Attitude, Self-Care

Seeing the Naked Truth of a Healthy Body Image

I’ll be honest.  Writing about seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image is daunting.  It’s daunting because I am aware that this subject is a major trigger for a lot of people.  Having a healthy body image sure is a real challenge for me.  If you can relate, then I wrote this post for you.  When an unhealthy sense of our body images challenges us, putting clothes on won’t provide a resolution.

There could be many paths to seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image.  I’m going to share my path with you.  In fairness, you need to know that this is honest, vulnerable, difficult, and cathartic to be so “naked” with you.  It’s also likely to be provocative.  If you don’t like this topic, I advise that you not read further.  Spare me the grief of your wrath.

To be clear, I know why people hire me and why people read what I write.  My clients and followers want to use clothes to maximize their potential and to reach their goals, whatever they are.  No one hires me to kick their ass because they are stuck with an unhealthy body image.  But, I can tell you this from very deep personal experience.  It’s a fine goal to wear the finest clothing you’ve ever worn – even chosen with my expertise.  But, if your path to seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image is blocked by shame, it’s wasteful. 

Hoping to help one human being, I’m sharing my path of seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image.  In current popular culture, the topic of body shaming comes up all the time.  But, you know what?  The tendency to body-shame others with glares and comments deeply reflects our own inner turmoil.  Shaming others is often a way of deflecting the shame we have of ourselves.

“…For who can hate her half so well as she hates herself

And who can match the finesse of her self-abuse

Years of training were required for this

Twenty years of subtle self-indulgence, self-denial…”

-Erica Jong, Aclestis on the Poetry Circuit

Not that I’m perfect, but it’s very rare if I have body-shamed anyone. After enduring many years of external forces leveling abusive behavior at me, I continued that on my own.  To continue the only feelings about my body image that I ever knew about myself, I continued to wound myself.  Ridiculously, others’ negative feedback about me informed me what I thought my body image should be.  Clearly, I had absolutely no sense of self in this regard.  And, it plagued me for decades.

A word to any teenager who might read this: please, please, please never do what I did to myself.  No one deserves to have an unhealthy body image riddled with shame.  Moreover, no one deserves to feel shamed because you don’t think that you meet some commonly held standard or ideal.  Let me encourage you: you are your own ideal, exactly as you are in this moment.  Another thing is for sure.  The way you are now is going to change, with or without your help.  So, be in the moment, go with the flow, and conceptualize that you are fine now and as you evolve.

The best thing to do is to naturally and holistically create the very best version of your body image.  And, you should do this with a very positive-minded approach.  First approach yourself with unconditional love.  Second, accept how you look right now in this very moment and feed your whole body and mind with love.  Don’t judge your body.  Check in with it and evaluate how, with love, you may make improvements through self-acceptance, healthy exercise, and proper eating.  You may consult with your primary care physician, and even a psychologist to help you with very deep issues.  I regularly see my doctor and psychologist, who challenge me to take myself to higher and higher levels of self-actualization.

As the smallest boy in the class, many kids marginalized me.  Singling me out was easy.  So, I thought that by outrunning the other boys, I might avoid getting beaten up.  On the track field as a young boy, I never finished a race beyond third place.  Clearly, I had a strong ability – and a purpose – to run fast.  Strangely, the PE teacher never tried to cultivate my ability to run fast into becoming athletic.  I conclude that even the PE teacher was complicit in this marginalization.  After all, why wouldn’t an educator lift the spirit and the prowess of the boy everyone loved to hate on?

I’ll never know what could have come of me if I ever became a race runner.  To tell you the truth, I have no interest in running marathons at this point in my life.  But, I have got an amazing pair of legs.  And, I don’t need anyone else to tell me so.  I relish having had great legs my whole life, and I love working them out today.  Undoubtedly, the PE teacher’s lack of interest in me to take up running led me down a different path.  The path from shame, to self-loathing, to teaching myself unconditional love, finding acceptance, and challenging myself to maximize my assets.  Along the way, I began coaching clients to run the races of their lives with love, acceptance, and great style.

In a very personal way, seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image has been a lifelong pursuit. Sometimes, it still isn’t easy. But, I am so grateful and appreciative of the journey. We all need to love our bodies, and we need to use that love to be at our best. {photo credit: Chuck Thomas, NYC}

Adolescence hit me early.  So, what I continued to lack in height I made up for in body hair.  It was embarrassing to be in gym class.  Boys cruelly tormented me.  So, I shaved it all off with a razor and shaving cream found in my parents’ bathroom.  The one thing my body was doing that would demonstrate some kind of masculinity and maturity, I tried to eliminate.  Looking back on this, my body heats up with regret and embarrassment.  I had no way then of seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image.

Throughout my teenage years, I felt extremely self-conscious about my march into physical maturity.  I was mortified when my dad came to me and told me that it was time to start shaving.  I can remember thinking that if I ignored my own appearance, everyone else would.  But, we all know that is wholly unrealistic when a twelve-year-old has major patches of hair growing on his face.  The bullying and tormenting was relentless, as was being told how ugly I was.  All the while, I was dealing with deep depression and feeling pre-suicidal.  Not a day went by when I didn’t think multiple times per day about ending my life.

As an upperclassman in high school, we got to use the weight room.  The PE teacher was also a professional soccer player.  He noticed that I could actually handle weights pretty well for a non-athletic guy of my size.  As a pint-sized sixteen-year-old, I had no problem leg pressing 360 pounds.  He began to ask me to stay after class, which would make me late for whatever class was after gym.  He had the kind of body one might admire if you’re into the look of soccer players.  At the time, who I was physically attracted to was ambiguous.  Once, he removed his shirt, revealing his worked-out body, covered in a very dense tuft of body hair.  I began to consider that as an ideal, if not a full-on attraction.

I’ll never know why the soccer player and teacher proudly sat half-naked in front of me.  And, I think that my middle-aged brain easy connects this memory with a homoerotic coda.  My present thoughts are the current end of the story.  But, what’s really important is where my head was back at that time, more than 30 years ago.  I can tell you this without equivocation.  This was the first moment that I had a way of seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image.  Pointedly, this epiphany was not about my own body; it was about someone else’s.

Still, I remained freaked out during the remainder of high school about being in the locker room.  I feigned illness to get out of swimming so that I wouldn’t have to be fully naked among the haters.  And for this, my life went on, my body aged, and I wised up.  Except, this little, but crucial, part of my body image remained frozen.

In 2008, after a series of cluster migraine headaches, my then-partner begged me see a doctor.  I did.  He interviewed me while doing a complete examination.  He threw some tough love my way.  Given my profession, he said, I had no business being significantly overweight.  The truth is that he was right.  He advocated for my return to good health by hitting me where he knew I thought it counted most.

Back then, my primary care physician’s tough love led me into the workout studio at my condo.  For six months of faithful work on an elliptical machine, I dropped forty pounds.  People who knew me then seem exasperated that I had forty pounds to lose.  Well, I did, and I knew how to camouflage that extra weight by dressing very well.  Until I began losing weight, I had a very hard time seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image.  I certainly knew what I looked like in the mirror.  Once again, I knew that I had better give myself unconditional love to create the body image that I wanted.

More recently, for the past two and a half years, I have been faithfully working out with a personal trainer.  It’s hard for me to clearly see how my body shape is improving, but I do feel it.  I have better posture.  My shoulders are stronger.  I am aware that I am capable of lifting more weight than ever.  Under my trainer’s supervision, I know that my form is good, and that I control the weights he gives me.  I look even better in clothes than ever.  For that matter, I even look the best I’ve ever looked out of clothes.  But, being naked has always been a private and intimate experience, where I have no vulnerability.

I really hadn’t faced being naked in a semi-private public setting since those high school days.  I’ve always gone out of my way to avoid the opportunity.  But, that all changed in December 2016, at age 47 when I spent three consecutive weeks in Zürich, Switzerland.  I stayed in a private apartment and joined a local area gym.  It was wintertime and I’d need to take a bus round trip to and from the gym.  This necessitated using my Longchamp travel bag as a gym bag, filled with toiletries, towels, and a change of clothes.  The one “thing” not packed in the gym bag was a sense of confidence and having a healthy body image.

So, there I was at the Migro Puls5 gym, this large co-ed facility serving a diverse membership.  And, for three weeks, that membership included me.  On day one, I faced the locker room situation with incredible faintheartedness. First, I strategized taking a particular locker so that I wouldn’t walk naked throughout the huge locker room.  Then, I changed into my workout gear and shoved all my belongings into a locker.  After that, I  went down to the workout facility, did cardio, planks, and crunches.  Finally, I returned to the locker room sweaty and in need of a shower.

That faintheartedness was with me, but I began a conversation with myself.  I allowed myself to feel nervous and present in the moment.  Then, I intentionally suspended the nervousness by asking a question:  why was this situation freezing me up?  And, in a flash of clarity, it all came to me.  I had gone on with the rest of my life, but in this moment, I was still sixteen.  Wowza.  How was I going to move from weakness to strength?  One step at a time, literally.  I quickly stripped out of my soaked workout gear, stepped into flip-flops, and deftly wrapped a towel around my waist.  I’m always trying to look fashionable…

I went into the shower area where there is absolutely no privacy, and took a spot in the corner.  No one was there.  What a relief.  I remember facing the wall for privacy, and decided to treat myself to the simple experience of turning around.  I just needed to get more comfortable.  Once finished, I wrapped myself in the towel, and went back to my locker to finish drying, grooming, and dressing.  Voila.  Day one was complete.

It’s a thrill to have come this far with being at ease with who I am. I have been coaching myself to take a step at a time toward a healthier and happier me. And, I have my team by my side: my therapist, doctor, and trainer. Still, at the end of the day, I have me — the very best me I’ve ever been. You can have this kind of experience, too.

Every day at the gym, I approached the locker room situation with less faintheartedness and a with increasing intrepidation.  Over the days and weeks, I went from shedding my shame to showing my swagger.  I wasn’t showing off.  What I did notice is that, some gay guys in the gym were actually looking at me in positive ways.  It felt so much nicer than people sneering at me.  But, honestly, most people never gave me a look and I never gave them a look.  My sixteen-year-old mentality was no longer there.  I no longer struggled seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image.

I know for a fact that I’m not alone in feeling this way.  In fact, while in New York in March, I was openly talking about writing this with various people.  Every individual shared back that they, too, have had very similar, if not the same, feelings.  One man shared that he makes a beeline to the yoga room, avoiding the rest of the big gym.  A close New York friend lamented how she has the hardest time with her weight and body shape.  Her husband is thin and limber and she struggles with how she sees herself.  I said to her that, obviously, her husband loves her exactly as she is.  So, why in the hell doesn’t she?  Ironically, we ate chocolate pistachio croissants and coffee while having this conversation.  But, self-acceptance requires making no change in behavior whatsoever.  It’s an attitude adjustment.  Then change can come.

There’s nothing quite like seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image.  The odd thing is that with a healthy body image, you carry on without even thinking about it so much.  The frozenness has thawed.  The loathing gives way to love.  The angst matures into acceptance.  You have an amazing sense of autonomy that only you can give yourself.  Once you are seeing the naked truth of a healthy body image, no one can take away your clear vision.

My role, as a personal brand and style strategist, is that of a storyteller. I learn about a person’s personality and strengths, translate that into an appropriate personal style aesthetic, and help each client to visually and non-verbally tell her or his story with ease and authenticity.