Sunday, June 2, 2019

I Hate My Body (and So Can You!)

My wife’s fingers idly traced the knot on my collarbone where it had knitted back together (badly) years earlier. Then her fingers ran over the burn scar on my shoulder, then the dozen or so scars on my chest. I was suddenly very aware of the concentration of old injuries in such a smallish region of my body. (There are many, many more elsewhere.)

“Cataloging my overall level of mutilation, are we?” I laughed, a bit sheepishly.

“Hey, I married a renaissance man with actual battle scars,” she said without missing a beat. “That’s some romance novel shit right there.”

I’m 47 years old. And this moment--which took place about a week ago--was literally the first time I can remember feeling good about my physical appearance.

It didn’t last, of course.

Men rarely talk about their body issues. It’s not deemed especially masculine, I suppose. Well, I don’t care much for traditional notions of masculinity. Just to give you a sense of how I roll, I have read vintage romance comic books between sessions of lifting weights and boxing. So today I thought I’d talk about my hate/hate (not love/hate...hate/hate) relationship with my body.

There’s no thesis statement and no lofty takeaway message, and this is sure as hell not me soliciting compliments (um, awkward…). I just thought maybe seeing me vent about the topic might help some other self-loathing dude who’s never had the opportunity.   

Here is the state of the union, as it were, at least as it applies to things apparent to the outside observer. My beard is mainly grey. My neck is starting to show signs of those wrinkles (you know the ones). My teeth have yellowed and my gums have receded. I’ve got more scars than are easily counted, some of them atop older ones. I might have one or two bones still in the shape nature intended. And I’ve got extra skin around my waistline from weight loss after the age of 40, plus stretch marks acquired when I was putting on that now-absent weight.

Say, let’s talk more about that weight loss, shall we?

I hated being fat. I was an athlete once, and I wanted that back, so I have dropped about 90 lbs in the past year(ish) through diet and exercise. But while I was losing all that weight, I also lost muscle mass--I had to, in order to meet my goal of dropping two weight classes--and now I’m obsessively trying to regain that mass. I went from being embarrassed of a body with a bunch of fat on top of muscle to being embarrassed by a skinny body with extra skin and not enough muscle. Physically, I’m the healthiest I’ve been in years (I run. A lot.), yet I still despise the way I look. It’s gotten to the point that now when people who haven’t seen me in a while exclaim “You look so skinny,” I immediately start wishing I was my old size again.

That’s messed up.

Part of it is my environment, I suspect. I live in Portland, OR. I like Portland overall, but it's a mixed bag, to be sure. It’s the most ageist place I’ve ever been, let alone lived. The ageism here is constant, pervasive, and (here’s the best part) deemed socially acceptable. To give you a sense of how things go here, I get old age jokes at work--yes, at work. Ageism is totally cool in this city of children. It has scuttled job interviews for me. It has impacted the service I get when I’m out in public. And back when I first moved here and was apartment shopping, a property manager simply stopped acknowledging my presence the instant a younger applicant walked in the door.

Hell, just last night the ticket taker at the movie theater, upon seeing I had two tickets in-hand, asked me, “Who’s your guest? Go ahead and find your seat and I can just wave them through.” Before I could answer, he said, pointing, “Is it the woman in the black vest?” She was easily 20 years older than me, but y’know, I have grey in my beard, so I guess we looked exactly the same to him. Now, there’s not a gods-damned thing wrong with being in your late 60s, or with looking like it, but I don’t look anything like a person in their late 60s. People over 40 are not all the same. So fuck you right in your stupid face, kid.

I don’t feel old. I ran a 5k this morning, then did the first of my two daily strength-training routines. I learn new things daily; I’m not an old man yet, damn it. But these fuckers make me feel like one and that feeds my body image issues and yes, I miss my old shoulders, but it’s really fucking hard to get them back at this age, so here we are, circling right back to those body issues.

Ugh.

Fuck this. Next time I’m going to talk about food.

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