In today’s American society, a great pressure weighs down on the need to be beautiful. And being beautiful translates into being thin; in essence, the thinner the better. Americans are constantly bombarded with images of fit perfection: thin legs, toned arms, gaunt faces. Several organizations and individuals have come against the oversaturation of these images. Nevertheless, this majority of these efforts have been geared to girls and women. However, this essay will speak on behalf of the percentage of men and boys and their struggle with food and body images.
First, many might question how a young man of 6’4” and athletic build has even any thoughts with body image and food, let alone any experience. But I have actually had a less than healthy relationship with food and body image from my adolescence onward. As a child, as are many, I was thin—a lanky, long-limbed child from birth; tall men run in my family, as a matter of fact. And again, like most of us at that age, my weight issues went no further than knowing which size Garanimals my mother was to buy. It wasn’t until I had begun to reach puberty that I noticed my thighs had gotten denser; and only, because I noticed my jeans didn’t fall and gather from waist to ankle like they used to. As a matter of fact, I noticed how full my jeans were—full of me. I noticed how the sides of my stomach pinched at the waist of said jeans. I just thought it was time to get new jeans like I always did every few months. But this time was different.
My mother would inquire, “I don’t know where all this came from,” poking at my lower back, my butt, and thighs. “Boy, when did you get so fat?” my stepfather translated less gracefully (if it were possible).
Where boys were encouraged and even expected to eat heartily, I had decided to have a little less—I mean, nobody wants to be poked and prodded and have his name called in the same sentence as the word “fat.” At twelve years old, it started by me giving half of my lunches away at school and skipping breakfast, because “I was just going to eat in a few hours again anyway.” And, of course, it didn’t help that my 9-year-old brother now had my old body, the one I so desperately wanted back. While he was eating my desserts and his and having seconds at every meal, I was mastering holding in my stomach while sitting.
Soon puberty progressed and everything started to “fall into place.” By my freshman year of high school, my body began to look more like a man’s: broader shoulders, thicker arms, more solid torso. As a matter of fact, my body was probably manlier than most men. At 15, I was 6’3”, 200 pounds. By professional standards, that height to weight ratio is healthy. But what kid wants to say he weighs 200 pounds whilst all his closest friends are a fraction of that? (Notwithstanding, they were also a fraction of my height as well.)
Despite it all, in my head I was a 200-pound kid with a skinny brother, a skinny dad, and skinny friends-- and I wanted to be skinny. Consequently, throughout high school and college, I struggled with how I saw myself in comparison to the world. I wrestled with diets and weight loss regimens and measurements. Yes, this black boy from the projects worried about back fat.
Naturally, I felt like I couldn't talk to anyone about this. There is no “plus sized” men’s market. There is no healthy body image campaign for “curvy boys.” We see that the only place for a fat boy in Hollywood is the funny best friend. Or maybe you’re on the football team. And I was interested in being neither.
But the extent of my relationship with body image and food did not stop there. I used to sneak and eat. When I was younger and even living alone, I used to go into the kitchen and not turn on the light. I would wash dirty dishes immediately as to not leave “evidence.” I would remove food and rearrange the remaining elements as so it would appear undisturbed. I realize we see what we want to see. Rearranging slices of cake or swapping large containers of leftovers for smaller ones were other tactics. We see just what we want to see. I would tell myself, “Because of this cake today, you cannot eat lunch tomorrow.” I did not like it. I wanted lunch. I wanted lunch so much that it made me cry. But I wanted the cake now. The urgency of now made it that much stronger. I cried over a forfeited lunch, but I cried over a slice of cake now.
As time progressed, I had begun to get a better handle on body image and relationships. It wasn’t until quite recently I actually began to get a grip-- a well-balanced diet and exercise regimen, but even greater, a stronger sense of self-worth.
All this to say, boys encounter certain body image issues everyday in America. There have been many strides taken for youth to “love themselves,” but this is mostly geared toward women and girls. But we should be more sensitive to the fact that, while boys are taught to be big and tough and strong, sometimes boys need to know that while they’re being big and tough and strong, it’s okay to feel. There might not be a campaign yet, but Brothers know it’s okay to talk about it, because you're not alone.