This is an open letter to me, myself, and I (and anyone else who decides to read it).
To all the flabby, gay, black boys out there,
You are loved.
This letter goes out to all the queer men and boys of color who grew up in a white man’s world. Who were raised to believe that being thin and muscular meant to be beautiful.
All those guys who can’t get rid of the pounds and can’t escape the flab, you are seen and you are not alone.
I grew up fairly skinny. A happy little gay boy in waiting who was untouched by the world. Unfortunately, I later gained weight. My mother, bless her heart, often resorted to buying McDonalds for me and my two siblings. No shame on her, of course, but a boy eating two double cheeseburgers regularly is bound to gain some flab. Flab that I still carry at the age of 24.
By 10, I was wearing shirts in the pool. By 11, I was looking at my thighs like they were chicken drumsticks. By 12, I was starving myself. By 14, I had stopped looking in the mirror at all.
To this day, I still don’t have a positive body image of myself. Even after I’ve long stopped starving myself and gained some semblance of “skininess,” I’m still not happy. Honestly, I think of myself as “skinny fat.” While I look thin with my clothes on, the flab bounces out once I take my shirt off. And I’m constantly thinking about it.
We talk a lot about beauty standards placed on women, but rarely talk about how it affects men. The world echoes pressure on men and their looks all the time. We see models who are skinny and muscular, watch superhero movies with obligatory shirtless scenes, and Instagrammers with bodies for careers.
It didn’t used to be like this, but things started to change in the 1980s and 90s. As cultural analyst Susan Bordo wrote in her paper “Beauty (Re)Discovers the Male Body:“
“For a culture obsessed with youth and fitness, in contrast, sagging flesh is almost the ultimate signifier of decay and disorder. We prefer the clean machine-and are given it, in spades. Purified of ‘flaws, all loose skin tightened, armored with implants, digitally enhanced, the bodies of most movie stars and models are fully dressed even when naked.”
It’s even worse for gay men. We’re constantly being fed this constant story that gay men must have muscles. From pornography to club dancers, we are reminded that a fit body is a hot body.
Let’s not forget that this is a white man’s world. It becomes even harder to associate yourself with beauty if you don’t fit white and light-skinned standards. Dark skinned actors and models are edited to look lighter in photos. That’s if they get a job in the first place.
All this negativity is to say that it’s hard to be a body positive queer man of color in this world. But, of course, that was pretty easy to tell without me saying it.
But lately, I’ve been starting to think something. That I deserve better. That I deserve joy, self-love, and a body-positive self.
So what if I’m not this muscular, white Adonis? So what if I can pinch the fat on my stomach and smack it like a drum? That is me. That is my body and a piece of my being. My existence. My essence.
Take a look at yourself. Look in that mirror that you so avoid. Stare at the belly that you so hate. Shake that chest that bounces like jelly. That is you. That is your body and a part of who you are.
If you want to be skinnier, that’s fine. Work for it. But you do not need to drag yourself down in order to idolize a smaller frame. This is you in the moment. Claim it. Celebrate it. Love it.
Even better, use it. Roll with the fat and make it your own. I’ve found that once lost, confidence is hard to get back. We look for some external force to tell us to be confident, but it never comes. I’ve waited years to either get fit or have someone teach me how to be ok with the body that I have. Still waiting.
Realistically, I need to make myself confident. Fake it till you make it, and all. Stand in front of that mirror and think, ‘Yeah. That’s me.” Matter of fact, period, close, that’s just how it is. Claim it, own it, know it.
It won’t be easy and it won’t be fast. Nothing good ever is. But everything worthwhile in this world takes time. So, each day I will get up and stare at myself in the mirror. Force myself to look at those growing love handles, those developing “unmanly curves,” and those tiny peaks I call a chest. And you know what? Everyday, I will tell myself that this is me. And that’s ok. In fact, that’s pretty damn great.
My body is a part of me and I am not apologizing for it any longer. Love is finding someone who will stay. Who will accept all the pros and cons. So, love yourself and your body. Accept it all. And then, someone else will come along, eventually, to do the same.
To all the black, gay boys who are chubby or skinny fat, you are loved. If not by the world, then at least by me.