How your body image affects your self-esteem… and why you shouldn’t let it (Part I)

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Hey guys, happy weekend! This article has been a long time coming… months in the making actually and I’m glad I finally have the right opportunity to share it. I’ve wanted to talk about the correlation between body image, which, simply put, is how you see yourself (in the mirror and inside your head), and self-esteem – the value and respect you give yourself, (i.e. your real opinion of you), both of which have a lot to do with how others perceive you. We all have our idea of how we look, how we are perceived and to some extent, how that makes us feel… but do we really know just how much our self-esteem is affected by this? It’s almost impossible to be positive when you can’t even be your own cheerleader. Growing up, I had my own body image battles mostly due to my hair type and being really skinny and I knew that others around me faced similar experiences.
As an adult, between dating, job searches and other opportunities for random human contact it became that much clearer –your physical appearance impacts a number of things in your life… including you. I wanted to find out from people I know what they have learnt about this and how it has affected them, so I asked a few of my friends. The result? Real people sharing stories about their body image, self-esteem issues and eventual triumph. More anon…

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Russell Polack: Weight & Loss
As far as I can remember, I’ve been overweight. I really ballooned in high school. I wasn’t really into sports or any kind of physical activity and found every reason possible to skip P.E. classes. Got home after school and spent the rest of the day on the computer. High school had its ups and downs. I was really quiet and basically came across as a pushover… attending an all-boys school didn’t make this any easier. I had some good friends and got along with most of my peers but I did get my fair share of teasing. In sixth form (now at a co-ed school) I wasn’t a real hit with the ladies for anything besides my personality, but I was alright with that. I hated outdoor events, didn’t like going to the beach/pool. If I went swimming it was always with my shirt on. I was never comfortable with the way I looked, but at the time I didn’t have the drive or the will to change anything, I just accepted it and kept living. That mentality stuck with me until my life changed drastically…

What happened?
Quite a few things, a bit of a sob story, but I’ll keep it short. A few years ago, I and two of my best friends (Brian and Scott) decided to start doing P90X. We were really dedicated, meeting up every night to work out, putting money together to buy equipment and most of all, we kept each other motivated. We all started seeing results within weeks. According to the scale, I was dropping weight like crazy. Brian had a chronic liver condition that he was fighting with since he in his teens. He would occasionally get sick for a few days, but be back 100 per cent after treatment and rest. Maybe around two-and-a half-months into it, he went into the hospital again, but this time he didn’t recover. His condition deteriorated and despite fighting harder than ever, he passed away. At this point in time I can truly say my life turned completely upside down. I was lost. I had no idea what to do with myself. After things started to settle down (i.e. me actually functioning somewhat normally again), I attempted to continue working out at home by myself but I didn’t have it in me and all P90X did was remind me of Brian. That’s when I decided to step up, join a gym. Not only did it help to keep my mind off things, but it turns out I started to enjoy it immensely. I went online, started to do my research on fitness, made the necessary changes to my lifestyle and here I am today.

Russ full

How do you feel mentally and physically now that you have lost the weight and probably inspired others?
I feel awesome. It’s a major accomplishment and while I am proud of myself, I try not to let it go to my head. I most definitely have helped to inspire people around me and that in itself is a great feeling. I think the best thing out of all of this is me becoming more accepting of myself as a person. I’m much more comfortable in my body, and because of that my confidence is up, which has changed my whole outlook on life. I used to be the type to just accept things the way they are, but now I’m always pushing forward… trying to be the best I can and dealing with any challenges that come.

What about your relationship with the ladies, are you more confident to approach a girl now? Are you being approached more? Do women treat you differently?

Lol…where do I start?
Firstly, I’m shy as hell, mostly stemming from low self-esteem as a pretty overweight teen. I think that shyness has been burned into my being so even now I rarely approach women I don’t know. I am definitely getting more attention from the ladies now, which has helped my confidence and self-esteem to skyrocket, but chances are I still won’t approach them randomly. I still have the mentality of a fat guy, just in a (relatively) fit person’s body and I’m OK with that I guess. In social groups I feel as if I have more of a presence, people’s body language towards me is different (better) and I notice a lot of wandering eyes sometimes. LOL! There are also random remarks that make me chuckle to myself sometimes. For example, I was at the doctor doing a check-up once, the nurse took my weight and I was joking that I know it’s high and I’m working on it (to be honest, I ate like a horse that day so I felt huge). She laughed and said, “You know muscle weighs more than fat, right?” It got me thinking, because when I look in the mirror most of the times, I don’t see what other people see.

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How difficult is it to remain motivated?
It’s definitely not hard staying motivated. This has become a hobby and to an extent, a lifestyle for me. I actually start feeling down when I’m out of the gym for a while. After a rough day (or on any given day) I look forward to a good workout if I have the time and energy to actually make it to the gym. I also set fitness goals for myself, and since I enjoy working out I find it much easier to work towards these goals. Some days, I’ll even set a random personal challenge for myself, just to switch things up a bit if I’m feeling bored, but there are days when laziness does get the better of me (I’m human, c’mon), but in the grand scheme of things giving up is not even in the back of my head.

What is your advice to a young boy facing the same struggles that you did?
You have the power to change things. It’s all in your hands, all under your control. You have all the resources available at your fingertips. You just need to acknowledge within yourself what you want to achieve and dedicate yourself to achieving that. This isn’t limited to fitness.

Would you date a fat girl, or a girl with any kind of weight issues?
Hmmm… touchy subject. I was never attracted to fat girls to begin with, so no, I wouldn’t date one at all. But we all have different ideas about what is considered fat/thick/skinny/etc. Lately I find myself more attracted to girls that are active. Meaning they’re into the gym, or dancing or some kind of physical sport or outdoorsy hobby. Couch potatoes are a huge turn off. I’ve also found lately that I relate much better to an active person as I find it to be a good topic of conversation.
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Phillipa ‘Snow’ Hogarth: Life Underweight
I’ve always been underweight… I’ve been called all sorts of names growing up… in prep-school, high school… university and even to this day. It was never easy because the girls in my circle of friends are all shapely, and although I was never someone who ever wished or prayed to be anything but Phillipa Hogarth, when your size is constantly brought to your attention by your friends/random people making jokes (e.g. look at this stick, it looks just like Philly’s arms and legs) it hurts. I’ve had many arguments because of this as it’s a sensitive issue. I don’t go around saying, “Hey! why you doh STOP EAT?!” I have fallen in love with running, yoga and the gym and it’s very annoying when people say things like, “Why are you here? You should go eat” …Seriously?!

When did you start building muscle/gaining weight and what made you decide to do this?
My aunt is a trainer, very passionate about fitness. She introduced me to working out at home and designed meal plans for me which helped. She also encouraged me to join a gym and zone it all out.. she would always say, “Focus on yourself, Phillipa. I want you to understand that you can gain strength and build muscle.” Plus eight years ago, I went to pick up my boyfriend at (Sweat Shop now called Fit Farm) and he introduced me to a personal trainer who took all my details and then showed me a picture of an underweight client, she had been training with him for a year…I couldn’t believe it! I gave him a big hug and said, “See you tomorrow!” That’s where my journey began.

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Is it easier to accept your body now that you have started working out?
It was always very hard for me to accept my image due to people constantly making fun of how slim I was, but because I’ve seen good results over the years it has become very easy. I just need to keep it up and stay focused with my training program and diets. I enjoy looking at myself in the mirror more as I see where my hard work has been paying off. Sometimes I see areas that need more attention but it’s definitely not the same as in the past… I would always have the worst things to say about my body.

What’s your advice to a young girl facing the same struggles as you?
Never fall prey to negative people, they often have deep-rooted issues and the only way they get satisfaction is to throw stones at others. I once did and it made me sad and I didn’t love myself as I should… so love yourself. If you wish to gain weight, I suggest the gym. It will not be easy, but that’s the fun part… seeing your body transform 🙂

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What is your experience like on the dating scene now that you’re seeing a difference?
Men always made jokes, they never took me seriously. This also made my confidence level very low… as can you imagine being 16 and having a crush on a certain guy for months, only to hear him too joining in on the jokes made about how ‘mawga’ (skinny) you are, but the approach from guys has definitely changed over the years. Especially with those who made the harsh jokes. I have received various compliments from a lot of them, which of course have sometimes been accompanied by the, “Hey, are you single? Can we go out sometime? I’d like to get to know you more etc.”
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Neil head

Neil A Buckle: The Acne Plague
My acne was pretty bad and it was really bad, really early, so for a long time I felt punished and kept wondering why I drew the proverbial short straw. I mean, I sprouted full on acne before I even sprouted pubes. It was so bad that it was the first thing people – including strangers – noticed and/or commented on when they saw me… and you know how Jamaican people are, they see, they comment. Lol. So yeah, I had insecurity issues, always considered myself ugly… well, uglier than everyone else… Except for Ninjaman. Seriously… Despite the feelings of ugliness, I never crawled into a bad place, I’m not sure why. Probably because I was born addicted to sugar and chocolate makes people happy. I’m still a junkie to this day… I feel like I’ve digressed.

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Do you think it is harder for men who are dealing with self-image issues (for themselves as well as how society treats it)? Is it a different experience for the sexes at all?

Most definitely, the experiences are different for the two sexes. I think, heck, I know, women are under way more pressure than men, and as such it makes dealing with self-image issues much harder usually. Granted a lot of the pressure is self-imposed, but society’s crazy expectations and unwritten rules can really put a woman’s mind through the ringer. Plus men deal with their shit differently I guess, and men are kinda stupid anyway.


What about your relationship with the ladies, are you more confident to approach someone now that you no longer have acne problems? Are you being approached more now and if so, was it overwhelming at first?

Well to be honest, I got my confidence before my acne cleared up. One day all the smooth-faced people were competing for a very hot girl’s attention, and it turned out she fancied me. I never thought for a second the girl saw past my “grater face” (one of my nicknames in school) or that I even had a snowball’s chance in hell… but yeah, she was digging me. It took me a few days to wrestle with what seemed like a sure anomaly in the universe, but eventually it hit me… maybe I wasn’t a hideous creature, and I made peace with it. I literally went cold turkey; stopped spending money on anti-acne face products, stopped giving a shit about the damn bumps, the comments, and most importantly, I stopped beating myself up. I just made peace with what I am and it’s been that way since. Oddly enough, it opened up my eyes to something fascinating too. As soon as I stopped giving a shit about the naysayers, I started noticing the people who said nice things, or those who looked on with admiration. So I definitely started getting approached more, or at least I got more signals thrown at me. I wouldn’t say it was shocking, but it sure opened my eyes and it was a pleasant change from the norm. I don’t really approach women though… can’t be bothered. Most aren’t worth the approach and the rest think they’re entitled to it. They can all go eat shit. I’m a nice guy though. I promise.

What is it that bothered you most about having acne? Can you still see any negative effects on your self-image and/or self-esteem now?
I think what bothered me most was that mine was sooooo bad compared to everyone else’s. I just felt like I was singled out and shit on by nature. I don’t think there are any lingering negative effects on my self-esteem currently though… I hope there aren’t any.

What was the most discriminating experience you had with acne?
One comes to mind immediately. I was introduced to a couple of girls once. The moment they turned around to greet me, upon seeing my acne one of them made a face of disgust and the sound to match. You know that face and sound you make when you see vomit on the floor… yeah. I felt as low as dog shit. Actually, that’s not true; there was shit, then two layers of piss, then a layer of rock, then shit again, and then underneath that, was me.

Neil-full

Is there a difference between how you were treated generally when you had this problem as opposed to now?
Yeah. Bitches love me now. LOL! On the real though, I guess people no longer look at me like there’s a tree in my face. Oh, and my cousins no longer fight over the chance to be first to get into the bump-bursting amusement park that was my face. They got a real kick out of it.

How do you feel now, mentally and physically as opposed to then? Have you become overconfident, more inclined to shy away from people ?Do you feel like people are all shallow or have you become more shallow as a result?
Naaa. People are still shallow. Physically I feel very different now. I’m officially over 30, so now I can’t brush my teeth without pulling a muscle. Now I proudly boast no acne, but I also boast so much more; there’s no stamina, no metabolism, no lean physique, no six pack, no hairline, and a paunch that I think has achieved its own self-awareness. I used to pray for my acne to be taken away. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour? Mentally, I feel the same as I did when I made peace with myself all those years ago.


Would you date someone with really bad acne?

Well, that would probably mean I’d be dating a teenager, so I’m gonna say no. It’s pretty rare to find a woman “my age” with very bad acne, but I guess if I met one, and she wasn’t a dumbass and interested me enough, then sure.

What’s the most important thing you think that a young boy or girl facing a similar problem should hear?
More than anything I’d want them to learn to love themselves. I know how bad something can and will seem in the moment, but the one lesson life teaches is that all things change in due time, and all that acne shit is just for the birds. In the grand scheme of things, just focus on what makes you happy. The bumps won’t stop you from getting laid. They don’t define you, and the people who matter, won’t care about them. Just accept that you’ve got acne and it’ll go away eventually. I guarantee you, life will be a lot less complex when you let go of the shit you can’t control. Oh, and change the channel each time you see one of them acne product ads on TV. Save your damn money.

There you have it guys, stay tuned for part 2… lot’s more interesting views on the subject.

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One thought on “How your body image affects your self-esteem… and why you shouldn’t let it (Part I)

  1. Great post Tsansai. Everyone has a story and it’s enlightening to hear others especially from a man’s perspective because we tend to think they don’t go through bouts with esteem issues as we women go through.
    GGood stuff.

    Like

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