Selfie for the Man

...currently writing from Griffin, GA

I think the culture for men and body image is so tough, yet it’s so overlooked that people don’t think it’s an issue. Nowadays everywhere you look, ads are filled with absolutely cut guys or massive muscular guys. Every ad about fitness glorifies the Spartan, Thor, or Captain America body. It’s as if there is no other level: you are in "perfect" shape or you’re not in shape at all. There are no plus size male models. So, men do dangerous things to get in that shape, (like women who starve themselves.) Men load themselves up with supplements, many of which are taken off the market quickly and not fully tested. Things like meal replacements, which are meant to be cycled on and off, are stayed on permanently. To stay in the peak level is very hard; even movie stars can only be in “perfect” shape for so long. So when you look at yourself and compare yourself, the reality of never being "perfect" sets in. (Even when your arms are big, your chest isn't good enough.)

There is a saying, “The day you start lifting is the day you are forever small,” and I can attest to that. I may be 30lbs heavier than when I started but I feel tiny and small every day. You have other guys who look down on you, because you can’t lift a heavy weight; because you are “not big enough.” Living here in the south I see it more and I hear it more. If you are not big and strong, you are a pretty boy and not “masculine.” So, you have a totally different body standard of men than the rest of the world does. Trying to juggle the two standards, you end up hurting yourself and losing focus on what you want. It’s like a race with two goals and if you go for one, the other is there, telling you that you picked the wrong one.

I never was the big muscular guy. In high school I was 6 foot 2 inches and around 130 lbs. I was a twig. I didn’t fit into the mold of the “big muscular, in shape guy,” or the big, strong guy. It was so discouraging seeing others getting there and when I lifted I couldn't keep up, muscle wise. So, I used it as an excuse to say, “I can never push myself.” The fear of never reaching these goals stacks up.

I am not sure how much of a low point I got to. After high school I was used to being the skinny guy and never putting on weight, so I didn’t do anything. I made excuses not to workout or improve. I begin putting on fat and got the “skinny fat” body. I was not healthy; I got winded after a little running or exercise. I wasn't where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be the “out of shape guy” that disliked the way I looked. I hated how I looked in the mirror; the fact that I had no muscle, the fact I was out of shape, that I had a stomach that stuck out more then my chest, that my thighs were big – stuff that we are told are only things girls worry about, not something a guy does. “Guys don’t care about how they look - it’s not a big deal. It’s not masculine.”

So one day I got tired of excuses and wanted a change. I didn’t want to be unhappy with the way I looked and felt everyday. I decided to not let anything hold me back; no one was going to do it for me. I had tried to get in shape in the past for other reasons, mainly women. Each time I failed because when that person wasn't impressed or left my life, so did my motivation to improve. I realized I wanted to look better and be in shape for me. I had to learn that if I wanted to make a lasting change.

We all have different body types and we need to realize; some take more work. Every day I struggle with it. I wake up and don’t love the way I look. I think I am too small, and don’t look as good as others. I have hurt myself before, because I wanted to get big too fast. I am working on it but it’s not a “one-day you are over it and you're free,” kind of thing. It’s a journey, so I still struggle but I am working on it day by day.

In light of everything I've experienced, I've decided that I want to help change the way people look at health and fitness. There is no "perfect fitness level."

You must first figure out what you want. To look a certain way? Run a triathlon? Become a power lifter? Find your goal and go for it. Become the person you want to be. Find someone who you know that can help, and take it one day at a time.

Never give up; fitness is a journey not a short cut. Learn to focus on being healthy, not what the world tells you to be. Don't forget to be proud of the milestones, no matter how big or small. It's not about what others think, but how you feel. Focus on being a healthier you and forget what the scale says; its just a number and can’t measure health.

It’s okay to be proud. I know it’s hard for guys to be proud when culture says that, “guys taking gym selfies or pictures is bad,” but women are praised when they do the same. Don’t let anyone else define you, or tell you what is good for you. We all have a different goal. Finds yours and pursue it for you.

Become the person you want to be, not what the world wants you to be.

 - Brandon Votaw