Wishing Away Reality

I’ve caught a lot of flak recently for a few things I wrote on facebook about obesity. Things that are objectively true, but are offensive by virtue of the fact that some people wish they weren’t true. I got attacked, in fact, for being cruel or heartless. A couple of people were shocked, shocked, that I would say such a thing considering that I used to be fat myself.

They don’t seem to realize that it is precisely because I was fat myself that I’m in a position to point out how reality actually works for fat people.

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The Hidden Traps

So I bragged on Facebook about a few of my clients last week. Several of them have made great progress: dramatic, visible progress. J___ is much leaner, T___ is practically a different person in the face, and C___ can slip out of his pants now without unbuttoning them. I’m proud of their success! And a little proud of my part in it.

But at the same time, a few guys have expressed frustration at their progress. Not that they aren’t making progress – all my guys are, even those who barely listen to me! But some of them want to hit the gas a little harder. C___ in particular wants to see some abs and tends to grumble that those aren’t making their debut quite fast enough. I’m sympathetic to a point – abs are bizarrely motivating, especially to us fatties who may never have seen them in the mirror – but only to a point. And I say that because my guys tend to fall into some pretty obvious traps. Traps I feel like I warned them about… but then again, maybe it’s one of those things where you can’t really warn people away from a hot stove until they put their hand on it.

So what are the biggest traps my clients fall into? Let’s look.

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Shallow-Phobia

I promised I’d get back to the idea of body image in Fatties Don’t Get Phone Calls (2), and so here that is.

I get the impression from talking to people about their weight that there is a pervasive fear about seeming to be shallow. This fear of seeming shallow colors a lot of what people think about themselves and their relationships to others, especially if like me they grew up struggling with weight and body image. People will go to unreasonable lengths to avoid the appearance of vanity, to such an extent that they end up making unhealthy and destructive choices in life… because it seems better than appearing shallow. It can keep us from making positive changes in our life and even sabotage us in some ways.

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Do I Really Need Weights?

I was contacted recently by more than one person asking about weight loss. They were now as I had been years ago: very overweight and searching for solutions to their obesity. A question that keeps coming up for people – men usually contact me, but it’s also especially prevalent among women trying to lose weight – is whether or not they should even be lifting weights. For women, there is this fear that lifting weights will turn her into She Hulk in no time, and for both men and women there is a fear that somehow lifting weights will be a waste of time inasmuch as it distracts from the person’s primary goal of losing weight (presumably through a few hours of mind-killing cardio).

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Lets talk a little about why these fears are unfounded.

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Wishing I Were Invisible

Funny story about me.

I’ve been swimming exactly twice in the last ten years. Once was yesterday and I had a great time. The other time was two years ago when an ex and I went to the pool and I had an awful time. I did NOT want to be there and I did NOT want to be swimming, but God knows I did my best to look like I was having a blast. My instinct is to hate the water and hate the pool and hate the beach. Because swimming involves me being in a swimsuit… which involves me being shirtless… which is a terrible fear of mine that even now, with vein-crossed biceps and developing abs, I have to grit my teeth about. For the last ten years, with one exception, no one who I wasn’t dating had seen me shirtless. But I went around shirtless at a party last year, and only under duress as it was, again, a situation where I was gritting my teeth and pretending to be ok with it. Because I dread it. Or I have dreaded it for a long time… it’s not as strong as it once was.

Being shirtless was terrifying to me because there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to just be invisible.

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Self-Selecting Beautiful People

I was thinking about this the other day in connection with my last post about Cheat Days, but also because I had been browsing the magazine rack at the grocery store and saw Adam Levine on the cover of Men’s Health and got irritated that the feature article was about torching fat. The fitness industry, like many groups and professional spheres, has a pretty steep selection and confirmation bias. Which normally wouldn’t be a big deal except that in fitness, this bias will keep people who need the most help from getting it. Let’s walk through what I mean.

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Self-Criticism: The Easiest Trap

This post is something of a follow-up to that critique I wrote a few days ago about the woman doing her “Everyone is looking at me” art exhibit. But it’s also more than that and it deserves it’s own topic I think. What made me think to write this was reading elsewhere in the aether a post by a guy who thinks he is really, really ugly. The premise of the discussion was that the guy was feeling discouraged about his looks and was asking the forum whether he should even bother working out because he felt like his face was so busted. That is, what good was getting a great body if his face was ugly and there would be no changing it?

I’ll assume the guy was being mostly serious – sometimes people pull the “Why I so uggerz” card as a way of fishing for compliments – and that he really is obsessed about how his face looks. Now I’ll go ahead and say the guy isn’t a GQ model or anything (which is why I think he probably wasn’t fishing) but he isn’t hideous. In fact, he isn’t remarkable looking in general. But he wrote out a long list of perceived flaws in his face that apparently really haunt him: the angle of his ears, the wrinkles on his cheeks (he’s in his 20s, by the by), 2 pores on his forehead, the slight ovoid shape to his cranium… Very meticulous. But again, the guy actually looked unremarkable to me.

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There is this tendency, though, when we are being critical of ourselves to magnify things way, way out of proportion. This is a problem with former fat kids, of course, but is also a problem with anybody who has any kind of body image issue.

I grew up hating myself, hating how I looked, how I felt, and how I felt people thought I looked. It was so bad that for a long time I was immune to compliments. I thought people were lying or joking or just didn’t get me… because I thought of myself as fat and ugly. As a guy who grew up hating himself for how he looked, let me say this about self-criticism.

1) Never describe to people what you think is wrong with you. If you’re self-conscious about something, that thing may be big or it may be small but to you it feels like a head wound or a third eye. Other people, though, are probably not looking at it. They usually don’t notice until you point it out. And yet, when you do point it out, it becomes a thing that people notice. Because you brought it up!

2) No one notices your “flaws” nearly as much as you do. The human eye tends to generalize how people look, so unless you’re a circus freak or a beautiful demigod, most people average out what you look like. I have a lot if things I don’t like about how I look (I won’t say them as per rule 1), but I’ve literally had no one notice those things in me. I have a scar that I used to be self-conscious about and I think only one person has ever even noticed I had it… but to me it felt like everyone was looking and wondering “what the hell is that??” But no one is looking.

3) Don’t obsess over what you can’t change: obsess over what you can. The things you can’t change are the things you need to embrace: own them and wear them like armor. I can’t be “skinny”… I can only be huge. So I’ve embraced being huge. I’ll be huge on my own terms and in my own way, but my size is what it is. Even if this guy’s face were ugly, it would be a footnote if he embraced it (especially in the context of body building). How many people think Vin Diesel has a pretty face? Exactly zero. But it doesn’t matter because he has charisma that partially comes from just being confident.

Finally, and this doesn’t need to be a rule necessarily, just a reminder from the previous post… No one is looking. The thing about self-criticism is that it’s actually a curious species of narcissism. We believe that EVERYONE IS LOOKING AT THE THING I THINK IS IMPORTANT!!1! But that’s the opposite of the truth. No one is looking at you, guys. For the most part, no one cares. And once you stop focusing so intently on the minutia of how you look, you’ll begin noticing that no one saw your flaws the way you did.