Not long ago I saw part of an interview with a House Rules judge, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. When he was a young man, he was quite thin and apparently good looking. When asked what happened to that guy, his response was “it looks like I ate him”. That reminded me of this guy I know. Let’s call him Henry.
This is part of Henry’s battle with body image.
“I was one of those kids who always had a bit of fat on him. Not really that fat but not skinny ether. It’s as if my baby fat never left. When I must have been 12 or 13 I decided to head to the gym. Watching action movies, I thought I could be like Chuck Norris (minus all the hair) or Sylvester Stallone (with a better face).
So off to the gym, this pudgy little guy went. The gym owner was very attentive to what I was trying to do (much too attentive it seems in hind sight but that’s another story). He encouraged me to build muscle as much as I possibly could. It was at this time that an unhealthy body image began to surface. I was overly critical of what I looked like and became very self conscious. To the point that I decided that I would always wear a shirt in public. For whatever reason, I left the gym but my body image was scarred for life.
Things got busy, drugs sex and rock and roll will do that to a young bloke. By my mid 20’s I settled a bit. This gave me time to reassess my life. Again I was struck by how unhappy I was with my body. Off to the gym I went again. No unwanted attention this time! I worked hard but was still not happy. Eventually the battle to get my body to fit my mental image took too much time, so I left the again. Life happened, marriage, kids, career and the voice that told me I looked hideous took a back seat.
Then I turned 30.
It seemed that overnight 5 kilograms were added to my number! It was around this time that I started at a new job. They had a uniform. I had to buy shirts. Within three months I had to buy more shirts to fit my growing girth. Again more attempts at the gym. The voice started but I did manage to shut it up without too much worry. For a while. Life was too busy to worry about that sort of thing.
Then I turned 40.
Another 5 kilograms were added to my number. This time it was a lot more serious for me. I could no longer ignore the voice that told me I was hideous. I stopped looking in mirrors. I bought clothes that were too big. I hid from my shame. For a while I tried to lose weight to no avail. It was horrible. The more I tried, the worse I felt. Tried the gym again but couldn’t stick at it (too many mirrors and much better bodies than mine). It was too shameful. This battle went on for a while then I had a revelation, an AH HA moment, an epiphany. What if I tried to stop losing weight and instead tried to build muscle instead. That helped the stop scales becoming an evil monster. No weight loss…that’s ok, it’s part of the plan. Isn’t it?
Now I’m back at the gym (somewhat regularly) and riding a bike when I’m not at the gym. I still struggle with how I look. I will still never ever take my shirt off in public but little by little the voice that tells me I’m hideous is slowly receding.”
When I think of Henry’s story it strikes me that there are two aspects to this. One is physical and the other is mental. We are all born with a genetic predisposition for our body shape. Whilst we can change things a bit, we can never get away from who we are. Henry’s body shape isn’t meant to be thin and lean but a bit bulky and thick. That’s ok. The problem is marrying his mental image of who he wants to be with who he is able to be. For this guy it’s a compromise on both levels. A compromise to work out the best, healthiest physical him and a compromise mentally to acknowledge that healthy is better than whatever shape he thinks he should be. Yet, this compromise for Henry takes a lot of energy. It ebbs and flows. Some days are better than others.
I find it interesting that the Bible doesn't say too much about how we are to look. We are told to have a right view of ourselves. And that’s the hard part for people like Henry. His view of himself is twisted. He can’t quite see himself for who he is. What he sees in the mirror is not always what is really there. All he can see is his imperfections. Part of his journey is to work on seeing himself as others see him and not what he sees.
Let’s support and encourage everyone we come in contact with. We really don’t know what going on for them underneath.