My Body Does Not Need Your Opinion to Be Whole
Dr. Jon Paul
My quest for the perfect body began when I first entered high school. My freshman year I weighed close to 300 pounds and after constantly being teased for my size, how my clothes fit and the fact that I often couldn’t fit in the regular sized desk, I became obsessed with weight loss.
Each day, I would spend my lunch hour talking to my small group of friends about the various things they did to lose weight or ways they were able to stay thin. I hoped and prayed that something they suggested would work for me. By the time I reached my junior year, I was so obsessed with being thin and had joined so many fitness-based extracurricular activities that my grades began to suffer. Everything in my life revolved around my size, so much to the point that I began to work out in plastic bags. I ran for long periods of time, even pushing until I suffered heat exhaustion.
My obsession to be thin grew worse in my senior year; this same year, I admitted to my cross country running partner, a queer person of color, that I had a crush on him. It broke my spirit when he responded that he was not “into big guys.” Adding insult to injury, he proceeded to tell me that his ideal boyfriend would be white, blonde-haired and blue eyed--something that I knew I wasn’t, and never could be.
As I began to date, I was often reminded in subtle ways how my size wasn’t ideal or attractive to other queer men, whether it was said to me directly or insinuated on a dating app. Other men boldly (and mistakenly) claimed that my physical features--including my size, race, and complexion--could never be seen as beautiful. After being called “fat” by men online or being told that I wasn’t someone’s “type,” (which I knew was code for fat and Black), I began to internalize my size as unattractive. This fueled my insecurities, so much that I spent close to 2.5 hours a day in the gym and counted every single calorie I consumed. After losing almost 85 pounds in my sophomore year of college, I thought the world would open up in the sense of finding true love and being widely accepted in the LGBTQ community.
Except that never happened. Losing weight only brought on more pressure to be thin and made me even more insecure about physical appearance. I learned that I wasn’t unhappy with my size, but I was unhappy with the way other queer men treated me because of my size. That inflection of hatred became my truth, a truth I never wanted or needed. I started to realize that one of the reasons why I was so obsessed with my size was because of the unrealistic body standards set for queer men in the LGBTQ community, something that throughout my life I never heard other queer cis-men talk about openly.
While there have been several stories published regarding the lack of conversation cis-men have around the unrealistic expectations placed on their bodies, I have realized the issue isn’t me or my size, but an issue connected to toxic masculinity and misogyny that exists within the LGBTQ community. From machismo to hypersexualism, I was sold a perception of what I should look like from the time I was born and chastised when I didn’t live up to it.
The truth is that this is a reality for many queer men.
The pressures that queer cis-men face regarding the expectations placed on their bodies is reflective of a larger system, one that is too often celebrated uncritically in the queer community. This serves as a reminder that one’s body is never fully autonomous; instead, the body is evaluated and assigned value at the hand of another based on whether or not it is deemed appropriate for sexual consumption.
The unwritten expectation placed on all men, regardless of their sexual orientation is that you must live up to someone else’s standards, even when there is no relationship present. This is a classic feature in how patriarchy negatively impacts cisgender men.
I have worked both emotionally and physically to unlearn the things I was taught to hate about my size, my looks and my existence. Yet, I recognize that while I may be bigger, it doesn’t make me any less of a person. As I have become more aware of where the hatred for my body began, I am reminded what it means to reclaim my body as my own and the work that goes into loving it ways that the world never allowed me to.
Some of my insecurities may never go away. But I am forever comfortable knowing that even if others do not like the idea of me being round, I am in fact, whole.
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