I'm A Man With Body Image Issues, And Now I Know I'm Not Alone

"It takes courage to reach out, and compassion to encourage other dudes to not feel ashamed."
Credit: Jutta Klee via Getty Images

For the better part of 27 years, I've had insecurities about my body and weight. For the past two years, I struggled with an idea I had about whether or not to share my experience in an article.

Last week, I finally published the story, and I discovered my experience was hardly unique.

Several men in their 50s reached out to say they too felt similar discomfort for much of their life about their body, showing me maybe I wasn't just a vain 20-something. People in their teens and early 20s told me they were just starting to realize they had body image concerns, but weren't sure yet how to respond to their anxiety.

I decided to write the story because covering male body image was something I was interested in as a writer, but not something I saw much about in the media. Lacking a person to serve as a subject for my story, I looked into my own issues and sought out research and experts to help explain what drives anxiety about one's own body.

I feared perhaps some people would push back and say "dude, just exercise," or point out that men haven't been held to the same social pressures as women -- but I really didn't see any of that. Instead, I saw women react to "I'm A Man, And I've Spent My Life Ashamed Of My Body" by saying they were surprised to hear that men faced similar insecurities about their appearance as women. Some even said they found it frustrating to hear that men fear they won't be taken as seriously if they speak about it.

"I've always felt that boys, especially those around me, have been confident regardless of anything," wrote one 17-year-old girl who is beginning college soon. "I had no idea that males face body image issues as well, and most of all, they don't find an easy outlet to discuss this issue. When I was going through the article, I could very well relate to the incidents mentioned." She added that she hopes to one day become a psychologist and help both men and women struggling with body image issues.

What the broad response to my piece showed is that body image problems are not limited based on gender or sexuality. Each community may face its own circumstances, but the emotional toll is all the same.

A reader named Rachna, 25, said she avoids going near some relatives who make comments about her weight. She also avoids going out to eat, for fear of remarks about "every morsel" she takes. "I've started going to the gym, but it's just so that I can lose weight and get those morons around me to eat their words," she said.

Rachna reached out after reading the story "because I don't know anybody who can empathize with me -- anybody else would just sympathize."

One reader named Eiljah described isolating himself from friends and family, "afraid of what people will think about me, and even the most minuscule flaws seem like a huge deal to me. But it gets better, just have to talk it out sometimes."

One common thread was guys saying one of their biggest fears is going swimming. It ranged from teens who were self-conscious around other teens to 60-year-old men in Florida saying they constantly have to turn down invitations to pool parties. Some other responses from readers:

"I'm a 20-year-old man and have struggled with my weight my entire life. I can't remember a time when I wasn't fat. And even now I still avoid going swimming just so that I don't have to take off my shirt in front of my friends. If I do get sucked in to going swimming with them, I usually keep my shirt on and my friends first try to encourage me to take it off, but when I'm unwilling, they give up and are accepting of it. However, because of this piece, I now have the courage to start learning more about not body-shaming myself and not caring what others think of my body. So I just wanted to say thank you. I haven't seen an article about a man body-shaming himself, and I needed that at this point in my life." -- David

"I’ve only just realized that I stopped going in the pool my family has, and going to the beach with friends, not because 'I'm over it and hate the beach' as I tell myself, but because I don’t want anyone to see me without my shit on." -- Bobby

These responses only scratch the surface, but show that men of all ages and sizes have insecurities about their body, yet feel like there isn't space for them to discuss it.

More reader responses to the article are below:

"It takes courage to reach out, and compassion to encourage other dudes to not feel ashamed." - Chris

"I am 55 years-old and have had body image issues since high school. I was a professional athlete after college and have been a police officer for the past 25 years. I stay in shape and people tell me I look fit and in shape, but I just ignore what they say. You would think I wouldn't worry about body image at this point in my life, but I still do every single day. It's somewhat of a relief to know that what I have felt my entire life has not been just something in my head." -- Greg

"Honestly, I never read stories about body image issues for men. I always get worried it'll make me feel worse and I'll start thinking about my own image issues even more than I already do. I guess since there are constant reminders every day, I feel some sort of backwards compulsion to ignore stories like this; I simply don't want to face it. But for some reason I was compelled to read yours and I'm very glad that I did." -- Ryan

"I've worked very hard in the past few years, and I've gone from around 300 pounds to around 200 pounds. Sounds better than I feel though, man. I still have a soft midsection and still have man boobs. I feel exactly like you've felt in this article every day." -- Jonathan

I haven't taken my clothes off in public since the age of 16. ... That started to slowly changed in March of 2014, when I downloaded exercise apps for push ups, sit ups, and squats. After 3 months I lost about 20 pounds of fat, which I acquired from a sedentary lifestyle, spending most of my time in front of a computer. Imagine me, scrawny, stringy arms and legs, and a fat belly and man boobs.

In October of 2014, I quit smoking, and started going to the gym. I also realized that we all think the same way: that everyone else is thinking about the way they look.

And I found I fault in that logic, namely, if everyone is worried about what other people think about them, then nobody has the actual time to think those things about others, because we're ALL too occupied with the thoughts in our own heads.

Therefore, I put on a tank top and a pair of shorts, went to the city centre, got a cup of coffee at my favorite cafe, and spend the day mingling among the masses. This happened in June of this year, after 22 years of hiding. I felt like Neo seeing the matrix for what it was! All the thoughts in my head, we're nothing but illusions. I made them, and now I destroyed them. I'm 38 years old this year, and I am free. -- Jack

We have only used readers' first names to protect their privacy.

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Tyler Kingkade is a senior editor and reporter at The Huffington Post, and is based in New York. You can contact him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com, or on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

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