My relationship with food is paradoxical. At home, I urge my parents to buy less snacks — please, no chocolate, no Cheez-Its, no muffins. When those hazards nonetheless arrive on the kitchen counter, well, they don’t last long. At restaurants with friends, I try to eat the least. Then I reverse the day’s effort toward cutting down my consumption when I get home. In every case, fighting my body’s urges for food feels like wasted effort.
It’s funny how little of my obsession with body-image translates into actual knowledge about nutritional health. I watch my caloric intake without knowing the number of calories I need. I’m conscious about my weight without knowing my BMI. I eat “less” without knowing what a healthy portion looks like. The house I live in doesn’t have a scale — I just watch the arch of my stomach to check whether or not I’ve been eating well. If I sought to be healthy, I’d probably have resolved these issues by now. But seeking a healthy body and seeking a healthy-looking body are very different desires.
The growth of my self-conscious body image seems inevitable. We face pressures from all facets of our environment — the media, friends, even family. Yet when the topic manifests in conversations with others, rhetoric often underplays and misrepresents how I feel. In conversation, I’ll hear phrases such as “I need to get fit” or “I need to work out.” But I never hear, and I never say, “I want to look fit” or “I want to look like I work out.”
The dichotomy between “need” and “want” plays an important role for me in the honesty and vulnerability of discussion. When I say “need,” I’m giving away control over my desire to look healthy. My decisions no longer are mine, and they become reflections of the molds manufactured by society, or at least my best estimate of what that might be.
I speak from the privilege of not actually being unhealthy or overweight. I speak from the privilege of facing society’s sculpting hand but never the physical threat of weight or diet-related disorders. Yet the stigma against honesty, especially for guys, is overwhelming. It’s the mixture of isolation and secrecy that restrains dialogue and maintains a warped body image’s potent destructive force.
I don’t know whether the majority of guys face this issue, and I hadn’t broached the subject with any of my friends until recently. The first and only time I ever heard a friend address the issue — and no, it wasn’t me who had the courage to bring it up — its seemingly untouchable, taboo atmosphere still staved off any real discussion besides acknowledgement. Like we had wandered too close to the outer boundary of truth, saw it, then ran away. In fact, that reaction was quite literal. When my friend, at a debate tournament, said he was going to workout, I had to join.