Personal Image and Social Pressures

Earlier today I had read his article from the Atlantic (“The Tyranny of Buffness“), and as so often happens when I read the ‘body image’ sort of posts, is reflect on why I feel the way I do about the topic.

When I lived in Lawrence, I was bullied based on my appearance, and like most of my high school peers – dealt with regular amounts of peer pressure to ‘fit in’ with the rest of everyone else. This also occurred within a few of my relationships, with varying degrees. It was never pleasant and I ultimately learned how to co-exist with it.

From a young age I had to deal with bullying, as in school I was often called “rat boy.” This was not done by people who I wasn’t associated with, but actually by people who were my friends at the time. Growing up with imperfect teeth certainly played a role with my personal image in school, and out of school. I never wanted to smile, and as of today, I still do not prefer to smile.

When I was working at McKesson, the guys there were well known for being into working out, and a couple of them were metal-listening buff dudes. There was absolute pressure put on me quite frequently that suggested that what I needed to do was head to the gym and work out with them. The pressure by them to be more like them was pretty huge considering I was working often 10 to 12 hour shifts with them, and then sleeping during the day when the rest of the world was up and about.

I was also openly gay at this job. I had no particular fear of being openly gay there, nor was I afraid because some of my co-workers were buff that anything would happen. I had been out in high school, and knew people also on our wrestling team, and nothing ever happened then either. My sexual orientation was not a relevant problem with my co-workers while being there every day. Yet the stereotypes of gay men being effeminate and lady-like was absolutely relevant while working there. It really came down to that either I was an effeminate gay male in their eyes, or I was willing to ‘fit in’ with them and begin this regiment. Considering these were the only people I regularly saw on a daily basis, who I connected the most with, the peer pressure became a bit much. I eventually conceded to ‘trying out’ the work out thing. I couldn’t do it through the gym because I simply was not making enough money to do so, living paycheck to paycheck. I bought Protein Shakes and before you know it, it was like I was existing in a Military Unit with Military Regiments. I became immensely depressed because I was surrounded by images of myself being addressed as though it wasn’t good enough, as though I simply didn’t measure up, and continued into a cycle of bitterness and unhappiness.

One day I eventually became sick from the Protein Shakes, and quit them once and for all. I loved quitting those Protein Shakes because I didn’t feel like being buff was the image I wanted for myself. I didn’t feel like being buff had mattered, but it had to those around me. I started to eat healthier again, including eating more salads to get proper vitamins, and meat that was – actual meat. My body eventually recovered from this, but not without clear emotional impacts that trying to be what other wanted (whom I was surrounded by) really mattered very little to me.

Over the past two years, I have come to realize important things about myself from all my experiences. I’m concerned deeply about what I want for myself, not what other’s see me as. I’m concerned about personal fulfillment and the joys that come with that, not keeping up with Joneses. Most importantly, I’m concerned with being surrounded by those who enjoy for the person that I am, rather than what agenda they want for me. Certainly, I want to improve myself in certain areas, and with resources, I can do those sort of things. But as of today, I love who I am quite a bit more these days than I have in years. I’m closer to where I want to be, and that makes all the difference.

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