Monday, February 10, 2014

Guest Post: Looking Through Different Eyes

You may have noticed that postings have been slim on this blog, and that most of what I do post is about rhetorical theory. I'm closing in on my doctoral exams, and they've taken over my life (well, the part of my life not taken over by teaching, parenting, or roller derby). Since I'm sure that all of you wonderful readers would like to see something other than rhet/comp theory, I asked some of my friends if they'd help me out with some guest posts over the next couple months. I got an outpouring of support, so there are some great posts headed your way!

First up is from my friend Jon Brace. Jon and I have been friends since middle school, and he wanted to use my request for a post to explore some of his thoughts on body image and confidence. He swears he's not a writer (he's a scientist by day), but I think he did a wonderful job!


Hello.  You don’t know me, but I can feel you judging me.  I can feel your eyes drifting to the parts of me that I am self-conscious about.  You are causing me pain and grief with every small eye flick I see.  

This is how I used to feel every time I would meet a new person.  I would feel like I was being judged for every little flaw I found in myself.  For the longest time I wouldn’t talk about it.  I would just let it linger in the back of my mind.  However, about three weeks ago my partner told me that I seek attention from strangers on the internet.  You know…I didn’t want to admit he was right (and to his face I never did), but he was.  To some degree I still fear that personal contact with a new person.  The internet provides me with false security and a sense of relief that allows me to say, or be, what I want.  You can’t live your life without some personal interaction, right?  Where did this fear come from and how do I get over it?

Everyone is quick to blame media, television, and so on about the body image issues.  To a degree, they are right.  We allow our lives to be flooded by beautiful people and then try to live to their standards.  Very few of us will ever reach these standards, but you can’t just blame that.  Most average adults have something about themselves they don’t like. What’s yours?  Think about it.  When you get dressed, what do you cover up?  When you are meeting someone, what do you tend to avoid?  Everyone has something, but how did that something start?  I want you to do an experiment.  I want you to describe yourself, physically.  Then I want you to ask other people to describe you.  I picked a few good friends who I knew wouldn’t sugarcoat things.  The differences might amaze you.

Here is how I would describe myself.  I am a 28 year old and I am balding.  My eyebrows are too bushy, my eyes too close together, and my smile is too large for my face.  My arms and legs are too skinny, while my mid-section could stand to lose a few pounds.  I basically move like Bambi on ice being very ungraceful.   From this description I wouldn’t be surprised if you pictured a Mr. Potato Head falling down!  Here are some of the things my friends had to say about me.

“I was immediately attracted to your smile and eyes, which were inviting but suggested a little danger. You were lankier then than you are now, so you weren't physically imposing, but you did thoroughly dominate the space you occupied. You have a very strong physical presence through your body language. It's animalistic and powerful but seductive, Both graceful and strong.”
“The first thing I notice about you is your smile. It is contagious, and you smile with your whole face. You are tall and thin, and you move your body with enthusiasm and fluidity--and not only when you're dancing. Your movements match your personality of being friendly and outgoing.”

“To me you are tall, attractive. A loving, but cunning smile. Beautiful eyes that are inviting, trusting..but cautious., delicate, but masculine features...the amount of gay, but also the right amount of man.”
“tall with a slender build, bright eyes (cuz I don't remember the exact color) infectious smile. you don't quite have a beard, but it's not clean shaven, though it's not scruffy.”

This is how the world views me?  This?  Even those traits, like my smile, that I can’t stand are a common thread that most people gravitate towards?  If the world views me positively when did I become the monster I see now?  

Some people are unable to answer when their body dysmorphic image started.  It was a gradual thing.  However, some people can tell you exactly what caused it.  I am one of those people.  I was a skinny, sickly child, who had a lot of asthma related issues.  When I was in middle school (roughly 6th grade) I was put on a liquid steroid to get my asthma under control.  I don’t know about you, but it seems that my doctor neglected to tell me all the facts, or my family neglected to relay them.  I won’t go into how steroids work, but what you should know is they do cause weight gain.  They cause you to gain fat and water weight, and I gained MASSIVE amounts of weight.  During this time my brothers dubbed me "hippo."  The neighbor up the street, now my sister-in-law, was fond of calling me "chipmunk cheeks."  The icing on the cake was the day the nurse pulled me aside in the hallway at school to ask if I was okay because I “have gotten really fat, really fast.”   After that I decided I needed a change.  I became a vegetarian for a spell,  eating mostly celery and cheese until I was back down to what I considered a good weight.  This started a whole slew of other eating-related issues.  Let’s just say that one of my “friends” that I ate lunch with in high school was quite fond of letting everyone know she thought I was anorexic, which continued through part of my college career.

During these up and down phases I began obsessing over portions of my body.  While I was heavy I would focus on my mid-section.  Then when I lost weight I would focus on my face and appendages.  This obsession and the compulsions to change it are all part of body dysmorphic disorder (DPP).  Since I couldn’t change these things fast enough, in my mind, I began covering things up.  Wearing jeans and long sleeves until the middle of summer, even then keeping the jeans.   This is a classic sign known as avoidance.  After college I began trying to gain weight and get much larger muscles.  As a gay man, I feel there is a lot of pressure to stay young and beautiful forever…and I wanted to.  This led me down the path of the “Adonis complex” also known as muscle dysmorphia.  To an extent, I still have some of these symptoms.  However, I have moved past this and I want to share how, and I can simplify it to four steps.

Step one: Be honest with yourself and friends.  This is the hardest step.   Anyone can say, “oh I know I’m decent looking” but feeling it is completely different.  You need to be honest about your feelings.  You don’t like your mid-section?  That is fine, but if someone asks you about it be honest about it.  This honesty will start to sink in and leads to step two. 

Step two: Talk about it.  I am a private person.  I don’t like to talk about my feelings or troubles.  However, talking about it helps open up lines of communications.  I wanted to write this blog as a stepping stone.  A trophy really.  I have come so far that not only can I talk about it with friends, but I am willing to share it with anyone.  I know that the internet provides a false sense of security, but this is letting me start the process of communication.  When you open up lines of communications you learn that you are not alone.  A person may have different body issues, but they still have the same fears as you.   It makes you feel less alone, less ashamed, and more willing to come to terms with things.

Step three:  Make goals and changes.  I know this seems like it goes against most of the stuff I have written.  This particular process has helped me so much over the last few years.  Make small goals.  You don’t like your arms?  Make a goal to go to the gym.  Now the trick.  You should incorporate this goal into a larger goal.  I have issues with my arms…so I made a goal to go to the gym to work out arms once a week.  With this I also made a goal to go to the gym 4 days a week.  This ensures that I am not obsessing over one part, but I am putting equal work into all areas of my body.  The parts I like and the ones I don’t. You will notice a change in your entire body, and mood.  

Step four:  Actually I lied, this might be the hardest part.  Love yourself and find the beauty within.  You can’t change everything.  I will never be able to change my smile (unless I stop smiling, and that will never happen).  I learned to love myself.  I love that I am different, that I crochet, that I sing at the top of my lungs, that I am 28 and still pretend to be an airplane on windy days.   I can keep going, but I recommend you do it.  Write down all the things you love about yourself.  Don’t limit it to just physical.  I mean, there are issues that are more than skin deep.   I would put these on small pieces of paper and hang them around my room randomly.  I found the amount of things I loved about myself out weighed those I disliked.  When I would start getting down on myself about something, I would start reading them and remind myself of all the great things I have done, and who I was.

I know that these aren’t all the answers.  I also know that this will be a forever project.  I will never be completely happy with everything, but who is?  I need to focus on the things that make me who I am, and worry less about what other people think.

I would like to thank you.  This has been one of the most liberating experiences in regards to my mental well-being.  I hope something you read can help you, or relate to you.   Also, feel free to tell Michelle to never let me write again (not only am I a scientist, I have the writing competency of an ape with a broken keyboard).

While I leave you, I also want to leave you food for thought.  Think about what I said, and then watch this video that Dove did.  You might be surprised at how much we doubt ourselves and are far too critical we are.  While this particular video is geared towards women, men also have these issues.

Photo: tantrum_dan

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