I look in the mirror and there’s a knot in my stomach because of the bit of padding that I see on my stomach. I am nowhere near obese and actually weigh less than the average person my height, but I feel shame, disappointment and regret looking at my shirtless reflection. It’s a bit embarrassing to share this with you but I suspect that it may be important that I do.
If you’re already feeling that this article is too much of an overshare, I suggest you move on, because I am about to get even more TMI up in here.
Body dysmorphia is a condition in which someone falsely believes that there is something seriously wrong with their appearance.
This is a pathology that I have self-diagnosed. I have managed to convince myself that I am fat, and not only that I am fat, but that I am fat in a way that would make me unacceptable to a suitable partner. I have an irrational belief that the fat I harbour on my stomach and hips is what is keeping me from finding success and love, and yet (seemingly) I haven’t done enough to get rid of it. It’s common for the average person’s weight to fluctuate within 5 kilograms every year but mine regularly varies within 10 kilos in a 6-month period. My gut goes from concave to convex and back again twice a year almost every year.
There will be longish periods of extreme self-discipline where no carbs will pass my lips and I squat and lunge myself into a coma and will melt away a chunk of my body mass, and then I will self-sabotage binge on bread, chocolate, potatoes and sweets until I start to resemble a stretched out caramello bear. Why don’t I just stop? Why isn’t it as easy as that? Is this my subconscious self-loathing/ internalised homophobia/ insecurity / fear of greatness manifesting in this bizarre cyclical behaviour? Maybe it’s just a result of the ebb and flow of the mood disorder I live with. One thing I have noticed is that it’s quite prevalent in my friendship circles and we can’t all have bipolar (can we?)
My regular gym attendance is well documented on social media, so why am I not built like an Adonis?
My increasing pocrescophobia (fear of gaining weight) and dysmorphia about my body’s current fat percentage is self-centred in the sense that I don’t hold anyone else to these unrealistic standards. I often joke about the fact that I am attracted to big beefy rugby types and can swear under oath that one of the sexiest and most fulfilling couplings I ever experienced was with a guy that was a lot chunkier than I have ever been. Let’s say he put the ‘love’ back into love handles (I told you I was going to get TMI!) I find all sorts of body types attractive except when it comes to the one that looks back at me in the mirror.
Pocrescophobia, also known as Obesophobia is a pathology that often leads to or exacerbates other conditions like depression, anxiety and eating disorders and many men suffer in silence with these conditions because of stigma and societies propagation of toxic masculine ideologies. The long-term effects of these conditions can have dire consequences if they are not addressed. Men have body issues “qha!”
Initially, I planned to write this piece from the perspective that this form of dysmorphia is practically a national sport in the gay male community, but then I realized I was guilty of projection. There’s a few of us with this issue, sure, but I know plenty of gay boys of all shapes and sizes that are happy in their skins, they slay in the fuller-figure ‘sexay’ department. Our burgeoning and beautiful bear community lays further testament to this -not to say that members of the bear community do not suffer from body dysmorphia.
This is not a conversation about the physical health implications of being overweight, though. Yes, a high body-fat-percentage is linked to diabetes, heart conditions and a number of other health concerns. But in this article, I want to address how mental health is impacted by the pain of dysmorphia and the fear of weight gain. There is enough info out there about the dangers of obesity.
I feel so ashamed of the fact that I don’t have a flat stomach. I am what popular culture would describe as “skinny-fat”. I look slender in clothes, but my undressing reveals some extra packaging around my hips and abdomen that I use to torment myself with.
I can hear a number of you in my mind right now saying: “Then why don’t you do something about it? Eat less, Pork Chop! Get your flat and flabby ass to gym and squat like the devil is chasing you!”
Yes, these things work. I’ve done them. I’ve had incredible results. Then, why am I back here again? I do. At least twice a year. But why can’t I maintain it?
Cake? Other carbs? Am I just lazy? Or is it more profound than that? This is a deep-seated and lifelong issue I have had since going onto cortisone as a 13-year-old for asthma and then ballooning (a common side effect) in such a way that the older hostel boys referred to me as Tuck-shop or Jurassic Porker. It also doesn’t help that I recently dated someone who told me he would break up with me if I ever got fat. I take full responsibility for attracting and maintaining a relationship with someone who had that distinctive item on his ‘deal breaker’ list.
Okay yes, I have had a debilitating lower-back issue for 3 months, which has kept me away from my beloved Rosebank and Old Ed’s gyms, but that doesn’t qualify why I had to increase my consumption of jelly sweets and Tin Roof ice cream.
A friend that I haven’t seen in a while (whom I otherwise trust implicitly) told me how good he thought I was looking and the first thing that crossed my mind was, “he’s lying to be kind.” I have a problem.
Right, so what am I going to do about it?
I’ve done some research and compiled a list of 4 things I can do to combat my dysmorphia and I hope it can help you if this is something you struggle with too:
List my destructive beliefs and how I might combat them? For example, I falsely believed, “If I am toned and muscular, I will be taken more seriously”, “My fat is more disgusting than anyone else’s”, “If I am overweight, I am unattractive and unlovable.” These beliefs are a load of bullshit, and I have to nip them in the bud.
I can do an audit of what people are saying to me. Nobody has told me that I am fat or overweight in years (at least not to my face), making these limiting beliefs about myself unfounded.
I can choose to focus on my strengths and all the other qualities about me that do make me attractive, successful, loveable or likeable.
I can see a therapist and get professional help (because I am privileged enough to have medical aid that will cover it– another option may be calling SADAG 0800 12 13 14 or Lifeline 065 989 9238 for free).
You can also find a list of MSM-friendly psychologists and psychiatrists on www.yellowdotdoctor.co.za
Bruce J. Little is the Content Creator for Anova Health Institute.