By: Kristen Pizzo, Project HEAL San Jose Chapter Leader
Meet my boyfriend: three-fourths Italian, five foot nine, dark hair, bright eyes and mile-long lashes. He’s got a unique, unheard-of name that sounds like it’s right off the pages of a John Green novel. A cute chuckle of a laugh that can go from making him sound like a jolly old soul to just downright adorable. He has hands like a baby’s and soft cheeks to match. A nice backside, strong arms to embrace me with, and overall, a body that shouldn’t be taken for granted. No, he doesn’t have washboard abs, rippling biceps, or super toned, muscular pectorals. But an extremely nice, desirable body nonetheless. I wouldn’t want him any other way. But he does.
He told me when we first met. I took it as a joke, because clearly he wasn’t. But that wasn’t so clear to him.
“My thighs are fat. “
“I hate waking up in the morning and seeing myself in the mirror shirtless, seeing my fat legs in my boxers. “
“I have man-boobs and you know it.”
“I don’t know if I want to go swimming because I’ll be shirtless.”
Despite the increasing seriousness in his daily comments, I still took them as jokes because of the times when they seemed like innocent remarks. I saw no strange, unhealthy pattern in his eating or exercising, and because of this, I assumed he was in no danger of an eating disorder, and, therefore, perfectly fine. Well, you know what they say about assuming.
“I wear big shirts to hide my rolls.”
“You must go for bigger guys.”
“Why would you date me when I look like this?”
“I don’t like eating in front of you.”
“I’m so afraid of what other people think.”
Though his words were beginning to echo my thoughts of the past, I still believed I was overreacting, taking it too dramatically. Then:
We were on an afternoon walk through the neighborhood one day. He said something that I cannot recall, that prompted me to teasingly lift his shirt and mime taking it off. At first, he laughed and scolded me for trying to do that in public, but after, he grew quiet and solemn, a serious, unhappy, dead look in his eyes and I knew something was very wrong.
“What’s wrong babe?” I asked, several times.
“I won’t tell you if you keep asking,” he said.
“I’m concerned. I’m asking because I care.”
It was another block before he finally responded.
“It’s just that I’m not very lenient about people’s opinions. I mean I care what other people think and I’m worried about it and I don’t want them to see me with my shirt off. “
“There was no one around.”
“There was the UPS guy.”
Again, I couldn’t take him seriously. But the look in his eyes when he first became upset was undeniable. He truly meant it.
I told him to hell with what anyone, especially strangers, thought. They’d never have any effect on his life, never matter to him. He wouldn’t have it.
Later that day, I made the mistake of flipping through a Men’s Health magazine while lounging with him on the couch. I meant it as a joke, so that we could laugh at all the bizarre lifestyle tips and new “discoveries” about women, known facts that men were just finding out. What I knew but did not realize at the moment, was that opening a men’s magazine, to a guy, is as toxic as leafing through a celebrity gossip magazine is for a girl.
Ads for weight loss pills screamed at us from every other page, featuring men who were perfectly fit in the before, “fat” pictures and simply “ripped” in the after.
Fitness plans and extreme workouts promised more muscular, toned, desirable bodies, and strange protein powder concoction ads displayed disgusting, sweaty, men who could pass as the Hulk if they were painted green.
Swimsuits were advertised only on the thinnest, most toned of models, setting an unrealistic example of what it means to be desirable to a woman.
“Statistics” from readers proclaimed that if your penis is more or less than seven inches, fewer women will want you.
I looked on and listened in horror as my boyfriend, my gorgeous, funny, adorable beau, uttered the damning words, “I wish I looked like that”.
The feelings of inadequacy a guy can experience when seeing such unrealistic standards mirror that of a woman’s to a T. It is no different. The negativity, self-hate, and unhappiness with my body that spiraled into my eating disorder and still lingers now, after recovery, are things I see in my boyfriend each day. It does not matter that he eats as any boy his age does: skipping breakfast and lunch only to pig out at home and later eat his routine dessert of peanut butter ice cream (he won’t eat any other flavor). The fact that his eating and exercise habits are “normal” does not mean he is mentally healthy and stable. His negative body image and what seems like body dysmorphia at times, though it does not translate into his eating, is still hurting him. And I hate to say it, but though I always discourage him from negative thinking and tell him the way I see him, I am not helping the issue when my own insecurities come up and negative remarks about my own eating and looks come out of my mouth. I know now that this is no joke. Mirrors and scales deceive and hurt boys and men too. In order to guide my boyfriend on the path to loving himself and accepting his flaws the way I love and accept him, I must set an example. Because though he is a different kind of warrior, he is fighting the same battle.