Saturday, February 21, 2015

#FightBodyShaming: A Man's Perspective

Guest Blogger: Nick Mance
 [The background: This is the fourth post in my series, #FightBodyShaming, and also a guest post from my husband and fellow blogger, Nick Mance. I wanted to include the perspective of a man on this issue because it truly affects us all.]

Wow, what an honor to be asked to be a contributor on Elise's blog. I have been keeping up with her campaign to reshape how we view body image and I am all about fighting body shaming. But I need to be honest, I was a little wary about what to write about.

My plan had been to write about body shaming from a guy's perspective but I wasn't sure how that would be received. I know body image isn't something that guys embrace, but I know it is something we all struggle with internally. So I want to write a bit about my own experience with body shaming from a guy's perspective, and hopefully offer some advice for what we can do to defeat this in our culture.

My body shaming issues began when I was younger, between the ages of 8 and 10. I had grown up hearing that I was ugly or that no one thought I was attractive. When we hear that as guys, we tend to internalize it and pretend it doesn't hurt us. The truth is that internalizing things just means we don't deal with them until later in life and then we wrestle with deep internal wounds.

Fast forward to high school and I began to wrestle and started to get into the best shape I had ever been in. I lost a ton of weight and began to build muscle, but as a wrestler we always heard "cut weight" or "get bigger" or "don't eat if you don't make weight" and so much more. We knew it was all for the benefit of the team but what we really heard was "you aren't good enough" and "your body is wrong."

Fast forward a few more years--you know college and stuff--and after a few failed relationships and seeing my former girlfriends go with guys who were more physically fit and athletic, I just knew something was wrong. Couple this with all the advertisements that you see in media, in stores, and how everything went to slim fits, I began to hate my body.

I eventually entered into various weight loss programs that, until this point, I have never really shared. In high school and college I would run in the summer with a trash bag on underneath my clothing and then dress in full winter gear to shed what I thought were unneeded pounds. During and after college I began taking supplements to lose weight, I skipped meals, I used fasting as a means of losing weight rather than growing closer to God, and eventually got to the point where I just wouldn't eat or would eat only once a day.

Wow! That actually felt really freeing to let go of all that and put it out there, but at the same time it makes me want to weep. I know that there are plenty of guys out there struggling with these emotions and that guys today struggle with image more than we let on. So many guys decide to join a gym, so many guys tease each other about being overweight or by making fat jokes, or they make sure you aren't on their team.

I know this sounds like it shouldn't matter and that this is just boys teasing boys, but in reality, it does matter. Body image is something that affects both women and men, but men just allow for it to be untreated and don't talk about it. We push it down and down and down until later in life, and I am proof of that. I constantly look in the mirror and doubt my image. I look at myself and realize I am not the guy on TV that all the women swoon over. I battle doubts about whether or not Elise will stay in love with a guy who isn't the ideal image of a man. I struggle with losing weight and maintaining what I do lose. I want to be more athletic. I envy the guys who have a great metabolism. I am constantly ashamed of how I look.

But even as I write this post I am reminded that these things don't matter. My identity isn't in how I look, or even in what others think of me and my body. My identity is rooted in Christ, and because of that I know ideal body image isn't what I should be striving for. But honestly, that doesn't always help me because I want more practical steps to go forward. I know and believe that Christ is my strength, but I also know that I need to know how to put these truths into action!

The key is more than knowing the truth within Scripture, it is also in applying it in the right way. The Bible says that many people will cry out "Lord, Lord," but that He will reply, "I never knew you". These men knew what the Bible said but what they did, they did for themselves! They wanted to receive the glory and fame because their identity was in what they did. And that is how it is for us as men! Our identity is rooted in our looks and physique--what we do with our bodies--and we need to realize that isn't the truth. So what can we do to embrace the truth?
  1. Don't trust what the media shows you. That isn't reality. Just like girls need to realize thigh gap isn't what makes you pretty, we need to realize that chiseled abs and muscles that have muscles aren't what make us attractive.

  2. Look to what the Bible says. You will never find a verse in the Bible that says you must look a certain way to be attractive. In fact the Bible says that beauty or attractiveness has nothing to do with your your body, but everything to do with your heart.

  3. Be honest! If you are married share your insecurities with your spouse! In fact one of the best things I ever did was share with my wife my insecurities because she began to tell me just how attractive I am. (That's a win for us guys!) It boosted my confidence and helped me realize I am attractive and that she sees it. If you aren't married share your insecurities with those closest to you (see below) or with your significant other. The point is that honesty within a relationship is paramount especially when it comes to insecurities so you can support one another.

  4. Share this with your buddies. Chances are they are feeling this too! It is time we as men embraced our vulnerabilities and relied on help from others! Don't laugh at your friends and their struggle, instead support one another and build each other up.

  5. Find your identity in Christ. On those days when you can't fit the slim fit shirts, when you feel gross, or every other guy around you seems to be more attractive and fit, realize that God loves you for you! He has made you perfect and knows and loves you for you! You are His and He loves you for that. Seek to find your identity in Him and Him alone and watch how radically your life changes.
Guys, let's fight this body shaming culture and seek to be a culture that encourages men and women to find their identity in Christ, and realize that in His eyes we are all beautiful images of Him! Let's change the world's understanding of body image.

You can read more of Nick's writings on his blog, You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram @Nick_Mance.

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