A quick post about thin guys who catch body image issues in their mid-30s.
As you age, you gain body fat. There are exceptions, but this is a common enough truth that we can deal in generalities. As you age, your muscle tone diminishes, and your body’s caloric requirement goes down, and for a variety of reasons, you tend to get more sedentary. Weight gain — specifically fat gain — is a logical and common consequence of this.
This change of life is not bad, necessarily, though our diet- and fitness fixated culture often tries to deny it or fight it off by any means necessary. Most people, like it or not, are going to get a bit more squishy as life goes on. Like most fat-positive people (and like anyone who has read the actual statistics on the odds of long-term, safe, sustainable weight loss), I think the proper approach to this highly common, totally healthy life change is to accept it. We should let our bodies change, and work with those changes, and try not to pass judgment on them.
We should, but often we don’t. Instead, we let those changes send us into a spiral of panic and self-recrimination. We try to diet or exercise or protein shake the very natural softness of our bodies away. We gawk at it under fluorescent fitting room lights. In our worst moments, when we’re most insecure and aware of our changing frame, we might pinch those new inches with dismay. We might even do it in public.
It’s understandable behavior, an all-too-common response to a completely okay, acceptably-common increase in adipose tissue. But it does make the world a more hostile place to actual fat people. It does increase the odds that somebody else is gonna catch us pinching our inches and feel self-conscious about their own perfectly acceptable softness. And it’s a pattern of behavior that has weighed on my mind a lot lately, because I’ve noticed a bit of a trend: a lot of women in their 30s have worked hard, for a long time, to end this body-shaming behavior, and to accept themselves, fat and all, whereas a lot of men in their 30s are just beginning to hate their bodies and their new fat.
I know a lot of guys who, as they move into their 30s, are just now starting to gain weight & body fat, for all the reasons described above. For some of them, this is the first time in their adult lives that they have really struggled with their body size and body image. A lot of these guys respond to this by extolling the exact kind of body-hating, belly-pinching, calorie-counting, self-resenting bullshit that most of my lady friends grew up having pounded into them (by mothers, friends, sisters, teachers, and media) for most of their lives, and which they have only just now, in their 30s, been able to overcome.
It’s frustrating to watch so many dudes come into the game so late. Most of the women I know have spent the last decade or more fighting to overcome the slew of body dysphoric, fatphobic, diet culture nonsense they were marinated in from infancy. They have dieted, exercised, toned, fasted, cleansed, lost periods, binged, cried, had breakouts, lost hair, trawled thinspiration pages, trawled fitspiration pages, stopped working out, gone on the Fuck It Diet, maybe been hospitalized, accidentally blacked out, started researching Health at Every Size, read about the failure rate of all weight loss programs, bought clothing that actually fit, cried, did yoga, brunched, apologized to their bodies, put lotion on their stretch marks, took selfies, avoided mirrors, ran for the joy of exercise itself, told their friends to shut up and buy the cake already, and then finally, if they were one of the lucky ones, arrived at tentative self-acceptance through sheer force of will.
And just as my lady friends are reaching that wonderful point of detente and healing, my dude friends are starting to gain body fat they never had before, and are just beginning down that path of self-loathing, and doing so vocally.
I don’t know how to feel about it. I am both sad for these guy friends and massively enraged by them. I want to say guys, fellas, dudes, bros, I’m sorry you’re feeling this way about your body, I would never wish this on anyone, not on anyone — but most of the women you know have been dealing with this crap for a long-ass while now. So like maybe, Leonard, could you please not grab your entire belly at the dinner table and moan about how fat you are and how you need to stop eating?
Like, I know it’s coming from a genuinely distressed place, Blaine, I do, but like, there are other options out in the world. There is an alternative to body fascism and diet culture, Zach, and most of the women you know have been working to establish that body-poz, anti-diet culture for years, while you were blissfully eating pizza bagels and finding girls with back fat unattractive.
And maybe this is not a productive thing to say. Maybe it’s downright hurtful and blithe and hateful. These guys’ body struggles are not any less valid than the ones my women friends have dealt with — but I really wish the guys in question could have been paying attention during all of those struggles. Mostly, the complaints and insecurities voiced by women were pooh-poohed as vanity or irrationality by these very same men. A lot of my women friends’ slow processes of recovery, similarly, were completely eye-rolled or ignored. Even worse, some women who have finally come to love their bodies have been discouraged by the straight, thin-ish men in their lives, who have been dismayed or turned off by the bodily change.
Given all that, it’s hard for me to look at these newly-squishy guys with much sympathy or patience.
And before I end this post, let me just say: This is not a dig at dudes who are on the receiving end of fatphobia. Fat dudes, I see you. I know the body positive movement has neglected you. It’s not right. I want to do everything I can to encourage body positivity in dudes and masc people, because they need it too. Lots of otherwise body-pos, feminist people throw around insults that specifically target fat men, and it disgusts me, and it’s wrong. The body positive movement does not cater to guys or hold much space for guys. Fat guys are policed and mocked by thin dude friends, too. Fat men are stereotyped as disgusting, clumsy, lazy, unattractive. And all of that is fucked up.
Neither is this post about dudes and masculine people with eating disorders. You, too, have been sorely neglected. There is a dearth of research about you and how to help you. You are stereotyped and ignored. The body positive movement has excluded you in awful ways. I hate it too. I see you.
This post is directed at the thin dudes out there who have spent the majority of their adult lives ignoring body positivity (and maybe even perpetuating fatphobia) because they could, who later have to cash in on some of their latent fat-hate in a very personal way once their metabolisms slow down. I still don’t wish body image issues or ill-fated weight loss attempts on those guys. I don’t wish that on anyone. But I am irritated at the fact that many of their new-blooming insecurities could have been avoided entirely, had they listened to the fat, fat positive and/or eating disordered women in their lives.