In the spirit of body image healing, my dear friend, Alex Amorosi, has graciously accepted my invitation to share his story.
Alex is a masterful yoga instructor, trainer, and healer. And I have no doubt that his personal journey of body image healing will inspire your own. Thank you Alex.
I’m not quite sure how to begin, as it’s the first time I’ve written openly about this aspect of my experience. But suffice to say I wanted to shed light on some of the ways gay culture and growing up gay has affected my own view of my body and myself. I wanted to talk about some of the reasons why I think gay culture is so disordered in its relationship to health, body, and food. I also wanted to be a voice for any men suffering with these issues and hopefully open up some discussion and room for healing. All of what I write about here is from my own observations and experience, and I make no claims to be speaking universally for all gay men or to be unpacking all the varied and complex issues that can contribute to body-image shame and difficulties with food.
I’ll preface by saying I was never formally treated for an eating disorder. However I spent my teen years to my early thirties in a very complicated relationship with food and exercise. I also spent these years in almost pure hatred of my body and deep issues with control and guilt around food. I’ve seen partners, friends, and other gay men that I know deal with similar issues in different ways.
I read in an article once that gay men often live in mortal terror of rejection. I think as we grow up our internal experience of our sexuality can make us feel extremely isolated and alone. We desperately want to be seen and validated for who we really are. When we finally get approval and validation, be it by healthy or unhealthy methods, the fear of being shunned back into that place of isolation is terrifying.
One way we try to save ourselves from this “ricochet rejection” is by being the most perfect we can be. We jack ourselves up at the gym, make as much money as we possibly can, adorn ourselves with the most and the best of everything including other men, and hope that this constant perfect image will be enough to prevent us from falling back into that excruciating pit of loneliness. We hope that if our self-image is just right it will cut the rope that keeps threatening to pull us back into the pain. We try rep after rep, man after man, controlled meal after controlled meal, to stay above ground.
We hope that by being perfect we’ll be beyond reproach. We won’t be bullied and humiliated anymore. We’ll have some sense of power and be able to laugh off those who once tore us down. We might even achieve this to some degree. But if we rely on the externals of our lives always being and looking a certain way to give us power, we’ll always feel unstable and insecure. We’ll never have enough and we’ll never be enough. We’ll look for more muscle tone, bigger houses, fancier clothes, more sex and sexual partners, more validation and more approval all to keep shoring up an inner house of sand constantly being eroded by the rising tide of our insecurity.
So many times for gay men, this perfect image manifests in our relationship to our bodies. If we could just get it all perfect, toned, jacked, eliminate all the bad and untidy bits then we’d be lovable and ok. I spent years berating my body. No matter how thin or how jacked I forced myself to be I never ever thought I looked good enough. I’d pinch the minuscule amount of fat on my hips every day and think about how disgusting I looked.
I endured many years of subtle and overt body shaming from men I dated because I thought this was normal and what I deserved. Many gay men can regale you with tales of the mean-spirited, body-based insults hurled at them by other gay men. For my part a sample of what I’ve heard from partners, men I’ve dated, or online chats:
- If we’re going to date I’m going to make you go to the gym to get bigger muscles.
- Your body is gross, but your face is ok.
- You should watch how many carbs you eat it would make you sexier.
- Maybe if you didn’t eat so late at night you’d be thinner.
I felt I deserved all this for not having the “discipline” to be perfect. I allowed partners to shame me publicly for how I looked, embarrassing me for embarrassing them in front of other men for not having the trophy body to make them feel good about themselves. Never mind that I had and have a really healthy, fit, yoga body. There were imperfections in their eyes that could be an opening to humiliation and disapproval.
For me this all led to years of disordered eating, exercise addiction, abysmal self-esteem, and isolating shame. I still look back at that time in my life with some amount of sadness; that I saw myself as flawed and unhealthy instead of the perfectionist body-culture of gay men as flawed and unhealthy. That I was so shallow myself I thought my looks and body were all that gave me self-worth. Who cares that I’m intelligent, reasonably handsome, fit, caring, kind, giving, and sometimes maybe even funny? The only thing I believed made me worthy was an unreasonable and unattainable standard of body perfection I held in my mind. And that perfection was a relentless taskmaster that could never be pleased.
So where am I today? After many years of seeing incredible therapists, spiritual teachers and practice, yoga, and meditation, I’m in an exponentially happier place. I’m able to look at my body with genuine love and kindness. I move my body now, in yoga or at the gym, for the pleasure of movement and for my health rather than weight loss. I eat according to what my body wants to eat when my body is hungry. I remembered how to have pleasure again in cooking, food, and eating. Now of course, I haven’t overcome all my vanity or insecurities, but they no longer rule me. I see more of the things that make me a lovable human being and see myself as a whole person not just an object. I know now clearly what I will and will not accept from men I date. I know my value and my worth are innate because I am human, not defined by any standard of imaginary perfection concocted by my mind or imposed on me from anyone else. In essence, I finally love myself.
In the almost 50 years since the Stonewall Riots gay men have fought tirelessly for acceptance and civil rights. We watched friends, partners and whole neighborhoods be wiped out by AIDS. We watched our brothers be taunted, beaten and killed. We marched, went to court for our civil rights, and created a world where new generations of gay men can grow up with greater ease and much less fear. I’ll be damned if we’re going to let all of that work be overshadowed by our own continued self-hatred and self-abuse. It’s time for us to look inwards as a community, to really look at ourselves and heal those poor tender spaces of fear and isolation. It’s time we worked for our inner rights to feel lovable and accepted just as we are. It’s time we loved each other and ourselves with greater openness and ease. It’s time we allow ourselves the freedom and joy of authentic love that we all deserve.
Alex Amorosi, ERYT, Reiki Master Teacher
Alex Amorosi Yoga and Healing LLC
Check out my website and full range of natural healing services: AlexAmorosiYoga.com
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Check out my yoga classes: www.hypstudio.com and www.artemisyoga.com
NEW PROGRAM: Yoga Therapy Training – Do you (or your clients) struggle with poor body image, feel disconnected from your body, or experience resistance in getting to know your body? Have you endured a negative relationship to exercise and want to reclaim movement in a gentle and compassionate way? Do you feel stagnated in your recovery from an eating disorder due to the challenge of relating to your body?
If so, we wanted to let you know that Sarah Patten, RD, LDN, RYT is excited to announce she is now offering individual yoga sessions. Sarah approaches these sessions through a therapeutic lens with the hope of empowering clients to foster connection to their body, engage in gentle and compassionate movement, and develop mindfulness and grounding skills.
Appropriate for all levels and abilities. Participants must be medically cleared for movement, however, sessions are not intended to be high intensity.
Private Yoga Sessions: 50 minutes, $110