A Boy and His Body...Loving Myself Completely in the New Year
I had the chance to catch up with some friends from high school recently. Friend in that we “see” each other all the time and “talk” to each other all the time on social media. I can never tell how those reunions are going to go…the ones where it feels like your relationship has been seamless because of how well you seem to get along online but then when you see each other in person it’s either all hugs or all thumbs. It’s almost always either a lovely emotional and natural reunion or it’s like rubbing your back up against a giant cheese grater.
In this case the reunion was easy. Bittersweet; at the memorial service of a dear friend gone too soon at 39, and also lovely. The three of us stood in the sanctuary of this church and traded memories of our loved one. We laughed and cried and hugged and stood with each other. Tears seemed to hit us each in waves. They likely will for years to come.
As we continued to talk we invariably turned to catching up on each other’s lives. We went deep pretty quickly. We talked about struggles with addiction, divorce, feeling like a failure, feeling like a success…ran the gamut. With tears in her eyes one of my friends shared that she was getting a breast reduction surgery soon. She shared how she had cried at least once a week every day of her life struggling to cope with her image of her body. She was so raw and vulnerable and open…it was a courageous moment. It was the kind of courage that has characterized this woman since we were children. Totally fierce. Totally graceful. I was moved to tears listening to her share and after a silent moment the other friend that was with us said “Bobby you’re lucky, you’re a man, you don’t have to worry about body image issues.”
My first thought was “holy cow the disconnect between men and woman is huge sometimes…we really don’t talk to each other enough.” She described a life where men very much still fought tooth and nail to live up to a paradigm of almost divine and flawless masculinity in its most grossly stereotypical fashion. Never cry. Respond to fear with fists. Show no weakness. Show no mercy. I get it. In her book Braving The Wilderness Brene’ Brown talks about an interaction with one of her readers during which he explained that from his perspective women didn’t want to see men vulnerable, that it actually makes women sick to see men that way. That women would rather see a man die on his white horse than to climb down or god forbid fall or be knocked off of it.
I think that anecdote illustrates a great point. Namely that men and women actually share a lot of the same struggles. They show up in different ways and we deal with them differently and there are certainly nuances to the struggle that are specific to gender / gender identification but we share a lot of the same insecurities and the struggle over body image is one of the human variety. It breaks men’s hearts too.
Part of what shaped my view of my body happened early. Grown men warped the lens I would see myself through for years. I think I was three years old the first time they raped me. I don’t really know how old I was when it stopped. Maybe I had turned five? I don’t talk or write about that part of my life very often though I intend to continue exposing that trauma to my own inner light…in my own time. Suffice it to say that it was torturous. And there are volumes and volumes of study after study that can tell you all about the academic part of how sexual abuse can impact a child and then an adult’s self image.
I thought that my body was broken. That it was not my own. I had twisted concepts of love and sex and attention and how they all interact with each other. My heart and mind were a mess. I also struggled with my sexuality. I am bisexual and have known that I was most of my life. For years I hid that fact and even railed against homosexuality during my stint with the southern baptists hoping I could pray my gay away. I thought that my sexuality was a function of brokenness brought on by what these men did to me as a child. It took me years to find my way to loving and accepting that beautiful part of my heart.
Let me tell you that the specter of my own perceived ugliness has been one of the most persistent and diabolical voices in my head my entire life. Before maybe…two years ago, I could count on my hands the number of times that I had stood in front of a mirror and NOT heard “You gross fat fucker…who the hell do you think you are wearing that? Really…you’re going on a date…YOU? Ugly ass YOU?” I cannot tell you how many times I have stood on a scale teary eyed hoping against hope that the numbers that showed up would give me and everyone else a reason to love me. I wouldn’t make eye contact with people because I was constantly caught up in my own ego and my own cycle of self devaluation. I would plan entire vacations around being able to exercise only so I could secretly bing eat…especially at night. OH MY FUCKING GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME AT NIGHT!?!?!?! I would run and run and work out constantly and then at night I would sit in front of my tv and consume thousands of calories…some food some alcohol. I used drugs heavily for years and of course we’ll get into that I’m sure in another post for another day. I drank and acted out. Anything to help quiet that critical voice that never seemed to sleep.
Over the last two years as I have gotten sober and started to cultivate a loving relationship with myself, I wanted to challenge my thoughts and perspectives. I especially wanted to confront the voice in my head that told me my body was disgusting and that because of that, I would never be worth loving. I started to recognize my body as a vessel and recognize that IT is not ME. I never was nor ever will be my body. I have the privilege of navigating this body through the briefest flashes of time. I wanted to take control of the narrative of my body. I wanted to love my body as it is right now in this moment. In any moment. I wanted to be proud of my beautiful body and to honor it and just be completely blown away by all of the amazing things that it allows me to do and to experience. And I wanted to open up a dialog with other men, and with women, about the challenge of facing the voice in your head that says “ugly” and recognizing that voice is a liar…it is just a thought construct. Just because we hear it doesn’t mean it’s true. And so I asked myself “what would you do if you REALLY BELIEVED that your body was beautiful.” I decided, that for my 39th birthday in October, that I would participate in a Boudoir Photo shoot.
I turned to one of my best friends, Ross Costanza. Ross and Jessica, partners in life and business, own and operate Ross Costanza Photography and Luminous Boudoir Photography. Ross and Jessica work with women and their goal is to empower all women to feel and be and live and breathe as beautifully as they are meant to. They do amazing work. But they had never worked with a man before so it was an experience for all of us. I cannot properly put into words how it felt to stand in this studio with this amazing man that I have known since we were children and to tell him how ashamed I was of my body and how this was such a powerful step in reclaiming and rewriting the narrative of how I move this body through the world. We shot yoga poses, poses with my guitar, and so many more. I was shivering, shaking with nervousness. I was walking heart first and head high into one of the biggest fears of my life. I was screaming back at the voice that said ugly and I was louder that day.
Ross asked if I wanted to do any full nude and I started to cry. Ross teared up to. He said to me “Man…you’ll be glad you did. Everyone who shoots these says it is the most empowering part.” So I took control of my story and as I stood there in that moment, naked, living so sharply and vividly in the midst of the memories of how I was “SUPPOSED” to feel with my clothes off…all I could think of or hear was “beautiful…Bobby you are so beautiful.” It was my voice. It wasn’t faked or forced. It wasn’t loud. But it was sure. And it was certain. And it would not be moved. My voice…the actual divine perfect sparkling beautiful lovely me came forward and spoke in that voice that surprises you from silence. I had never ever ever ever ever heard that voice in that tone with that sincerity before. I was fully present in a moment where I knew and believed and felt and was and acted and lived and breathed beauty. In that moment in that flash I recognized the perfection that exists in the power to decide that fear and voices won’t lead you into a quiet and jaded life. I don’t fight the voices, but every day I learn more and more about where they belong and what their purpose is. When I hear the voice now I try to make a conscious effort to set it against the backdrop of something that I know is true…like being beautiful.
My goal with this blog is to open a dialog. All are welcome. We need each other. I want to inspire men to open up to the idea of vulnerability. I want men to know that insecurity can point you to a place where you feel unsupported and wounded and that you can heal that place. There is room in your life for the soft spaces. There is room in your life for light. You are lovely and infinite and you deserve every great gift that life has to offer. The love we show ourselves is principal among these gifts. We are all struggling and if we talk more we can pool our spiritual and emotional resources. We are always better together.
During puja this morning I set an intention for the year to “Move in love, and slowly.” So I decided to start off my year, and my blog, by revisiting this fear and reinforcing this truth that behind that fear is a deep deep wellspring of love.
Move into the fear and see that love was there all along.