By Steve Sharpton, Parsons Training Center, Tucson, Arizona
August 14, 2016
There never seems to be a day where I have to shy away from a mirror or reflection of myself. Fortunately for me, I live a rather vanity free life and so not really looking at myself is kind of a nice thing. I have one mirror in the house and it is a typical bathroom sized one, so no worries about full body bathroom visuals. I usually park under the shade of my tree, so the light refraction rarely gives me glimpses of myself. While Parsons Training has two mirrors (it’s to view your function and your technique, not for taking selfies, hehe) much of the time you can’t really see yourself unless you are using a specific Rogue weight rack that literally stands in front of a mirror. The good thing about science is the fact we are still learning the difficult and wondrous intricacies of the human eye. There are many days when I do look in the mirror, where I see myself in a very positive light, maybe even handsome and sexy like an aging movie star, sometimes to the point where I will walk outside with my shirt on (but usually in the night time). The personal visual plane can be extremely powerful in a person’s perception of themselves, for your vision can easily be warped and tell you lies or it can be utterly truthful and speak a resounding truth. So yes, there are a great many days where the fight rages on and I have to play it out accordingly. Some days, the shirts I bought that I felt were perfect for me at one point feel tight and restrictive, while other days I don’t care at all. So why is this? Why after all this working in the gym, do I still have these problems with body perception?
It’s not an easy answer, mainly because life rarely provides an easy answer for anything. I will not be one of those people that will go around and blame society on hand for my own personal hang-ups, but I will admit these misgivings and these lines of wretchedness speak to me, ringing loudly on some days and barely reaching a whisper on others. It’s those whispers that bother me the most, for typically the loud screams are the ones most easy to throw aside. It can be stated that the person who yells the loudest to make his point is rarely right, and that loudness makes it easier for others to dissect and rip apart. You will find allies in that battle, because if anything, those who speak loudly will say anything stupid, and they are the ones that must be confronted and shut down for the public to view. People will rush to your aide because that is the thing most decent people will do. Free speech may be the weapon of choice for these people, but that doesn’t mean some people are impervious to those hateful words. Take for example a couple little incidents that happened at the Rio Olympics this past week. Apparently, even Olympic athletes can be shamed for the way they look. The biggest offense was against Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno, who was just looking to break the top ten in the gymnastics all-around, but seem to get a lot of flack for her frame. Truth be told, she is barely 100 pounds and looks to have the perfect gymnast body, compact with a solid core and a good center of gravity. Heck, if you compare her to American Olympian wunderkind Simone Biles, she actually weighs less despite being two inches taller! The shame aspect mostly came from Latino men (at least from what I saw on Twitter, the drunken uncle of the social media world), which is probably why this wasn’t as big of a deal in the United States. But if a perfectly fit woman without a roll on her body can be called fat or compared to a dog (yup, Latino misogynists are pretty vicious), what the hell kind of message is that sending? Are they being jerks because it looks like she can whoop their idiot asses?! The other big one came on the men’s side, where a slightly portly guy named Nobel Kiros Habte was brutalized on the internet, being called a whale in the process. Of course, this is the work of armchair quarterbacks who do plenty of 12-ounce arm curls, but it still resonates. The Habte comments actually bothered me a bit, mainly because my body is not much different from his…heck he might actually be a little more aesthetic than me. Either way, the unique thing about this particular Olympics has been the addition of male body shaming, for even though he has enough gold to fill Fort Knox, even Michael Phelps has taken some flack for being just a skinny nerd. So yes, even on a public stage and the entire world watching, the advent of body shaming can become an interesting talking point. But like I was saying, this is all trolling being taken to a level of the absurd, hatred being perpetuated by people so desperate for attention that they revel in the idea their opinions are making some waves. While this is easy to combat, this sort of behavior and hateful rhetoric is merely raising the platform. Something that lurks in the shadows will stay there, but as the vermin climbs the steps and eventually takes the podium, something else has to take the spots left behind. This leads to the other version of fat shaming…the type that whispers in your ear and creates self doubt.
This is the type of thing I know I have been battling with. It used to be these sort of misgivings were easy to battle, because the loud and obtrusive fat shaming was pretty confined and easy to brush aside. I think this was why it was so easy for me to gain weight…we just didn’t see this sort of behavior manifest into the world so gracefully. But now it manifests in different ways, like “Inception” in a lot of ways. With the message being so loud and bombastic these days, some people might reason down the severity of the problem. I will admit, my mental toughness is still a massive work in progress, so when I hear enough of something, I start believing the message as having a massive shred of truth. It is not an easy feeling to overcome, because these messages are everywhere. I have this problem in my life, where if I hear something enough, I tend to find a rational point within the argument. Often times that little point can be poisonous, but some times it can be good. Some days I think my body is okay, because so many people have started it is, that the “dad bod” is perfect (even though I wholly disagree with that sentiment). But of course, the ones that really stick are the ideas where I am imperfect and not worthy due to the type of person I am and the type of body I have. It’s a dangerous way to live of course, jumping back and forth, especially when the negative is so prevalent and provocative. For someone that has been struggling like myself, that negative can create an extremely powerful magnetic field, sucking you in.
INeedless to say we are inundated with what is the proper body type and what you should look like by so called beautiful pop culture experts. It has brought about a lot of mixed messages in our society, where people seeking “likes” and clicks have ruled the conversation. Let me throw the most obvious one, the one that especially pertains to men. As a man, I have no preset standard of what I seek in a woman. Personally, I want someone that is knee deep into the fitness vibe, whether that woman looks like Alexa Moreno or Serena Williams or Alex Morgan remains to be seen. Each woman I would consider extremely attractive, and they all have completely different body types. So why do I see ridiculous memes being thrown around “Men like a woman with curves, only dogs like the bones.” It leads to a lot of confusion on my part, because how the hell does a stranger know what I like? Anyway, this is the sort of thing that makes the body acceptance movement such a convoluted and treacherous path to walk on. I understand it is more difficult for women to tread these waters, which is why I will stick with the male side of the coin for the argument. So here is the question…if I dated a really lean woman like Morgan, I would be less of a man? If I dated a really muscular woman like Williams, I am also less of a man because she might whoop my butt in the back squat? Would I be a real man if I dated an overweight woman? I mean, what is the deal with this? I think this puts a real monkey wrench into the idea of masculinity for men, for we hear so many convoluted ideas about us needing to be strong and capable. I always like the double edged hate sword that plays in relation to Michelle Obama, who is one of the most fit first ladies we have ever had. Not only have haters put her down for being too muscular (she is probably a way better athlete as well), they have put her husband down because he doesn’t appear as buff as his wife (among other things…this is politics of course). Personally I would take the first lady over the supposedly “superior” Melania Trump, and it is not because I want to be dominated or something. The FLOTUS would just be a better fit in my life.
Anyway, before I turn this into a blog about my personal dating preferences, let’s get to the other side of the coin that I am really leaning toward. Health should always take center stage…not body type or body shape. For all intents and purposes, I am not as healthy as I want to be. I still don’t look the way I want to look. Whether it be the psychological struggles of my current life getting in the way or some poor eating habits, I am still trying my best to carve out a good health regimen in this wretched heat of a typical Arizona summer. The main issue I have with a lot of people is when they say I look good or look fine. Truth me told, I am still very overweight, and while they are trying to be cordial, I don’t necessarily believe my fitness journey should be over in that respect. That’s my decision, something I need to work harder to achieve. Some people might whisper that having a strong desire to be in shape and fit is a sign of narcissism, but what about the idea of not giving a damn about your body? A couple weeks ago I got a little ticked off at this internet troll who actually brought up a couple good points against the absolutism of the body acceptance movement. However, he was such a bile spitting douchebag that he actually glossed over his good points and simply allowed the two opposing sides of the argument to continue digging in. No, in my opinion, being okay with your extreme obesity is not good. Yes, you may believe you are beautiful and worthy of love, friendship and a good life. But I will always stay to the message, that it is not good for your health. I’ve pointed out several times in this blog that “healthy obesity” is a myth. Yes, you can be pushing 400 pounds like I was and be considered in the safe zone for much of your blood work, but that might be a short lived condition. Personally, if you are really overweight and have a good attitude about yourself and your body, you should owe it to yourself to keep the only vessel you have in tip top condition. Now I have seen some people that get angry if you ever throw the scale into the argument, but it is still a good measurement to live by. I have lost 160 pounds and have reached a difficult plateau where losing weight will require some more extreme ideas. So yes, not looking at the scale would certainly help (especially the ones at the plasma donation joint I go to…are those things ever calibrated!) and allow my psyche to focus on the working out. But when will I ever have an indicator if I deny the scale?
I hate writing about fat acceptance, body shaming and all the like. If anything, it makes me feel more horrible about myself due to my inherent issue with fitness envy and my perpetual single hood (which one ultimately starts blaming body shape as the main reason for being single). But this is something that keeps coming up, whether it is borne of envy or just the fact someone is trying to build a Youtube channel centered around hate and derision (which is probably more than half of Youtube it seems). I ultimately get tired of the different factions within the body acceptance fighting amongst themselves, for you have the people that believe being obese should not matter since you are happy versus the people who believe good health should take precedence (the camp I am in). If anything, we have a common enemy, and that is the dependance on a health system that will never truly seek to cure you. Being obese will lead to so many issues down the road, for you might as well start shopping around for good insurance while you can. And this is where I think the two camps really need to work together. Despite my fitness, I still have a lot of tribulations about my body. This where the message needs to be consolidated, kind of like what Peter La Fleur said at the end of “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.” “You look great the way you are, but if you feel like wanting to lose a few extra pounds, then come to Average Joe’s.” Okay, that wasn’t verbatim, but that is kind of what I am reaching. That difficult equilibrium of loving your body but loving it enough to keep it well oiled and healthy. Kind of like a vehicle. You wouldn’t refill the power steering fluid when the light comes on, right? You wouldn’t fix the tiny leak in your gasoline line because it is too hard, and you could live with the lost gas mileage? It will always be good blog material for me, for someone is always going to be putting down someone else’s body whether it is too fat or too skinny. Personally, it is a subject I just despise because it not something that can be talked about in one punch. And seemingly every day, a new thread is introduced to the narrative, making it more and more complex.
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Steve, a Parsons Training Client, went from 400 pounds to Running half-marathons, from lifting pizzas to lifting hundreds of pounds through training with us.