As I’m sure everybody’s newsfeeds and WhatsApp groups are already saturated with the topic of coronavirus and how “shit’s getting real”, I’ll try not to linger on the subject too long. Nor will I try and pretend that what I’m about to write is entirely a result of the current global pandemic and its restrictions. However, it would be a lie to say that 2020 hasn’t lent a helping hand (or two) in the messy issue I’m about to discuss.
Woe is me! I got bigger. And I don’t mean I grew bulging biceps, tree-trunks for legs or a bodacious rack. What I mean is: I successfully gained over an additional 10KG in body fat. My abs melted away like butter and were replaced by a solid layer of blubber. My chin decided it was lonely and grew a partner. My ass (and don’t get excited here) got so large that I had back pains when sleeping because the arch in my lower back had become that exaggerated. I had to jump, roll, squeeze and shove myself into my once baggy clothing – a whole new wardrobe was in order.
How I got to that point is not the focus of this column, but let me say that the gyms being closed for months-on-end certainly did not help. Pair that with the fact that summer had officially been canceled, and I had little-to-no reason to try and stay fit and sexy. The argument that could be had here is that I should have stayed working out at home and that I should be doing so for no one else but myself. Sadly, I discovered, that is not the case with me. I use other people’s opinions as to the motivation I need to keep my physique in shape.
And that right there is the problem I faced. When your entire belief system is built on getting people’s approval – it’s a very humbling and formative experience when you suddenly don’t look the way you think you need to, be liked, or desired. We live in the digital age of social media, which delivers the toxic male beauty standards in gay culture, right to our phone screens. We even get notifications when strangers decide if they like the way we’re looking that day – all disguised nicely as ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ on our latest picture. It becomes almost impossible not to be aware of what others think and even harder not to care. But when we invest so much time caring about how other people see us, the way we see ourselves gets blurred. What we predictothers are going to think becomes the way we feel about ourselves. The criteria by which we presumeothers will judge us, become the standards by which we then define ourselves. The two keywords herebeing: ‘prediction’ and ‘presumption’.
My perception of myself had become so warped that I started believing all the negative things I could think before anyone had actually said anything. I would see people I hadn’t in a while and add “I know! I got so fat!” right after every “hello”. Five years ago, I would never have described my ‘covid-body’ as “fat” and “fugly”. But there I was, saying the worst things about my figure so that nothing anyone could say would hurt me. It had become my defence mechanism. My defence against what, I soon realized, I didn’t know. Because the reactions I was met with couldn’t have been further from what I’d expected. People didn’t deny I had gotten bigger (because that would have been straight-up lying!), but they saw the change in a completely different light. They used words like “thick” and “juicy” to describe my new ‘look’ – words that were so clearly said with flattery. Someone even commented that theyliked me better without a six-pack – a remark that felt like a bullet until I noticed the accompanying flirty wink that went along with it.
Since then, I’ve had nothing but time (thanks to Miss Rona!) to do lots of thinking and learning. I’ve learnt to stop assuming the worst in other people – not everyone is going to have the nasty judgments that I might expect. I’ve learnt to be kinder to myself. I’m going to stop putting what I see on Instagram as my ultimate body goal, and I’m going to stop the internal fat-shaming! And finally, I’ve learnt that this whole thing is like a double-edged sword. I had let the way other people see me, impact the way I see myself. But the way I view myself can also affect the way others view me. So as long as I continue to celebrate the extra poundage and regard it as “thick” and “juicy”, then maybe that’s how others will consider it too. One thing is for sure: until COVID is over, I’m going to go with my gut instinct and be social distancing from my scale!