I recovered from my eating disorder a long time ago, though I still have moments of feeling dissatisfied with my body. These rare moments come and go. They feel like this: a twinge of self-annoyance when I change into a floral top and notice that it looks like I have a bit of a stomach, a hint of embarrassment when I see a picture of myself smiling and notice my under bite, a drop of self-consciousness when I walk out of the bath tub after a shower and see the scars and moles on my body. Almost always I move on with little concern, yet little concern still means some concern at the end of the day.
This past year and a half I have gotten back into tennis. I played throughout high school, though the abundance of masculine energy in the boys’ team combined with my adolescent angst made it a lukewarm experience. I pretty much dropped it all throughout undergrad, then my second year of grad school after a good friend moved away, I thought: hm, maybe now’s the time to pick up a hobby where I can meet people
and release my rage at the cisheteronormative white supremacist patriarchy.
Last night I played in the first round of a USTA sanctioned 3.5 men’s singles tournament. Before the match, I ate sweet and sour chicken from my local Chinese takeout place and pumped myself up with lots of Itzy, BlackPink, and Ariana Grande’s hit “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” – I relied a lot on the latter because I wanted to embody that confident, scandalous, and seductive energy on the court
because there are currently no men in my life worth seducing, lol. The match itself felt amazing, in that I experienced so many powerful sensations in my body: the firmness of my legs and my calves whenever I split step in preparation to return the ball; the sometimes shaky, sometimes firm coolness of my breath as it entered my nostrils and exited out my mouth after a long point; the tightening and release of my stomach when I let out a piercing shriek after winning a pivotal point or after volleying a ball right into the net. I won the match 6-4 6-4, but regardless of win or lose, I focused so much on the strength of my body, its power and perseverance, instead of how it looked.
As a gay Asian American man, there’s a lot of societal pressure to dislike my body. Asian American men are often perceived as unattractive for not meeting white standards of beauty, and gay Asian American men are further marginalized in a queer community that often values hypermasculinity and whiteness over femininity or anyone who, well, isn’t white. Thanks to all the feminist writers who’ve inspired me and my own self-reflection, however, I’ve pretty much always never cared about other men finding me physically attractive. I know my self-worth stems from the compassion and social justice I promote and not if another man wants to sleep with me. If gay white men find me ugly, I couldn’t care less. If other gay men of color – or anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, or even heterosexual people, or non-binary people, anyone really – finds me ugly, I also couldn’t care less. It’s not that I think that I’m some super beautiful, super attractive person, rather, I acknowledge and appreciate so much of what my body does for me beyond how it appears to others. Here are five examples.
1: I use my ears to listen to my students and clients so I can provide compassionate and social justice-oriented support.
2: I use my fingers to navigate technology so I can talk with my two closest friends, both of whom live in other states right now.
3: I use my arms to dance like a fool in my car, thereby embodying queer Asian joy, while listening to pop and K-pop (ya’ll should have seen some of the moves I busted to “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” after winning this tennis match.)
4: I use my legs and feet to drive, get on the metro, or walk around DC and/or Maryland to meet up with friends and acquaintances who I care about and who care about me.
5: I use my mouth to taste the benevolent goodness of Jeni’s Ice Cream and also my signature breakfast, citrus-flavored yogurt with citrus-flavored fruit snacks mixed in, because I’m fruity af and want that to manifest in the food I consume.
Toni Morrison once wrote “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else.'” Now and over the past few years, a big theme of my therapy practice and research includes liberation from toxic body image standards ingrained in fatphobia, racism, misogyny, etc. There are whole industries that exist with the mission to make people, especially marginalized people, feel bad about their bodies so they can make a profit through selling diets, skin-lighteners, and other products. As a cisgender, able-bodied, average-to-thinner looking man, I recognize my privileges in this discourse and how I have to work to disrupt the systems that imbue me with these privileges. And I’m here to tell you – to tell myself, too – to break up with your negative body image, because it’s boring, in the sense that there’s so much self-love and other emotions to experience beyond self-loathing, even though it may feel hard and take time. The taste of a life and mind beyond disliking one’s body more times than not – to me, it tastes like freedom.
How do you navigate your own body image? Reactions or feelings about the content of this post? Hope everyone is well and I will respond to comments on my latest post ASAP. I also want to acknowledge that Ari’s come under fire for potentially queer-baiting in the music video for “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” which I do not condone, though I love the song itself. See ya’ll next post!
11 responses to “break up with your negative body image, i’m bored”
This is great, I love your descriptions of the physical details of playing tennis and your five things you do with your body that aren’t about how it looks. Great stuff! I try to be kind to myself although I’ve been distressed recently by feeling out of touch with my real feelings thanks to my anti-anxiety drug which has made me hungry ALL THE TIME. I am not a dieter, though I eat carefully to control my cholesterol, but certainly not ascetically, and it’s been really hard to ignore my body’s signals in that way. I have read now that the drug can also alter one’s metabolism, and these facts and experiences have led me to (very carefully!) start to come off them. I’m ramping up marathon training and I need to know when I’m actually hungry for a start!
Anyway, the main thing I do with my body is run and I’m proud I’m a woman in her late 40s who runs marathons, safely and happily.
Thank you for your kind words Liz! It sounds like it’s been tough with the anti-anxiety drug, I’m glad it sounds like you’re doing what you can to try and monitor your internal hunger states and your food consumption in a way that is nourishing and healthy for you. Sending lots of warmth and strength re: the marathon training and hoping that it goes well. I’m proud of you too for how much effort and energy you put into running and the connection and satisfaction you derive from that.
Very wise thoughts! I feel that I’m very much anti-fat-phobia – did I say that right – but wish I felt great about my own body as much as I want others to feel great about theirs.
You did say that right! Thank you for your encouraging comment. (: It def can be hard to feel great about one’s own body – I often think about the notion that body love doesn’t mean feeling great about your body all the time, because loving something doesn’t necessarily mean feeling great about it all the time.
I want to watch you play tennis one of these days. You sound like a warrior when you’re on the court. Thanks for sharing your tips (sweet and sour chicken with lots of good music).
Body image – oh boy. This can be a source of pain, guilt and shame. I’ve never been 100% comfortable with my body. I’ve always been chubby. I remember a few years ago, my bf and I traveled to Taiwan. We went to one of those hot springs. It was supposed to be a popular place for gays. Everyone was buck naked. I just took a deep breath and rolled with the punches. No one said anything, no one looked, mocked etc… There were many different body shapes, including some very cute and hot guys. Right now, I’m slowly working my way back into reasonable shape.
You ask a lot of good questions in your blog that prompts reflection.
Haha omg no I am not a warrior on the court, more so a random guy running around and making odd noises – though I appreciate your kind thoughts of me! And I appreciate you sharing vulnerably about the body being a source of pain, guilt, and shame. I’m glad it sounds like in the anecdote you’ve described that the hot spring was an accepting and non-judgmental space. Hope you’re well Matt!
Thank you for this immensely uplifting post! I too have had to navigate my share of body shaming. I survived anorexia in my early 20s, followed by over-exercising from then thru my 40s. This has resulted in knee injuries that make it impossible to do some of the things I love like running.
I’m a cis settler woman of colour in my mid-50s and continuing to learn the value of self-other respect & love. My yoga practice and teaching is gentle, slow, and focuses on breathing. It can, I’ve learned, help sustain me through nearly everything—including the anti-oppression and resistance work that I indulge in.
Love & warmth,
Thank you for sharing your parts of journey here, Mridula, it means a lot to me. I’m glad it sounds like you’re in the process of learning to value self-other respect and love and have found practices like yoga that are healing and centering for you. Your perspective reminds me that this work of self-liberation can occur across or at multiple points of the life span and that it can help us work to liberate others as well. Sending love and warmth your way too!
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Body image has been a struggle for me at times as well–not having the male “six pack” body and having a stomach that sticks out has definitely affected my body image and self-esteem. Remembering that I have done some pretty cool things with my body has helped me have a more positive outlook on my body than I have in the past.
I have a belly too, and I try to embrace it. Also, bellies aren’t such a bad thing and we’re just taught to freak out about it. It’s something to unlearn but it’s worth it to do so