This is something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while but I’ve been putting it off for fear of seeming silly. There seems to be a social stigma when it comes to men. You’ve got to be a tough man, you can’t show feelings, you must have a six pack and go out drinking every other night.
Truth is those don’t apply to me and the same goes for a lot of other men. Yet the mainstream world still likes to put pressure on us. One topic that doesn’t nearly get talked about enough, is men struggling with their body image.
A study by the Mental Health Foundation showed the following;
“28% of adult male respondents admitted to feeling anxious because of their body image while 21% said concerns about their body has caused them to dress in a way that hides their body.
Worryingly, 11% of male respondents said they had experienced suicidal thoughts because of body image issues, with 4% saying they had already self-harmed.”
In this post I’m going to break that trend and talk about my experiences. In doing so, I hope it encourages others to speak up about their struggles and seek help. Though aimed at men, this also goes out to any female readers, as they often receive more vocalised hate speech in relation to their image.
So I guess clear admittance is a good starting point, as opposed to living in denial. Here goes;
My name is Michael and frequently I am at war with my own mind, thinking hateful thoughts about my own body.
That felt good to get off my chest.
My earliest memories of struggling to like myself are hard to pinpoint. I know I was already depressed before secondary school started, but I’m not entirely sure how far back to go. What I know for sure is the wheels were set in motion thanks to classmates and my father.
Comments at school can do a lot of harm if the kids aren’t raised right. Unfortunately I lived in a small town surrounded by kids whose parents couldn’t care less. As such, they misbehaved and became bullies. Comments I would hear included how I smelled (from the one time I ate a bag of Monster Munch) and had a large forehead.
The latter would become a running gag of sorts, with people nicknaming me forehead or five-head as a means of degrading me. This was at a time when I had no friends however, so I put up with it and pretended I was cool with the nickname.
I was no safer at home, as my father would join in and bully the size of my forehead. There’s a level of trust a child and their parents should have, which gets broken when one parent decides it’s a lot more fun to insult you. A thought that occupies my mind later in life, is how much I look like him. It kills me inside.
The comments made during my early school years continued into secondary, again accompanied by the usual high school tropes. Being ugly, nobody would be into you, your hair looks weird, your nose is too big, you’re too small and so on. When I moved to Hull in 2010, I felt like that would all stop. A fresh start, I could begin anew. Sadly that was not to be, as somehow the kids at the new school began using the same insults and bullying me regularly.
Even passive comments made to other people affected me. I dated a girl who had dandruff, she got bullied for that and I became paranoid about washing my hair. A friend of mine was bullied for having weird teeth, so I got paranoid about cleaning my teeth.
Around that time I had begun self harming, first out of attention and then because I wanted to hurt myself. My friends would get bullied for having scars, so I got paranoid about mine and felt they made me ugly.
Finally I left school and left comments like that behind. I cut out most of those I’d been around and once again opted for the new start. The path I’ve been on in the 7 years since I left school, has lead me to a good place. I’m surrounded by good people who treat me well. However the damage was already done and the dislike for my body was already deep rooted.
What don’t I like about myself? I have slightly webbed toes, a big nose, one nostril is bigger than the other and my sternum is off centre. My forehead is big, I don’t have big muscles, I resemble my father and most of all I feel fat, like I’m huge. That last one has probably affected me the most recently. My pectorals feel flabby, my stomach feels like it’s huge and there have been so many times I’ve looked at myself and tried not to cry.
I’m trying to accept who I am, but it’s difficult. Saying I’ll be fine and trying to move on just won’t work, it never does. I’ve decided that if I’m really not happy with my weight, I should do something about it. I want to run more, I want to do more yoga and I want to work out.
That’s something I can in control of and I’m hoping will make me happier once I see results. The rest I’ll just have to learn to love. I can’t change any of those. Plastic surgery may work for some, but not for me. I’m made this way because I’m me, and anything else would just be a mask.
By no means am I okay, I still have negative thoughts daily. I’ve thought once or twice about ending it all, because I “hate myself”. Even as I’ve been writing, reflecting on those things, I’ve thought “yeah that part of me sucks”. However, I believe with patience in myself and determination, I will overcome it. I may also seek additional help when I feel comfortable enough to do so.
With this I hope it shows other men and women, that it’s okay to be open about your struggles with others. That talking is good and that it helps. Especially for my fellow men. Please don’t bottle up how you’re feeling, talk to a friend. If they care they’ll listen, if they don’t, they’re not worth your time.
Be open, be brave and allow yourself to feel. It’s okay to be yourself and show vulnerability.
I’m going to leave a few links below to help those struggling with their own body image:
Post by Michael Sallabank