So what gives? Well, when I turned 30 I changed the way I thought about health, attractiveness and masculinity. These changes in thought have helped me to overcome insecurities, get healthier than I have ever been and embrace my body – just the way it is. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy, late night infomercial, if I can do it, then so can you!
Here’s what I did:
I got real about fitness
During my 20s, ‘getting fit was code for going to the gym, training like an idiot (because I pretty much had no idea what I was doing) and then stuffing myself with food, any food, in the hopes that it would transform my tall, lean body into a muscle God. Needless to say, all of these attempts didn’t see my achieve my goal.
When I turned 30, ‘getting fit’ became about getting fit. Hopes of getting a Hugh Jackman-like body were replaced with wanting to do stuff like 10 chin ups (with correct form), and work on my leg strength to protect my sore knee from getting any worse as I get older. I do want to get strong, and that might mean muscly. But that is so far from my main goal.
I got real about attractiveness
Yes, muscly guys are hot. But so are tall guys, short guys, brown haired guys, red heads, bald guys, the list goes on…It’s amazing how only a few, very narrowly defined male beauty ideals have become the norm. Where does that leave the 99% of us who don’t fit into them?
What about stomachs that aren’t perfectly shredded? Or biceps that have freckles on them and are slightly hairy? Or having a small penis? There is beauty in all of these things.
Attractiveness is all about perspective. If we lived in a society where these qualities were celebrated, you’d feel better about them. In Egypt, they value obesity as a sign of wealth. Here we look down on it as a personal weakness. The moral of the story? Be like a fat person in Egypt. Enjoy your body and all the things about it that only you have.
I got over focusing just on appearance
This might fall under the ‘you know you’re getting older when…’ category, but it’s true all the same. As you get older, your body does change. It’s happening to me, and I see it happening to other guys in their early 30s too. The first few wrinkles start to make an appearance, body metabolism changes and a grey hair or two might be popping up here and there.
This made me realise if I keep focusing on just the outside (both to judge others, and to be judged by others by), I was fighting a losing battle. As youthfulness slips further and further into the past, a change of focus is required.
The flip side to getting older is that I’m starting to feel like I’m getting my life, and myself, better sorted. In areas such as career, relationships, family and finances, I’m making progress. I’m using the skills and knowledge I’ve gained to move in the direction that feels right for me. And I hope I’m becoming more of the man I would like to be. Kinder. Compassionate. Open-minded. Friendly. These qualities outshine the importance of appearance infinitely.
I got healthy
Just because I’ve accepted that I’ll never have a ripped, shredded cover model body, doesn’t mean I’ve let my health and wellbeing going down the toilet. On the contrary. I do workout at the gym and do yoga for physical fitness.
I’ve also been researching and experimenting with different food choices. I don’t believe there’s a one size fits all approach that works when it comes to nutrition and food. Wouldn’t it be great if it was? Instead, you need to do some work and find out what works for you. It could be vegetarianism, or Paleo, or just eating less crap…
I got real
I don’t think we ever really stop comparing ourselves to others. It’s part of our nature as human beings, so we’re going to do it, even if we know it might not be the best thing for us.
Nowadays, if I do compare myself to others, I try to do it in context. If a guy is in his mid 20s, a model and genetically blessed, it’s not really a fair contest. He wins hands down. So, it’s about looking at others who are more like you.
As I’ve started to do this though recently, I’m noticing that my usual feelings of competitiveness, jealousy and yes, even bitchiness are diminishing. I guess it comes back to point #3, I’m no longer that focused on appearance. I also realise that the more focused on appearance I was, the more it said about me, and my own self-esteem. It didn’t have anything to do with the guy I was comparing myself to.
This list is very much a work in progress. The points above represent areas where I’ve made a lot of positive changes that I feel confident with.
The points below show where I am right now, which while it may be in the right direction, doesn’t represent where I want to end up. I thought I’d share them with you anyway.
Learning to love your imperfections
This one is hard for me. I would like to have been able to write a list of things about my body that I don’t like here. But guess what? I can’t bring myself to do it. I have the list in my mind. I’m just not ready for that…yet.
But I’m making a start. I used to be the master of doing a Mariah Carey in front of the mirror. In other words, I’d only ever look at myself (and especially my naked body) from selected, pre-approved angles. If I held my stomach in, puffed my chest out, had a towel draped strategically to cover my body, I could be OK with what I saw reflected back at me.
Now I can look at my entire naked body in the mirror and feel OK with it. I’m not at the ‘love’ stage yet with my body. That’s the end goal. For now, I’m in the ‘like’ stage…and that’s OK with me.
You don’t need to broadcast your imperfections to the world. That’s not what this is about. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin when it’s just you and a mirror. Start there. Create your own goals that work for you.
Building up confidence
It’s all well and good to talk (or write) about these things, but there’s nothing like putting yourself into a real-life situation where you really need to step up and face yourself, and your demons, head on.
Next Summer, I’m hoping to have built up my confidence enough to go to the beach, take my shirt off and not feel stressed out or self conscious about it. I just want to be able to enjoy a day at the beach damn it. Yes, there will be ‘hot, buff’ guys everywhere. Undoubtedly that will pose a challenge, but I want to be fine with it. And by loving my own highly imperfect body, I hope I will be.