It’s Time to Get Real About Your Body

Britt East
10 min readJun 11, 2019

Moving from self-shame to self-love

The very first thing I remember hating was my body. It was my body that betrayed me. That longed for physical contact with other boys. Prevented my entrance into the idealized masculine. It wasn’t my fault. It was my body’s feminine voice. My body’s swishy gestures. My body’s secret desires.

Homosexuality was dangerous, and it was my body that was under siege. That’s why I could not stand the sight or sound of my body. Didn’t dare look at myself in the mirror or in photos. Audio and video recordings were disastrous. They forced me to confront what the world met when it met me: a sissy. Which is to say I was tender-hearted and gender-nonconforming. Not meant for this world. Or at least not meant for the world of straight men.

Popular culture only magnified this message. Movies washed away people like me altogether, leaving us as little more than innuendo. Newscasts reduced our lives to gruesome images, withering under the weight of AIDS. In sitcoms we only existed as stereotypes, adding sassy color to the lives of main characters. And by main characters, of course I mean real men with real bodies representing real lives.

Society magnified my solitude by saturating me with shame. Reflecting all that I would never be. People called me physically repulsive. Threatened me with bodily harm. Ensured I would have no sense of self or well-being. My body was unsafe and unwelcome. And when I came out to my mother, it was my body she attacked. Spitting words of disease and disgust. Because erasing my body was tantamount to erasing my story. A story she simply could not afford. So I grew up with no place and no culture. No tribe and no initiation. All because of my body.

I had no form or function, so I dissociated. Lost in thought, I lived like a ghost. Which was at its heart an abnegation of my body. My attempt to detach from the root cause of this harm. To cut out the cancer, which just happened to be all of me. I tried to cobble together a facade that might pass. Be less threatening to the fragile masculinity of this world. I played sports. I wore the right clothes. I tried to say the things that boys should say. But it was my body that would always bring me back. My inadvertently-revealing aspect, combined with a desperate and driving desire. Both wanting to be them and be with them.

So I ritualized my fantasies, as if I might gain some control. Constraining and distorting my lust until it was unrecognizable. Some echo of normalcy. But my body was patient and cunning. Leading me to idealized friendships bound by unspoken truths. Luring me to the unrequited. That intoxicating combination of lust and fear. The inevitable look of disgust and disdain. And I hated them. And I hated myself. Until the arc of my life that should have bent toward togetherness, instead broke towards isolation. And I cast my body aside. Without even a second glance.

But it was my body that rose and hobbled forth. Forcing me to continue. Insisting I go on. I spent years like this. Falling and rising. Wasting so much time. Not realizing that the very parts of me I hated were precisely what some desired. Completely unaware of my privilege. Mired in self-pity. In fact it wasn’t until I finally learned that my body is the basis of my humanness that I really began to love myself.

No matter who you are, what you do, or where you’ve been, you are having a human experience. Everything you do, or say, or think, or feel is grounded in your humanness. And there is nothing more human about you than your body. This is true regardless of your race or ethnicity. Has nothing to do with your age or weight. From professional athletes to office workers. Able-bodied, and disabled people alike. It does not matter how much money you have. Or how popular you are. Whatever your gender identity or expression. Regardless of your sexual orientation or cultural identity. On some deep and profound level, it is our experience of our bodies that unites us all.

Even if you believe you are more than your body, it is your body that anchors your experience. Right where you are, right now. In fact, everything spiritual starts with the body. And there is no enlightenment without embodiment. You might experience the purest thoughts and feelings of kindness, but until that kindness is expressed through your body, it will come to precious little.

Remaining trapped in your mind and in your spirit, inaccessible to the outside world. If you truly want to be of service, at some point you must convert your thoughts and feelings into actual work. Put attitude into action. An alchemy that transmutes wishes into reality. Converts dreams to deeds. This is the magic of incarnation. Spirit made manifest through the body, such that it might yield real results. That’s why when we do good, we say we “touch someone’s life.” As in physically, with our hands.

If you are out of integrity with your body, it is your humanness that is at risk. That part of you destined to do. To go forth. Experience. Give. Love. Live. Seen through this light, nutrition and physical fitness are moral imperatives. If your body is the intercessor between your loving thoughts and your loving actions, then nourishing your body is the first step to nourishing your soul. And serving humanity.

You can only give what you have, and it all starts with intention. Once you acknowledge where you are, you can identify where you want to go. Stake your claim on how to get there. What do you want your body to feel like? Where do you want your body to take you? How can your body be of service to others? Getting clear on these intentions is imperative, because you will need to communicate them to your team: those friends, family, and experts who will support you, hold you accountable, and help make your dreams a reality.

Sustenance is that combination of healthy food and exercise we need to “sustain” our bodies through practice. And this practice is best built one brick at a time. The first team member you should consult is a medical professional. Someone you will entrust to monitor your health, and ensure that your goals match what your body can realistically achieve. That your strategies and tactics will not derail any facet of your life. Schedule an appointment with your medical professional for a routine physical, where you can share your intentions. If you have not recently engaged in a regular practice of physical fitness, it’s important to get this outside perspective.

Many of us in the GBTQ community have longstanding issues with those in the medical community. In some cases, they have violated our bodies and broken our trust. So your first courageous leap of faith in this journey might be to re-enter that space. There are so many ways to bridge that gap. From alternative medical practitioners to openly GBTQ professionals and allies, if we just muster a little courage, most of us will be able to find someone we can trust.

The easiest change most of us can make is to improve the quality of foods we put into our body. I encourage you to spend some time counting the calories you eat and drink each day, as well as the associated mix of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, etc.). This practice is about self-awareness, not fashion or culturally-contrived beauty myths.

When I started counting calories, I was shocked at how much I was inadvertently eating and drinking, as well as which substances were the largest culprits. This lack of awareness resulted in my ingestion of too many calories and an unhealthy ratio of macronutrients. I bought a simple bathroom scale, and found a program to help me determine my TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), a calculation of caloric intake versus output.

By monitoring the foods and beverages I consumed, I was able take charge of my nutrition relatively quickly, without dieting or deprivation. In fact adjusting a few key areas made a huge difference. It’s really not that complicated. Recent advances in technology have made it much simpler to scan the bar codes of groceries and prepared foods. The result is that it is easier than ever to monitor your food and maintain an optimal caloric intake and ratio of macronutrients.

Let’s face it: food is political. Many of us don’t have easy access to healthy food in our neighborhoods. Food is also cultural, and many of us were not taught how to prepare nutritious meals. To make matters worse, we often eat to sublimate feelings, or out of unmanageable, compulsive, mood-altering behavior (addiction). This combination can be devastating to our physical fitness.

While it’s healthy to recognize our past and empowering to acknowledge the reality of our situation, it serves no one to dwell in it. And it’s certainly not too late to take charge of our lives. We may have grown up with unhealthy situations or habits, but we can change. I’m living proof of that. I used to self-soothe with food. I often ate beyond what it took to feel full, and used food to manage stress, anxiety, and loneliness. What I ate was steeped in the comfort food of the southern US: high in saturated fats and carbs. It’s taken me years to change my palate, and learn how to gauge a true feeling of fullness. But I’ve finally reached a place where I actually prefer to refrain from overeating, or turn to salt and sugar for comfort.

I’m a true introvert, and most days resemble a house cat. Curled up under a blanket, lost in thought. But as much I hate to admit it, our bodies belong outside. Indoors is the realm of the mind, but outdoors is the realm of the body. Where we might move and stimulate our senses. Get our blood flowing. Connect with nature. We were not born to live inside office buildings. So I encourage you to spend as much time outside as possible. Few of us have any excuses. Almost all of us have the ability to walk around the block, or to the mailbox. And most of us can park a little farther away from the door, just to get in a few extra steps. When the weather truly makes it unwise to be outside, almost all of us can spend ten minutes on a treadmill walking.

Once we get a clean bill of health from our healthcare professional, it’s up to us to honor our intentions and get moving. Start small, and just increase the time, speed, and distance a little each week. Soon you will start feeling the full benefits of endorphins, stress reduction, and energy increase. And before you know it, you will even start looking forward to this part of your day. Until what was once only life-enhancing has become essential.

Once you normalize a regular routine of cardiovascular movement, I encourage you to add some form of resistance training to your practice. Personally, I love weightlifting. But your practice might take other forms. Check with your healthcare professional before implementing this next phase. Then join a local gym that has a broad array of workout equipment. That way you can share facility and equipment costs with other members, rather than buying everything yourself.

If you have the resources, also hire a personal trainer. It’s really easy at this stage of the game to let your excitement get the best of you, and quickly injure your body. A personal trainer will work with you one-on-one to help get you started on the right foot. Their role is to build a predictable, repeatable process with you, which you can then carry forth. Eventually you won’t even need them. They will help you start slowly with the type and level of resistance that feels right for you. They will work with you to find pain-free ranges of motion on key muscle groups.

If you don’t have the extra money for a personal trainer, there are tons of great literature and videos on any number of platforms. At the end of the day, you are your best advocate, and nobody knows your body better than you. It is up to you to absorb all the information you can, and then synthesize it — building the practice that is right for your body.

As you increase your cardiovascular activity and start to build and tone muscle, you will notice your body feeling unnaturally tight. I like to use yoga as my third pillar of physical fitness. But implementing any form of regular stretching and core-strengthening will help. If you decide to go the route of yoga or Pilates, I encourage you to attend classes in person (one-on-one sessions are typically unnecessary at this stage).

While books and videos are helpful, regular face-to-face contact will help you build a relationship with a qualified professional that will get to know your body over time. In many cases they will work with you (lay their hands on you) to help you train your body. Even stretching and core-strengthening can induce injury. And this sort of deep core work and stretching in particular can be prone to injury. It’s also important to socialize with others that carry similar intentions. Personal connections will help you form positive experiences and break bad habits. Plus it’s fun!

Along the way, you will invariably encounter lapses in motivation, illness, confusion, and distractions. That’s ok. It’s just part of the process. During these times, focus on your original intention: making slow and steady incremental progress in order to build a sustainable practice based on health and wellness.

There are no shortcuts. But who wants them anyway? The journey truly is both the goal and the reward. And after two decades working on my own personal growth and development, I know this for certain: you must find some way to fall in love with your body. Even if just a part of it. Even if just for today. If you do not create an emotional connection with your body, you will not change.

Most habits are just too tough to break without the care and concern of love. Elevating your awareness of this interplay allows you to shed culturally-constituted concepts like fatness and thinness. Move beyond physical appearances. Reject the beauty myth. Step into a new way of being with your body. Embrace the embodiment of your values. Such that you might love yourself and change the world. With your body.

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Britt East

Inspirational writer, public speaker, and author of “A Gay Man’s Guide to Life”: britteast.com