Tuesday, April 13, 2010
SELF-CONFIDENCE, and PERCEPTION, and ESTEEM, OH MY!
As I mentioned in my ANOTHER STATUS UPDATE post there are three posts that I have been meaning to get around to for a long time. One revolves around my self-confidence, self-esteem, and my self-perception, which are intrinsically intertwined, and I know I’ve touched a bit on all before. Another is the idea of letting go of the inner fat kid (saying goodbye and moving on). And the last one is my sexual history, or lack thereof.
I f*ing hope this is as cathartic as I think it will be. (I may go into a stream of consciousness type writing style as I get all of this out. Bear with me).
While I was in college I had an instructor tell me, in so many words, that the reason that I was selected for a highly competitive position with the university was because everyone was impressed with my self-confidence. I only hope that upon hearing this my face didn’t change expression in a way that showed what I was really thinking. What was going through my head was, “What the f**k are you talking about?” I laughed it off. I had never thought of my self as confident. I always felt like the bastard stepchild of the group in most situations. I wouldn’t put myself out there for fear of drawing unwanted criticism and judgment from peers. I went home that night and mentioned this to my roommate. He explained that there was something, a certain way I exuded an easy confidence. The thing was, all of this was about when I was in class or among friends and peers. When it came to my appearance or perceived desirability sexually, my confidence tank was on empty. Based upon the sum total of my past experiences I had it stuck in my head that I was not desirable, in that way.
My first kiss I remember was when I was about 4 years old. This little girl and I were being watched by the same babysitter and were sitting on the floor watching television when she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. It took me by surprise.
The second one was in first grade. Some girl and I were at the after school daycare. We were sitting out in the field when she just planted a kiss on me, right on the lips. It was a quick peck.
My first girlfriend was when I was in 5th grade (she was a cute little Jewish girl, these days I kinda have a thing for Jewish boys). We were “together” maybe two days. She dumped me because everyone found out about us. I was crushed, mostly because I was wondering “What’s so wrong with me?”
At the end of 5th grade a friend had a pool party to celebrate the start of summer. It was a mix of boys and girls, most of whom were part of my larger group of friends. I was the chubby one, in the group and even my best friend at the time chimed in when these supposed friends were making fun of me, saying the I needed a bra. I stayed strong in the moment and didn’t let them see how hurt I really was. That was the beginning of the end of my friendship with that best friend.
In high school we had to get measured for our costumes for a play I was in. When the lady took my chest measurement somehow the director/drama teacher overheard/saw and couldn’t help but to repeatedly voice his disbelief in the number (I want to say it was something insane like 52”). I was already ashamed of my chest. Thanks A**hole.
When I was about 17 a random stranger told me that I had tree trunks for legs. I don’t think he was trying to be malicious, but he was a dick. That was the start of my being self-conscious about my legs, and especially my calves.
At some point during the latter half of high school my parents became concerned that there may be some kind of medical condition linked to my weight issues. This resulted in a litany of tests at the doctor’s office (all coming back negative) and then a meeting with a nutritionist. She asked me (@ the time I was between approximately 280 and 300 pounds) what I thought my goal weight should be. My response was 180 lbs., which I thought was pretty solid considering my height and build. In as nice of a way as she possibly could have, she explained that I would never weigh 180 lbs., and that I should probably pick a more realistic goal. Bitch!
Around the same time (senior year of high school) I had a teacher accuse me of breaking a desk merely by sitting in it. The desk was broken before I sat in it, and true I had a moderately difficult time getting in and out of them back then, but what an a**hole. After that incident I stopped doing the homework just to piss him off. I ended up with a pretty low grade in that class.
For all of college and until recently I wouldn’t even put myself on the market. I was so consumed by my lack of self-confidence that I wouldn’t even think about dating or hooking up (besides fantasizing about it). I couldn’t fathom anyone finding me attractive, or in the off chance someone did, that I could expose myself to him and be intimate. Friends would ask if I was dating, or comment that I should find someone and I would just brush it off.
My step dad had an incredibly difficult time dealing with my weight. He was a varsity athlete in H.S. and was still involved in Men’s Leagues until recently. He constantly gave me a hard time about my size and tried a million different ways to get me to shed some pounds. He forced me to play sports I had no desire to play (Baseball is boring! Basketball required too much running) not because I didn’t like them but simply because I was a fat kid. I played baseball, basketball, soccer, football, tennis, and was on the swim team. The only one I truly enjoyed was swimming. He would tell me I couldn’t have certain foods, which would piss me off and make me want to sneak them when I had the chance. He was so harsh at times that I would cry and I think part of my weight problems as a kid were also part of me being defiant and wanting to piss him off. I know for certain that part of the reason that I had an unhealthy relationship with food for so long was because of the reactions that I got from him when I ate certain foods. I would sneak food and try to hide my tracks. I was like a junky. It got to the point that they were considering putting locks on the fridge and cupboards. One day when I was around nineteen or twenty I overheard him talking to my mom in the kitchen. He was saying that my brother (I have two 1/2 brothers) was “the good looking one” and that I would never be close to his level of attractiveness. To say the least I was hurt. Not only because of the words I heard but because I didn’t hear my mother say anything to the contrary.
The thing is, my step dad always went about trying to motivate me to lose weight the wrong way. He thought that calling me names, making fun of me, and being generally verbally abusive would make me want to change. But what he didn’t realize was that it just made me angry with him and pissed me off. Not only that but it also made me feel like shit and lowered my already sub-par self esteem. If you call me a “fat ass,” for some reason that doesn’t make me want to hop on a treadmill. When I finally did make the changes necessary in my life to begin to lose weight, it was on my terms and it was my choice.
In my head fat = un-loveable/undesirable/unworthy. I was fat and unhappy and didn’t love myself, so how could I love anyone else?
My self-esteem was always at the lower end of the spectrum and my self-perception has always been a bit skewed. As a kid I was unaware of my size, and being judged for it, until age 10 or so. By 12 I had started to slim down a bit and then by 14 I was back to steadily increasing my weight every year. I had been massive and knew it. I had been slightly smaller and still felt huge. And I have since broken the 200 pound barrier only to know that I must be smaller while feeling like I am still large. It is not until I look at the size of my thighs in comparison to my roommate’s (the “every gay man’s wet dream” roommate) as we sit on the couch watching television, that I see they are just about the same size. It is not until I try on the medium shirt and am shocked it fits; or the 33” slim fit Levi’s; or the shirt I stole from my younger, “hotter,” and slimmer brother; etc. that I begin to realize there has been some change. It is not until I see myself in a photo on Facebook next to someone whom I consider thin. But I still don’t really know it. I have to constantly look for the comparison point, the standard by which I can gauge myself. I have to see someone I consider thin and then see myself next to them, and calculate how we compare. My self perception is based completely on where I think I fit into the spectrum of what I perceive to be normal. This is obviously all kinds of crazy and no bueno.
This totally reminds me of that show Carson Kressley did for fat women, “How to Look Good Naked” or whatever. Every episode (okay, so I watched a couple of them, I’m not embarrassed) he had this part where there was a line up of women from smallest to biggest and he made the main girl he was trying to help insert herself into the lineup where she thought she fit in. Every time the chick was way off and put herself in the line between two women who were a lot larger than her. Looks like we all share that in common.
What’s funny is that EVERYONE comments on my weight now. It’s kinda funny how comfortable people seem to feel giving backhanded compliments. I’m called “skinny” or “slim” by my dad (who now outweighs me by about 10 lbs.) and my brother is only about 20 pounds lighter than me. I also have to constantly deflect comments from friends who worry that I am not eating. Uhh, hello, me and not eating go together like oil and water.
So now that I am 195 pounds I see myself in the mirror and I know that I must be smaller than I previously was. But I spent something like 90% of my life being fat and dealing with that. It is really hard to just switch off all of the things that I am so used to thinking in my head. Old habits die hard, as they say.
P.S. The photos are by Federico Erra. I like the tone and mood he captures in a lot of his work.