That's me. Shirtless, utterly on display. Vulnerable. The results of a 16 week experiment to try and understand my body better. 16 weeks of rigorously cataloging everything I ate and drank, calculating calories, working out an hour or more a day. Weight training, cardio circuits, treadmill, exercise bike, core work (and of course, NOT skipping leg day), all to see what would happen to my body. The results are there to see, but the problem is when I look at the after pictures, I mostly see that I still have that excess flab below my belly button and at my sides and back, my chest isn't the armor plating that I want and my arms are still small. When I look in the mirror, I'm still more the person in those before pictures and the person in those after pictures. I can appreciate what I've accomplished, but not enough to shut that voice in my head off telling me I'm still that chubby little kid that lives inside of me. Why, though? Why this negative self image? And most importantly, how can make sure that I don't pass along sentiments like this to my son?
The problem with my weight goes back to grade school. I remember very vividly between 2nd and 3rd grade putting on 20 pounds yet growing in height very little. I don't know what caused it, except to conjecture that since I was such a picky eater as a child, I was allowed to eat all the food I liked because eating something was better than not eating at all. I was always on the shorter side anyway (another hangup regarding my physical appearance that I've always struggled with), so this weight gain was very evident. Seemingly overnight I went from being described by others as "skinny" to "husky". The newfound weight also affected my athleticism. I loved (and still love) playing sports as a child and my grade school was home to some of the best Boy's Club teams in the school district. I maintained enough talent to stay competitive with my taller, thinner friends but I was always looked at as more of a reliable hand to have on any team than a top player. We had a very . . . let's say, enthusiastic coach for our club teams who, on more than one occasion, when he was trying to motivate us to be the best we could, would call out the attributes of our players. Standing in a circle he'd point to each of us and say, "Look at the speed we got on this team! We've got speed!" pointing to Keith, "Speed!" pointing to Ryan, "Speed!" pointing to Wayne, "Speed!" pointing to Weston, "We've got . . . " pauses for a moment when he comes to me, "Rob, you're not as fast, but you play smart." Thanks, Coach, just what an 11-year old likes to hear.
Suffice to say, by the time Middle School rolled around, I hadn't developed to the point of my peers and left behind most organized sports, with the exception of baseball - my best sport, actually - though my development in that regard was given it's final nail thanks to two consecutive summers of a shoulder injury sustained in the winter which never fully healed in one and a broken wrist in another. I focused on golf and my musical and dramatic pursuits in high school. In gym class, I only stood out in the pool (though was never good enough to actually join the team), and continued with my ineffectiveness in physical tests, never being able to some much as break a 12 minute mile or do a single pull-up, in spite of my efforts in the makeshift gym in my parents' basement. I attracted a few girlfriends, surprising out of my league in a few cases, more with my personality, but was always chaffed by being described as "cute" rather than "hot". Matters weren't made much better as my best friend (then and to this day) was agreed by many of the tongue-wagging girls that we knew to be one of the most attractive guys in school and he has never put forth the effort to maintaining his body as I have. The joke around the lunch table was that his 6-pack was created by Doritos and online gaming.
This pattern continued into college, where I would choose to work out with my female friends to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to hoist as much weight as the guys. Pictures exist of me shirtless during those times where mid-30s me thought I was downright jacked but at the time I still felt downright below average next to the people I associated with and compared myself to on a daily basis (Including my father, whom I seem to share absolutely no metabolism related genetics with as he, at nearly 70 still fits into suits he's had for nearly 50 years despite the fact that he hasn't done any cardio since 1972, might not know what a dumbbell even is, watches what he eats in so far as he looks at the food before it goes into his mouth and smokes unfiltered cigarettes like a chimney). Coupled with the fact that once my early twenties hit, I began to dye my hair to cover up the premature graying and developed a noticeable widow's peak forming in my hairline. I decided shortly before turning 30 that I'd join some friends in running my first half marathon, trained for 3 months and got in the best shape of my life to that point, just in time to meet the gorgeous woman who became my wife. Happiness quickly went to my midsection of course and so began the never-ending cycle of weight gain, shame and self disgust, sign up for some summer fitness challenge (like a half marathon or the Tough Mudder), drop 15+ pounds, complete fitness challenge, feel good, reward myself with food, gain 20 pounds back, repeat.
All this led me to where I am today. I can say I continue to pursue my fitness goals for personal satisfaction and health, but that would mostly be a lie. The truth is, sad as it is, the world judges people on their appearance. It's inescapable. I wish I had the confidence that some select people do to be happy with themselves no matter what, but in actuality, I possess the certain type of narcissism that is fed by getting people to tell you how good you look just so you can respond with everything that's wrong with you and in so doing, maintain enough edge of self loathing to keep you away from complacency. And let me just say, I know this is terrible and I want to do everything I can to stop this trend with myself and not spread it to my son. Already he comes downstairs when I work out, grabs some 3 lb weights and emulates whatever exercise I'm doing. It does bring me joy to see him smiling while he does it and I hope I can do my part to keep him seeing fitness and exercise as a fun endeavor rather than a way to torture and punish yourself for not being "good enough", the way I sometimes do. For myself, though, that's just a part of me that instead of fighting against, I strive to simply make peace with and keep to myself as much as possible. And who knows, maybe one day, as long as I can acknowledge that I'm working to be the best me possible, both inside and out, I'll come to a place where I can be okay with that little bit of belly fat that won't go away, as I finally have (now that I'm closer to 40 than 30) with my salt and pepper temples, receding hairline, the hair growing in my ears, on my knuckles, and on my back, the wrinkles by my eyes, my gross feet, that one crooked tooth . . .
I mean, a man can't live on 1,800 daily calories forever, right? Maybe I should rethink my Super Bowl Weekend Cheat Fest. Nah. Then I'd have nothing to complain about on Monday!
I don't just write novels. I just like to write. This blog will not be polished, it won't be edited closely. There will be spelling and grammar errors and it might drag on in places. But it will be fun, off the cuff, genuine, and hopefully interesting to read!