“90% of feeling good is looking good.” A young twenty-something left this comment on an article my friend shared on Facebook. According to the article, fitness on social media has become an outlet for people to post “sexy” pictures for likes rather than a place to promote a healthy lifestyle. The article rightfully bashes the emphasis people place on looks nowadays. I felt my stomach churn and my eyes roll as I read the comment, only to move along and find more equally sickening comments littered throughout my news feed. Obviously nobody should feel good about themselves unless they’re jacked, tanned, or have a bikini body and a thigh gap. Right?
The truth of the matter is that feeling good is not about looking good, and there is far more to be addressed than a number on a scale if one is pursuing a healthy lifestyle in all aspects. And while this is something that affects both genders, it’s something that men in particular usually avoid talking about. It’s a conversation that needs to be started. I can tell you that losing 70 pounds and slapping on some muscle did nothing to fix the myriad of self-confidence and body image issues I faced. Society paints a saddening connection between the way someone looks and their worth as a person, and that has a negative impact on more people than it ever should, myself included.
After getting through my weight loss, I found out I had a jawline and quickly discovered that women were attracted to me (a shocking revelation at the time). I began working in bars and thriving off the attention, getting it however I could. I’d post selfies, go out to places where I could look like a bigshot for knowing a lot of people, and do basically anything
I could that would get me noticed by girls. I was so hooked on that attention because I thought it defined my worth. I thought my value as a man was inseparably linked to how attractive I was to women. My self-worth was so low that I couldn’t give myself any of that affirmation from within, and while I may have looked healthy on the outside I was anything but that on the inside. This #fitbro was a #sickbro behind the scenes.
My self-worth was low, and the messages I was sending to myself were more malicious than anything I’d ever consider saying to someone else: “You’re fat as fuck,” “Nice man boobs,” “Why the hell would anyone date you?” and so on. These messages drove me insane, and I’d often end up turning to various forms of self-medication and other unhealthy coping behaviours to deal with them. That worked well for a while, but eventually those habits caught up with me and made things far worse than they’d ever been before. I’m walking proof that it’s possible to lose a bunch of weight and have your life become substantially worse afterwards.
I’m not saying body image problems were the only reason I developed a slew of harmful coping mechanisms, but my desire to silence the messages I sent myself concerning my body was definitely a huge factor. While I did eventually manage to kick those habits and get my life back on track, those messages didn’t stop. They were still there, loud and clear, no matter how good my body looked at the time. Something else had to be done.
Eventually, I sought out help from a counselor. I told him about my body image issues, the shitty things I told myself, the addiction to female approval, and everything else I couldn’t get past. We started working on the things I’d tell myself, dealing with the messages that said “I’m only good enough if I have a body that is attractive to women” and changing them to “I’m more than the body I see in the mirror.” We were changing the malicious lies I was telling myself into true statements about who I really am. I’m not just a guy who needs to have girls drooling over him to be worth anything. I’m a caring, compassionate, genuine, honest man, and that’s worth more than any six pack. After a couple months of work, I began feeling truly healthy for the first time. “Healthy” isn’t just a physical thing — it’s also psychological well-being.
Because of the stigmas surrounding male body issues and displaying emotional vulnerability, many men will not reach out and receive the help they require. While I certainly advocate exercise and a healthy lifestyle, losing fat and gaining muscle will never fully fix the issue of being chronically dissatisfied with the bodies we live in, and can often be used as a crutch for avoiding deeper insecurities. I hope this all changes and more men learn to be honest and talk about it, because I know far too many who struggle with this, whether or not they choose to admit it. There is a lot more to fixing this issue than simply changing what you see in mirror, and if this stuff is haunting you, I encourage you to seek some help. Nobody deserves to look in the mirror and hate themselves, because you really are so much more than the body you see when you get out of the shower.
Banner illustration courtesy of Wanderer Online Design Editor Fren Mah