body image and the difficulty of self-love after trauma
We all have issues with our body. Even those who seemingly have the most perfect bodies, the perfect specimens of human kind that are doing everything they can to achieve perfection, whether it be working out in the gym, watching their diets religiously or altering themselves through plastic surgery… they all have a weak spot. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t work so hard. But how much of that “problem” they have is their own, and how much of it is a problem we all face in modern society? How much of it is the ramification of life experiences, how much the fault of impossible ideals imposed by the media, fashion industry and expectations of others? And how much of what we think is actually what we think?
I’d be first to admit that I do not have the perfect body. I do not have ab definition that all “proper” models or porn stars (for the most part) are seemingly supposed to have. I've never had a perfectly proportioned body and I suspect I never will. I got certain gifts at birth, like my strong legs and calf muscles. They are big and masculine and I've never had to work a day to get them. And I am not saying that to brag. Quite the contrary because most part of my life I have hated my entire lower body. I don't have especially wide shoulders so to me, an artist well aware of the “perfect proportion,” it just seemed that my body was compiled of parts that didn’t quite match. Of course, if you train, you can build muscle, create the body you want. The problem is, I have never been big on building muscle (that’s my choice) and I really learned to hate exercise in school. My interests were always different: I read a lot, I started to write poetry and prose early, I started to paint. I don’t need big muscles to do any of that. I only need my vision and that is something that you can’t see.
There is a lot that goes into healthy self-esteem (and what can hinder from it) and body image as you will soon find out as I will share some personal experiences and lessons I have learned.
The first part of my life, up to 13 years of age, I was very slim, skinny even. Then things started to go wrong. My family was struggling financially after we lost our business and home. My father was unemployed and he started drinking heavily (although it began much earlier but I wasn’t witnessing it then on a daily basis as he worked as a traveling salesman). When he started to drink more he became emotionally abusive and when he didn’t drink (rarely) he was “nowhere to be found”: in the bedroom, reading, away from the family. He never paid any real attention to me or what I did unless it was to force me to be interested in something he was interested in. Which to me translated as: he wanted to change me. And of course he pushed things on me when I was least receptive: when he was drunk, in a state of unpredictability and his volatile and emotionally abusive cruel behavior signaled danger to me.
When we moved I needed to adapt to a new school and try to build new friendships since I lost all my friends. I was alone a lot, not simply because I was the only child and had learned to entertain myself, but because I was now the outsider in a new environment. Everyone else in my class had known each other since they were small kids. Because I proved to be an artistic sensivite soul, I was an easy target for bullying. So they bullied, for five long years they were in my back every chance they could get, in school, after school, you name it.
To cope with all of the above, without even realizing it at the time, I started to use food to get some sort of feel good in my life. At first it wasn't a problem but as I was reaching puberty, my metabolism started changing, hormones were running wild and I was on constant fight or flight mode due to everything: there was no place I could feel safe. So, eventually, my eating habits made me gain weight and in one year I went from a skinny kid to a fat teenager.
Prior, at the age of 8, I had been in a car accident and until I was 17 and almost anorexic due to barely eating anything at all, I went through six 6 surgeries on my left leg. I have the scars to remind me, both inner and outer. Children can be cruel and I was called by names I don’t care to repeat, simply for having an injury I could do nothing about. And I can still, vividly, remember my knee failing me in the garden, dragging my body across the lawn to the back door, calling dad for help. The dog had run out and I had been trying to catch it while it all happened. My knee caps went out of place repeatedly during those years. Dad got angry and made no attempt to hide it, or help me. He cared not for the pain I was in, he cared about the dog running free. Somewhat understandable but he could have handled things differently. It was a double insult as my body had failed me (again) and dad took care of the emotional neglect.
I knew I was never the boy he really wanted. I was an artist on the verge of discovering I was gay. The very opposite of all macho he wanted to project.
Being gay in itself added another layer to my body image issues. While to every group of people a great body is a hot commodity in the gay community the male body of perfect proportions is celebrated to the highest of degrees. While there are subcultures, and men who are into different body types and gay men themselves come in all forms looks and sizes, the majority still seems to celebrate eternal youth and god-like masculinity or they are fighting nail and tooth to get there. Simply because without it you are not what the flesh market wants.
Women have been confronted with images, magazine articles and adverts of how they should be from day one. They have shaped their bodies throughout ages to match the standard of what has been deemed desirable. As I got into my 20s, I witnessed how magazine advertising started to change. Men were now being portrayed like women in ads, presented more or less as a piece of meat. Alluring displays of perfect physique on every perfume underwear or whatever ad. As cool as it was for a young gay guy to see half-naked men on magazines, it added another layer to the already pre-existing condition: be that image, have that body.
And of course, I had the worse case of acne in my late teens and early 20s so seeing all those gorgeous perfect guys and then looking into the mirror felt like a slap in the face. The worse part about having acne was this: if it happened to get near the soft skin under my eye or close to my lips it would become a nightmare. My eye would get swollen shut, my lip would look out of shape. Like someone had punched me. I rarely looked people in the eyes when I walked outside. I wanted to be invisible. The perfect opposite of how I really am because I usually never flinch from direct eye contact. But when the acne was in full bloom, and it was for years, I felt unbelievably ugly and completely unattractive. The antithesis of handsome. I truly hated my reflection.
The acne raged on my face and shoulders for years, leaving a multitude of scars behind, some done by me: I hated it so much I cut the forming zits open with a clipper. Gross, I know. But that was the extend of my self-loathing and my fear of them spreading across my face. I just had to get them before they got me. Fast-forward to today: I still freak out every time I see a zit. And I still avoid touching my face, especially the eye area, so I do not carry any unwanted bacteria there. I do this even though it’s been decades since I had the last breakout and I don’t assume to get one in the future. The fear of how it was still resides in me and every time my skin starts to react to stress, I simply want to scream.
All my life I have struggled to love my body. I wasn’t happy even when I reached 68 kg (I’m 180 cm tall) and my ribs were showing. That was in my thirties. I almost starved myself to get there, went to the gym 5 days a week, walked 10 kilometers every day to sweat everything off, watched my diet religiously. But the main issue I had still remained. This was really not about the body. And when it comes to the body, bones just don’t shrink. I couldn’t build enough shoulders, I couldn’t lose my big calves, I had wider hips in proportion. If we go into more private areas such as cock size, I struggled with that too. I certainly didn’t think it was huge. Every man wonders about their size at some point and we all look at other guys to see where we land. After all the big phallus is the perceived throne of masculinity. While not every guy is unhappy with their size, I have yet to hear a guy say they wouldn’t want that extra inch if they could get it.
So… whether it was being verbally abused by my father or being bullied/ridiculed by a school mate or dealing with my own physical imperfections or mental stress from all of the above, it made me fill every cell of my being with the fear of not being enough. I allowed partners to continue the cycle of abuse because I was too consumed by all forms of previous abandonment and because I was so in need of love. If I had only loved myself enough to not go there. But at the time, I didn't realize that I only needed to be good enough for me. The opinions of others do not matter. The nasty words people say bounce away from healthy self-esteem. If you do not have it, you take in all the bad and all compliments bounce off of you simply because you can't take them in.
Stress and trauma can have dire consequences to your health. Your conscious mind, subconscious mind and your physical body work together. It’s a well oiled interconnected intelligent machine.
The severity of trauma can vary from extreme physical, sexual or emotional abuse to feelings of neglect to some one liners someone once threw at you. Someone you considered a valid source of information. After all that takes over your subconscious, eventually you start to believe them as truth and you keep repeating it to yourself. And you will project it outside, to other people’s thoughts of you. It will affect the way you view the world and everyone around you. And it will go on until you learn to unlearn what you have digested.
The more of the same you get the more unsafe you feel and the more unsafe you feel the more you allow it to affect you mentally and subsequently, physically. It’s a vicious cycle. The negativity flows within you until you are ready to realize the core truths: you can change things, nothing is permanent, you can understand it, you can learn to forgive, you can let go. Most of all, you need to forgive yourself because while others may have done you wrong, you turned what they did to you into a home and gave it the energy to live beyond.
Before you get there, however, it is still quite possible you might go through depression of some degree or even an outbreak of physical ailments that can be traced to your trauma. Your bucket got full because your body’s intelligent capacity to remove the inner toxic environment was no longer enough. It’s just that when the bucket gets full, it gets full, no matter what age you may be. And for many people, especially those that have experienced trauma in their childhood, the bucket gets full as an adult. Something unwanted happens that finally tips the scales. All this because your temple was infested by other people’s junk. Something that never belonged to you. Your body, your subconscious did their best and found a way to cope and it worked for as long as it did. It pushed your hurting child deep down so you could endure whatever you had to go through. You might have taken roles from being a caretaker to being an overachiever, from being the mediator to being the people pleaser. Through reading about children that grow up in abusive homes, I learned I had taken all four roles. I had also shut down my senses. Isolated myself. I always wondered why I felt so alone growing up. It wasn’t that I was always alone but rather I had shielded myself to a point that I was disconnected from everybody else, and most significantly, other parts of myself. My being had become fragmented, my memory and experience of life compartmentalized.
When you arrive at the gates of adult life, your childhood coping mechanisms stop working. It is then that you must learn to acknowledge your past is still working in the present and realize you have the power to change it. You are no longer a helpless child. You are a capable adult, the master of your own destiny and the designer of your life. There are many ways you can work through trauma but the first step is to read about what you went through so you truly understand in a more profound way. You know what happened to you, from your experience - but do you know what it truly did to you? This is why reading up is so important. Then, you must stop being silent. When you open up your mouth to speak, you must be ready for some resistance. Not everyone in your circle or family will be ready for the truth of your experience because they have their own experience and it might be the perfect opposite of yours or they might be in denial about what they have too experienced. But when you open up, you will find out there are many like you. You feel less alone. One of the things learned in abusive homes is the masterful skill of covering it all up. Therefore part of the healing process is to speak up and stop apologizing for your experience. But to heal and not get stuck on victim mode or anger mode (which is another inevitable part of the process) you must take concrete steps. It may require a leap of faith, something you have a problem with. But you can do it. Just take a deep breath and start somewhere. Remember who you are doing it for. It’s time to love yourself.
By now you should see the connection between self-esteem, trauma and body issues and how complex and deep and raw the true root causes can sometimes be that simply manifest as discontentment about oneself. It is not to say that every person who has ever had a body image issue has gone through severe trauma. As I mentioned in the beginning it can be a small thing. Subconscious can turn a small thing into a huge problem.
Truly loving yourself is allowing yourself to be who you are and embracing it. It’s about putting in the work required for your own well-being, whatever form that may be. And doing it not for the sake of popularity or your partner or whoever expects you to be a certain way. You need to do it for one reason only: you deserve to be loved and accepted by you. Whether you’re struggling with body image, emotional trauma, physical ailments or defects, you know you can be your worst enemy. Don’t be that enemy. Be your best friend. It won’t be easy to stop beating up on yourself but down the line you will thank yourself for finally saying no.
If I’ve learned anything in life it’s this: someone will always dislike you or envy you for what you have or what they don’t have, they will downright hate you and it has nothing to do with you. It’s all about their insecurity. Similarly other people will look at you and think you are great-looking or talented or whatever and those things might not be how you see yourself. They may very well love the things you hate most about yourself or they feel attracted to something you are not even aware of.
Today I work a lot with nude self-portraits and when I view photos I’ve taken of myself, I won’t deny, I still sometimes cringe. I still struggle with my body but I’m learning to embrace it and love it. And Finncock has become one of tools I use to achieve that place of self-acceptance and celebration of my carnal and spiritual self. I try not to say bad things to myself because I know in the end I only hurt myself. But at times it gets harder to silence the voices and you get slightly paralyzed. I’m confident but not free of insecurity. I don’t think any of us ever truly is. And it’s ok too. Just remember to rebuke those thoughts as soon as you are aware of what you are doing and replace them with more positive affirmations.
I may get fatter, it may get slimmer. I may start to work out more. I may do nothing. For the sake of my back which has started to act up due to permanent damage I received from the 80’s car accident, I should definitely work out a bit more. But I know no matter what I do I will most likely never be comparable to any pumped up model or big time pornstar out there. But do I need to be? I think I just need to be me and those who get me, understand me and feel inspired by me, will gravitate towards me and my body of work naturally.
There is not a single person on earth that has never had a bad thought about themselves or felt discontentment or disappointment in themselves, one way or another. Just make sure you don’t move to that place willingly because you are perfect the way you are. You can try and achieve a better version of yourself but do it for the right reasons, not the ones thrown at you by those trying to make a quick sale on your insecurity. Or lift themselves up by putting you down. Love your body. Love your imperfections. Heal your wounds by actively looking for answers, reading, meditating, counseling, group meetings, exercises, whatever works for you.
You owe no apologies or explanations for loving yourself and seeking your own well-being no matter how you choose to go about it. It is the greatest love you can give yourself.
You are enough. As you are, as you were and as you will be in the future.
We are more than our bodies and our fat percentage.