughts are fading away. My inner child has been trying to protect me for a long time. It’s done a very good job. It, like the rest of us, wants to be accepted and loved. If you change your thoughts, you change your perception of reality."

To my cyberspace fitness brother from a different mother, thank you so much for sharing your deep feelings and thoughts. Find comfort in knowing that when you look in the mirror and ask yourself “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” that God’s answer is He loves you just the way you are.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum


Anonymous said...

As you said, TV, media, is irrelevant. It may set a person off, but that neurosis is going to show up somewhere anyway. I've found growing older, finding kindly humor in all foibles and faults, and just having more important things to worry about or grieve over helps a lot. Hmmm, sounds more depressing than I meant it. Anyway, Brother, keep introspecting - it will get better.


Justin_PS said...

Several people asked me for tips about getting bigger after I succeeded in putting on some muscle mass. One thing that I stressed to all of them was they weren't going to look EXACTLY how they pictured themselves looking (which is ususally like someone else) and they need to be satisfied with the results that they get.

The fitness world thrives on constantly making and exceeding goals. Along the way, we need to remember to be able to look in the mirror and be satisfied. It's a fine balance that few ever obtain.

Nice work on the rope, BTW. Be prepared to get some comments on the strength of your grip if you keep it up on a regular basis.


pierini said...

Hi Tom and Justin and thanks for your comments and visits.

Just like they say the grass is greener on the other side, so too is the mirror. That's what I like about Bodytribe Fitness, the gym where I train; there are no mirrors to check yourself out while training so all the focus can be devoted to athletic performance.

Have a great day!