Tuesday, October 29, 2013


As I observe this image, taken today, I notice significant changes in my body. I was placed on testosterone a little over three years ago. It caused my face to grow wider and my head to increase in size. For the first two years, I was well enough to go to the gym on a regular basis. Because of constant exercise and a weight routine, I added significant muscle mass. The most prominent change is that I gained 45 pounds within months, most of which was lean muscle.

The changes are permanent. Now, I can understand why some athletes will use testosterone illegally in order to gain an advantage over the competition. As I view this new image of myself, what stares back at me often isn't analogous with how I see my body image in my head. I worry that I come across as fat. And while I won't lie and say I haven't put on a few pounds here and there that are not muscle, the truth is that my frame and shoulders can easily accommodate this increased girth. This is the form my body is supposed to take. And still I want to be thinner.

You'd think I'd be pleased with the changes, and to some extent I am. But how I appear to the world has rarely been my desired state. During periods of mania or the introduction of some new medication, I've lost a tremendous amount of weight in a short period of time. Those have been the times I've been most pleased with how I look, and it should be noted that in both scenarios, my medical health was not where it needed to be. That is absolute madness and yet so many Americans will entertain craziness for the sake of self-esteem.

A feminist audience probably understands this conundrum well. Even so, this is not only a female problem. Early in his career, the British comic actor Peter Sellers was overweight. He decided to lose as much weight as possible to further his stature, and did so by abusing uppers and poppers (amyl nitrite). The role of leading man required a slim and trim physique. Before, Sellers had been pigeonholed as only a character actor. With time, his drug habit weakened his heart substantially. Sellers nearly died of a heart attack in middle age, then eventually passed away at a relatively young age because of his addictions.

While I won't pretend to know what it's like to be a woman, I have nonetheless been a first-hand witness to many persistent issues of body acceptance. Girlfriends and platonic friends have both confided in me, and I have done my best to understand. My new therapist is Indian, and by that I mean she is from the country India. She says that body image in her home country is simply not stressed and obsessed the way it is in Western society. Though I'm always careful not to idolize cultures not like my own without first knowing all the facts, I wish we could embrace that belief.

Body image makes hypocrites of us all. If I see an attractive stranger while out and about, his or her weight is not usually the first thing I notice. I'm capable of seeing beauty in many forms, and yet, herein lies the paradox. I can extend the same courtesy to others, but I can't do it for myself. I might delight in the curvaceous and voluptuous form of a stranger, but I can't view my own body in the same way. At times, I wish I had the ability to temporarily step outside myself.

If I took the form of another person's body for a short time, would, at the conclusion, would I view myself as more appealing? Maybe we're all a little body dysmorphic. And if I did recognize that I'm not the ogre I think I am, would that finally convince me that I'm okay the way I am? I have enough problems with health as is than to devote extra time beating up on myself for not fitting some ideal standard. The major problem with me is that I love attention and I love being validated as attractive. I crave that sensation as much as any drug. I'd be willing to bet that massive quantities of some brain chemical are released in the process, making praise and flattery chemically addicting.

And yet, I know I'm likely not that unusual. Over time, I've learned that men beat themselves up the same way as women for not fitting a standard, even straight men. Still, I know women have it much worse. Perhaps if we all could shed our conditioning, regardless of sex and gender, our cravings might take different forms. There will always be things to worry about, but weight and body image wouldn't be one of them.

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