Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Biggest Loser

For the past six or seven months of this journey, allowing myself to mix in various circles in the gay community, I've discovered something characteristic in some spheres. I'm learning that there is a lot of pressure to look physically attractive.

Gosh, I thought it was hard enough trying to be happy with the guy in the mirror! Now, it's like the goal at a social venue is to have people turn their heads as I walk across the room. And if no one seems to notice, then i'm the biggest loser there! Or at least, I feel that way . . . .

Sure i know that our society in general places a huge emphasis on looking hot, beautiful, and gorgeous - i know it's not isolated to the gay community. But it sure is present in some places, that's for sure - the gym, the bar, the club, the coffee shop, and (in limited circumstances) sometimes even in church. Fortunately, my friends are actual friends and couldn't care less what I look like. In fact, they are the ones who encourage me when my low self-image reveals itself. My commentary here isn't about the gay community's narcissistic tendencies but rather the observation that I find myself looking in the mirror way too much.

Yes, i'll admit, that i had been overly concerned about my physical appearance before this journey into the gay community. That probably has much to do with the fact that I simply wasn't attracted to myself - and therefore, how could anyone else (male or female) be attracted to me? And there goes my cycle of mental self-abuse.... I had myself so convinced that I could never get a date. But then again, if that were ever the case, it probably wouldn't be because of my physical appearance but rather my attitude revealed through my demeanor and facial expressions. I wouldn't have been sending out "attractive" signals - like how about ... maybe ... uh ... a smile for starters, or eye contact to show interest.

I've been told that i'm attractive. It used to be really hard to accept because i didn't believe it myself - but i'm learning to see myself with different eyes. I'm also realizing that just because I'm not typically attracted to asians (mostly due to my own ethnic shame), there are actually people out there that are attracted to asians. Filipinos even. Guys like me. Hmm....really?

So i've been learning to be okay with the person I am - my spirituality, my sexuality, my gender, my ethnicity, and my physical appearance. At what point is it okay to look in the mirror and say, "i like that guy!" without feeling like a narcisst? So I decided that I was tired of viewing myself so negatively. Further, I decided that I didn't simply want to change my perspective. I wanted to change my appearance too - not necessarily so that I can turn heads but so that what I saw with my eyes matched what I saw through my perspective. I can choose to be happy with myself and make zero changes but I wanted to also feel good about myself - to have confidence. And yes, i'll admit, it does feel good to be complimented - I'm not exactly sure if that's something i need to apologize for or even defend. I simply want to be able to smile in the mirror and have it be genuine.

So mid January 2005, I decided to do something about it - inspired by those who felt like I felt and who experienced personal success.

I'm not one who normally watches reality television shows. A few months ago, I asked a friend if he had ever watched "The Biggest Loser" on NBC. He had an almost disgusted look on his face as he said, "No way! They're embarassing themselves!" He had obviously never seen the show and made this judgment based on the few commercials he had seen that depicted overweight individuals being paraded on the TV screen. It's too bad because he doesn't realize just how much he'd relate to these people and find them inspiring. I did.

I watched every episode of the first season last year. I laughed. I cried. I related. I understood the emotional turmoil of not being happy with oneself for whatever reason. Granted, i've never been 250 pounds myself, but seeing the people on this show every single week losing the pounds - sometimes 1-2 pounds a week, sometimes 5-10 pounds a week, sometimes gaining pounds in a week - I found it truly inspiring to watch their journey. (Trainer Bob Harper isn't so bad to look at either! *grin*). The season concluded at the beginning of this year - just after New Years - and so I was motivated to go back to the gym. It's kinda funny, I was inspired and motivated by a television show. But at least it got me to go.

I've had a gym membership at Bally's Total Fitness for several years now - going maybe a few times in a year. So I decided to invest in a personal trainer there. It was definitely worth it - primarily because he helped me get results. With a trainer, I found accountability. There were times when i didn't feel like working out but I went because I had an appointment with him and I didn't want to flake. He pushed me further. He encouraged me. He kept me motivated to set, pursue, achieve, and stick my goals. From January - June 2005, in six months, I lost 30 pounds - starting at 195 lbs. and ending with 165 lbs. Whoa! Now that was exciting.

So i entered my journey having just done this and soon realized the pressure to maintain physical appearances. After being 3 months on my own and also watching the second season of "The Biggest Loser", I decided to get a couple more months with my trainer to help me reach my goals through the New Year. It's not that I think weight and physical appearance ought to be a means of determining attractiveness. I really don't. But for me, my journey has been all about lifestyle changes that reflect the person I am and the person I want to be while at the same time being the person that God created me to be and still being transformed into the person He wants me to be. Seems like mountainous terrain on this journey of mine but it feels great knowing that there are peaks to reach.

At the end of the day, my comfort is in knowing that God is more concerned about the attractiveness of my heart than He is with my physical body. It is, after all, temporary.


Eugene said...

I know what you mean. The weight I'm at would actually be just about right for me if I could replace my spare tire with some extra muscle mass. And so I continually kick myself for not having a flat stomach, or because my face is too round, my hair is too gray, etc.

And yet, in reality, if someone is so fixated on physical perfection that they would reject me for not looking like Christian Bale, what hope would we really have of ever establishing a meaningful relationship?

And then, of course, there's the flip side of that - am I willing to give someone who falls short of the supermodel ideal a fair shake? Unfortunately the answer is only sometimes yes...

Eric said...

juliabohemian - actually, i acknowledged that this pressure to look attractive is common for both gay and straight alike - i was just pointing out that it's definitely there in some gay spheres.

As a gay man, i'm discovering that the pressure i sometimes feel is similar to the pressure that some straight women must feel. It may not be right, but the pressure is there for those of us who want to attract a guy. I would be interested to know if the pressure is also there for straight men or for lesbians.

geek_boi - argh! huh? well, whether or not we are 160, 190, or 250 pounds, none of us will be happy until we first resolve to be able to look in the mirror and realize that we are worth being loved - regardless of our physical appearance. i think that self-image needs to be addressed first on the inside. it is then, that we make an individual (and perhaps less important) choice to address it on the outside - physically - for whatever the reason - be it for health or for hotness. I'm learning that confidence is everything (in the romantic/dating context). I've found myself attracted to incredibly joyful and large individuals - both male and female. No need to smash all the mirrors in your house buddy!

E - boy am i glad you relate! i think this is a relevant issue for gay men who want to be noticed by other gay men.

I think you hit on something there - a fear of rejection. This can lead to all sorts of unhealthy extremes.

also, we'd have to really be honest with ourselves in this kind of a sensitive discussion - would we be willing to give another person a "fair shake" if he or she isn't our ideal physically?

This is just a general statement i'm making right now but i think that while there is pressure to look attractive, there's also pressure to not verbalize the desire to be attractive and to simply be content with who we are.

The pressure to look attractive is an obvious societal flaw (i say this in the American context), but sometimes we're condemned for just not being happy with our physical appearance. It sounds great to say "just be happy" but it's not that simple for those of us who are or have been heavy because we don't "feel" happy. I would suppose that this is consistent for some light people who can't seem to gain weight. For so long, we've wanted to look different.

I know this is a sensitive and tough topic. Please know that my intent is not to cause anyone to feel worse about their present reality, but rather to say that we each need to determine what it is that will make us happy. For some, a decision to be content is enough to raise confidence. For others, a decision to make refinements in our physical appearance will raise confidence.

Regardless, what I do know is that we are better off having an attractive character. Let's remember that God loves us not because we are physically attractive but because He simply does. Physical appearance is temporary and attractiveness is relative.

Anonymous said...


Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins!

It may not compromise individual salvation, but it can lead to an arrested spiritual development. The pressure to be physically attractive in the Gay community is enormous. Yes, it really does extend to certain sectors of our own Church. The reasons for this, such people are still a work in progress as we all are.

There was a time in my life where I used to compensate for my own feelings of inadequacy by achieving in areas where I can do something about. Academic or professional success, essentially over achieving, however it comes with an eventual price. Several years ago I took my first exam in an important class, when sitting down in front of the PC my mind went blank and botched the test! Fortunately, my professor noticed and was concerned. I ended up in therapy for two years after the incident. My experience is not unique!

General George S. Patton quoted “Glory is always fleeting”, once a goal or achievement is complete is feels real great but only temporary. Then the feelings of self loathing come back. I believe this is something we inherited from Adam. You can learn to live with inadequacy or self loathing but can’t get over it and no one is immune.

Thank the Lord we have the ability to take the moral high ground and rise above the superficial ness of our society. We’re still human and will always find certain men physically attractive no matter what their life circumstances may be. However, it doesn’t have to dominate who we are in Christ. It should not be our eternity!

When journeying through this temporal life on earth one can live a life of quiet desperation. Someone may think of themselves as attractive and affirmed by others. They’ll always be another that is better looking getting more attention. A person may work hard at making lots of money just to be king of the financial mountain. They’ll always be someone else who makes more money with less effort. No matter how much academic success you’ve achieve, they’ll always be better educated people than yourself.

The best thing we can do is to be grateful for what we have in Christ.


Anonymous said...

I *knew* I liked you Eric :) I looooove The Biggest Loser, I find it inspiring as a very fluffy mama LOL.

And yes, Bob is cute (I even got an email from him once, VERY nice--I had posted some things on an AOL TBL board).

Personally I don't think there is anything wrong with taking care of your body and taking pride in your appearance--just so long as it doesn't go overboard.

Congrats on such great progress :)

Michael Dodd said...

I'm one of those lucky people who discovered that I actually did (do) have a thryoid condition -- and medication helped my weight begin to melt, and that gave me the incentive to do the other things -- eat right and exercise at least a reasonable amount. I don't know why I should have been surprised that doing what the experts said to do would actually work. Duh!

One thing that also helped was one of my gay friends who is male-model handsome. He always smiles when he sees me and calls me, "Doll" and compliments what I am wearing or how I am looking. AND he didn't start this after I had dropped about 80 pounds -- he was already doing it because he saw beyond the (large) surface. Not only is he good-looking on the outside, he is looking for good from the inside.

Talk about a Doll!

PS-- I think Asians are hot!

Ryan said...

Your blog is great.