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Hideous Mutant Freak?

I’m becoming better friends with my body. (This isn't about masturbation, so there's no need to get grossed out and stop reading.) What I mean is that I’ve been getting over this bad attitude I’ve always had about my body, like it was some burden, some troublesome alien entity that was fixed onto me, but not really a part of me. My body made demands that I tried to meet, but I didn't want to deal with it too much since I wasn't so crazy about it. I made occasional attempts at regular maintenance like check-ups, infrequent and haphazard exercise routines, and eating and sleeping and such, but mostly I just didn't want to be bothered. Inner life is the true mark of a man, right? What a crock: I was just insecure but too lazy and pessimistic to do much about it.

Last year was a big wake-up call, though, a reminder about taking care of myself that I couldn't ignore. As I turned things around and tried to function like more of a well-tuned machine, I also started to pay more attention to the physical needs I used to ignore: I’ve been eating better (note to self: try to eat dinner more regularly, and cook for yourself now and then), getting more exercise, and even gasp! resting when I feel overwhelmed and stressed out. I even have regular moments of thinking I’m not so scrawny, not so funny-looking, not so invisible. I’ve been figuring out how to accept the body I’m stuck with (even if I’m not crazy about it), how I can adjust it to my satisfaction, how to remember it's part of me, not just a shell or an annoyance. Trust me, these are the hallmarks of an all-new, never-before-experienced Sparky. I don't have the whole act down pat yet, but I’m still trying.

My friend João, a Brazilian choreographer and dance teacher, has been visiting us from Germany while he takes a class here. He's extremely, sometime shockingly, observant, and very sensitive to how people move and carry themselves. When I picked him up from the airport a couple of weeks ago, he immediately remarked on the difference in my bearing in the two years since he'd seen me last. He picked up on the way I carry less tension around, how I stand with a little more confidence, how I focus a little bit more on what I’m doing at a given moment instead of wandering and fidgeting. (None of this was in evidence at lunch yesterday, when I realized how jumpy I was after a stressful morning and had to consciously remind myself that no one warms up to a fidgety freak.) Lately, I actually pay attention to how wound up I get, and start making small adjustments until I let it go a bit. It's been weeks and weeks since I was so tense that I walked around looking like I’d just been shot in the small of the back.

Still, I have an utter lack of objectivity about my body and the way it looks. Every so often, I take out the camera and do a batch of self-portraits so I can get an outsider's view. Photography, of course, is not totally objective, but it does give me a chance to get outside myself and see what everyone else might be seeing. It's hit or miss, without a doubt. I can still understand why I’m not everyone's type, but I can also see how some things about me actually work well enough. More importantly, I can see the change. I can see that my thirties, my change in attitude, and my concerns about my health seem to be treating me pretty well. It was just a matter of realizing the body isn't a loaner: it's mine and I have to treat it that way.

Comments (13)

1) Michael: Hey... Great post. I think we all feel semi trapped in the bodies we were given but if you focus on the whole and not the little imperfections, you find your uniqueness and that makes it so much easier. Also, about the fidgetiness...sit up straight and take a deep breath and release it slowly. Do this as many times as it takes you to calm down...it works for me, whether in (on) line at the grocery store or right before a job interview...it really, really works. (Jul 19, 2002 11:37 AM)

2) iain: Well you know you look cute anyways so there is no need for objectivity on your part. Just listen to what other people say and believe it when they say you look good. Now as for this whole loaner thing I was under the impression I would get a new one at 35 so it didn't matter what I did with this one. Are you telling me I now have to worry about keeping fit :( Not get stressed and stuff? (Jul 19, 2002 8:28 PM)

3) halfbeast: c'mon! it's not all about the body! go, get a guy which you totally adore (his body - um, chelsea-type?) and talk with him... about haircare-products, about getting muscles and about how beautiful he is... I'll say 15 minutes, then u fall asleep or go crazy that you start stabbing him with a straw of his colorful drink!!! by the way - what's this �ܻ is about? the meaning? or just, cuz you guyz don't have such stuff in the language? (or because it's just ANNOYING everybody got those funky kanji) (Jul 20, 2002 6:06 AM)

4) Sparky: Oh man, this wasn't at all prizing guys for having Chelsea bodies, or even judging them for their bodies, regardless of type. Quite the opposite: I've been realizing that my own body — regardless of what shape it's in — isn't such a total disappointment, and so it shouldn't be treated that way. Honestly, I'm generally put off by guys who spend too much time on sculpting and primping mythical perfect bodies. It's like the other side of the spectrum altogether from the way I seemed to completely ignore mine. Balance, kids, balance. (Jul 20, 2002 6:48 AM)

5) halfbeast: then tell me please, what is a "disappointing" body? if you're in search of balance, then try somethin' asian. (Jul 20, 2002 8:42 PM)

6) halfbeast (again): and why are you up that early on a saturday???? (Jul 20, 2002 8:43 PM)

7) Bigboote: You should feel blessed. It could be worse; you could look like me. Gay men cross the street to the other side when I approach. If I had a quarter for every time I was told "go away, you're butt ugly". I could afford to retire early. It could be even worse than that, you could look like me, be 55 and have hiv as an added bonus. Give thanks that you are none of the above. In a 21st century scheme of things, using myself as a reference point, you are an adonis by comparison. You also seem to have many friends and supporters. This in itself is big blessing. You could be like me; in the past year my phone has rung about a dozen times in total, all from telemarketers; no friends, no form of support, no nothing. You are much much better off than you may believe. (Jul 22, 2002 6:14 AM)

8) Sparky: What I'm starting to believe is that I'm no so bad off as I once thought. For anyone, I think that's the struggle. What I'm learning to believe is that I may be no Adonis, but that I have charms of my own — even physical ones — that people may appreciate. More importantly, I'm learning not to base my view of myself solely on the reactions of other people. Before I can expect the world around me to appreciate anything, I have to really accept that it's not the end of the world to be short, to be a little scrawny, to have little love handles, or even to have HIV. If I have the confidence to be out in the world with all these things going on, then I ought to have the confidence to think there are people in the world who won't fault me for them any more than I do. But those internal changes to my attitude have to come first, or then the external feedback, good or bad, will only lead me astray. (Jul 22, 2002 6:58 AM)

9) ed k.: And maybe some of us like guys who are short, a little bit scrawny, and with love handles. =) And as for the HIV thing; well to me it's just a stupid virus. It's just a stupid virus that causes pain, difficulty, sadness, and it sucks. But that's all it is. It's not a deterrent for me to like a guy, if I *really* like *him*. And the packaging a man comes in is not nearly as important for me, as the way his mind works. If a guy can keep me fascinated, and if he can make me laugh; those are the things that can keep me totally hooked. (Says ed k. to a pretty fascinating guy. And Damn It! You *would* have to live half way across the country! Oh well, a boy can still dream.) (Jul 22, 2002 10:01 AM)

10) Matt: I've been there. I've finally got through it, though there are times I relapse. I had big problems with my body and sense of self-image. I wouldn't take my shirt off in front of anyone, no matter how good of a friend they are. I didn't go swimming for years, because I feared what people would judge me because of my body. Slowly, this last year I began trying to be comfortable shirtless around my roommates, and the rest is history. My self esteem has changed 100%. I don't think twice, when drunk, of taking my shirt off at a club. I rather like my body, feel sexy, the whole lot. It's an awesome feeling, and the only way I realized it was through the fact that no one I had slept with had the slightest bit of a problem with my body. It made me realize that maybe there isn't a problem with my body, and I became more comfortable in it. (Jul 23, 2002 5:41 AM)

11) Doreen Potts: You're a swan! Your're a swan! (Jul 23, 2002 1:34 PM)

12) pj: i'm a total freak about my body, but the self-loathing prevents me from fixing anything about me. sigh. you are adorable, though. it's a freaky thing to come to that sort of acceptance, when the neuroses start falling away and a sort of calm spreads over you. almost happened to me early this year, but yanked myself back in to the self-destruction pronto. that's my way, i don't recommend it. (Jul 24, 2002 11:56 AM)

13) zip codes: I agree with the author. (Sep 6, 2003 4:20 AM)

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