By Aaron Sternlicht
I’ve never taken my shirt off at the beach. I’m barely comfortable looking at myself naked in front of a mirror; how would you expect me to be comfortable in front of another human being. I’ve been overweight for most of my life. At the age of 25 I found myself having to buy size 44 pants because I could no longer fit into my 42’s. I was incredibly insecure, self-conscious, had low self-esteem and had a tremendous amount of anxiety and depression that stemmed from my obesity. Tipping the scale at 280 pounds at 5 foot 10 inches, I had reached my breaking point. I had enough and was ready to finally do something about my problem. It was the first time in my life that I was determined to take back control of my body. I started to eat less, eat healthier and joined a gym. In less than a year I lost over 100 pounds. It has been over three years since I started my weight loss journey. I’ve maintained my goal weight and today healthy nutrition and regular exercise are staples in my life. In fact, physical fitness has become somewhat of a passion of mine.
But I still won’t be taking my shirt off at the beach.
I continue to struggle with body image. My weight has changed but the insecurities about the way I look have remained. As a result of my weight loss I’ve a fair amount of loose skin. It isn’t horrible but it’s enough to keep my shirt on this summer. I don’t even care about the stretch marks all over my abdominal area; it’s the man boobs that really upset me and the bit of belly fat that still remains. These insecurities about my body have played a major role in my life. For example, I’ve never felt comfortable getting into a relationship out of fear of how I look. I’m 28 years old and sadly admit that I have never had somebody I can call a girlfriend. Sure, I tell myself that real love is about much more than physical appearance but deep down I’m afraid of being rejected for my body. It’s difficult to become comfortable in a relationship with another human being when you aren’t even comfortable in your own skin. As many say, you need to love yourself before you can love someone else.
I’ve struggled talking about this issue for the majority of my life. As a male, I’ve always felt that it wasn’t normal to have such pervasive beliefs about body image, weight, food, exercise and other factors associated with my physique. This issue has always been conveyed to me by society as predominantly a female issue. It’s left me feeling isolated and detached from my male counterparts. But the ways in which women develop body image issues are no different to men. The media has played a significant role in portraying the ideal body type for both sexes. The Spartans in 300 don’t have man boobs unless we’re talking about the kind made from pure muscle. They have six or eight pack abs, large muscular shoulders and chest, and a ‘V’ like frame. As a result, I have an ideal image of how I want to look based upon such fantastical portrayals of the male body.
I’ve come so far in my own journey yet I still feel like a fat boy trapped inside a thin man’s body. I continue to struggle with insecurities over the way I look every single day. When I sit, I am more aware of my belly than I ever was when I was overweight. I continue to be obsessed with what eat and work out vigorously in hopes to achieve my Spartan-like look. I still don’t bother dating, knowing that if it goes well I’ll be too fearful for it to become intimate.
I’m aware of my maladaptive thoughts surrounding this issue but I still won’t be taking my shirt off at the beach.
This blog was previously published on Endangered Bodies, NYC