A couple of months ago I wrote Lightweight, exploring the issue of weight when there’s less of it. At the time I said I wanted to cover this issue more and I have spoken before about wanting to see more men on Exposing 40. Last night a friend read out a Facebook post from one of her male friends. As soon as she started reading I just knew I wanted to post it here. Happily he said yes, so I am very honoured to repost some very powerful and important words about male body positivity.
I had a busy couple of days this past weekend, (heck, the last couple of weekends), but I’ve had a lot of time to think in between and there have been a few things stuck in my head, bouncing around, that I’ve thought about sharing including one very personal thing about my journey to get in shape. This week I crossed a threshold that I’ve never crossed before in my entire life. Today I weighed in at over 150 lbs for the first time ever (152 to be exact). I don’t like to talk about my weight and almost never mention it because it usually comes with someone making a comment about me being lucky or “I wish I had that problem” but I’ve struggled with my weight all my life; not getting rid of it, putting it on. Growing up, and even in early adulthood, I was constantly inundated with people telling me I need to eat more or saying I look like I was starving and need to put on some weight or any number of beanpole references. I didn’t even break 100 lbs until I was almost in college.
One time when was about 16 I went to a friend’s relative’s house for dinner. She kept insisting I eat more because I was so skinny. She plopped seconds on my plate and pushed dessert in front of me. I tried to politely refuse but ended up giving in, and shortly after dinner threw up in the bathroom from eating so much. I never told my friend or his mom, but it felt horrible. I was so embarrassed and felt unbelievably ashamed. It was like that at a lot of dinners when I was a kid, although thankfully not with my close family. People saw my weight as a problem they needed to fix or at least tell me how to fix.
Being the skinniest boy in Junior and High school also meant I was voted most likely to get my ass kicked for no reason other than most people could. As an adult it got slightly better but still had its issues. For my first real professional job, I had to shop in the boys section at the department store to find dress pants that would fit me.
Needless to say I’ve had a pretty bad body image almost my entire life, but I never talk about it. Partly because I know so many people struggle with losing weight and see being skinny as the perfect way to be, and partly because no one takes it seriously. I’m not trying to say that what I’ve gone through is harder or worse than what anyone else has gone through regarding any body shaming but what I felt was and is real nonetheless.
But today I’m proud. Today I’m happy for me. I smiled at a scale for the first time in my life. And it was a real scale! The kind with the sliding weights and everything. And I didn’t have shoes or heavy clothes on either. This was legit.
I share this because for the first time in my life I’m starting to feel good about my body, and that’s something that guys (and particularly skinny guys) never ever talk about, but I can assure you there are lots of us who feel it. We just can’t and don’t talk about it.
I love my body right now and it makes me happy, and if I can share my happy and cause someone else feel that way too, then sharing is worth it.
It’s been a while since I have been behind the camera for an Exposing 40 collaboration, but what a pleasure to bring you Chiaroscuro. I got the tip off that he was approaching the Big Four O and up for a photography adventure a couple of months back, so a plan was hatched. Anyone who follows Chiaroscuro on Twitter will know he’s pretty handy with a camera himself, so I knew my photos would need to be pretty different to stand out. As a counter to his distinctive and often quite dramatic black and white shots I wanted mine to be green, fresh, carefree and fun – so off we went on a ramble on the North Downs.
The day was as fun the photos suggest, but the stand out moment for me was how surprised and happy he was as we later flicked through the photos over a pint. ‘Look at your back! Look at your leg muscles!’ There really is nothing like having someone else turn their lens on you to tell their story for making you see yourself – and appreciate yourself – differently. I am so happy that getting involved with Exposing 40 achieves this for those who trust this little project. So with no further ado, I bring you The Naked Rambler…
Some of you may have seen my post earlier in the week about male nudes. I mentioned towards the end of the piece that I hadn’t had any men get involved with Exposing 40 yet and I hoped that changed because body positivity is not just a women’s issue.
Mike H left this comment:
“I liked reading this. As a 41 year old who isn’t happy with my self-image and is more comfortable behind the camera, it would be nice to see the discussion opening up about men who aren’t buff, tanned, bearded or tattooed. I have moobs and love handles and a tummy so I’m doubtful that I would ever be brave enough to pose, but who knows, my partner likes my naked body – I may let her loose with my camera for a while.”
I suggested I’d be happy to host a photo when the time felt right. The conversation continued over DM on Twitter and, well, it turns out the right time was sooner than expected…
So, here’s Mike!
I am extremely honoured that he took these photos, very very proud that Exposing 40 has encouraged this bravery, and so happy that Sinful Sunday exists to give my little effort a voice within a community.
Mike sent me four photos and I chose two. I love the relaxed reclining on the sofa photo and the sense of humour that shines through with the use of the Beef book! And the chest shot? Well, the sense of power in the image and that strong mouth and fabulous stubble meant I just had to create a broody black and white edit to complement the colour version…
“How beautiful maleness is, if it finds its right expression.”
I am over at Oleander Plume’s place today sharing some of my favourite male nudes. When I started that guest post I went down a rabbit hole of reading about the history of the male nude in art and photography. What I read was interesting, but not altogether surprising – analysis of the male nude continues to be largely focused on historical warrior imagery or the overt sexualisation of the body, most obviously seen in the work of photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe and Herb Ritts.
Exhibit A snuck in ahead of me on this issue yesterday and posted his own excellent reflections on male nudity, but I was pleased to read it as interestingly he touched on the same of the issues of aggression in male nudity that art critics frequently raise, saying some men “use their nudity as a way of imposing and asserting their power over women.” I don’t disagree that this is an issue to be mindful of, but I do think using this as a starting point can limit our ability to articulate, interpret and enjoy the beauty of the male body, sexualised or not.
There can be huge disparity in responses to very similar photography simply because of the gender of the subject. When Mapplethorpe toured his work in the late 1980s and early 1990s, charges of obscenity were brought against a museum, yet Man Ray (who was not without his own critics, of course) had not faced such charges sixty years earlier: why are we allowed to appreciate Man Ray’s women in bondage as art but not Mapplethorpe’s men? Similarly, when Leopold Museum in Vienna curated a retrospective called Nude Men from 1800 to the present day in 2012 public outcry forced them to apply ‘modesty’ stickers to publicity posters. At the time the museum director expressed disappointment that this should happen in the 21st century when they had held numerous exhibitions of the female nude with no complaints.
Some would argue that this is born out of art’s reflection of society’s casual acceptance of the objectification of women. I don’t disagree that this is part of the problem, but I am not taking this piece down that avenue and it’s stating the obvious to say that not all nudity is objectification. I think the more pertinent point here is that by continuing to attach labels of aggression, fear or distaste to the naked male body society censors opportunities to enjoy, appreciate and celebrate it. I enjoy looking at female nudes – sometimes I admire the camera work or composition, sometimes I get ideas for my own work, sometimes I become less (and if I am honest, sometimes more) intimidated by my own naked body, and sometimes I just think ‘wow, that’s hot’! Frankly, in the name of equality I want the same opportunity to seek inspiration from, artfully critique and perve at as many male nudes as I can women. And let’s be honest here, with current state of play there are far fewer good nudes of men than there are of women.
More than one person has asked me why there are no men on Exposing 40. I have photographed men and these can be seen elsewhere, but so far none under this banner. There are plans afoot to photograph a male friend for this project in a few weeks’ time, and as a result of Exposing 40 others have spoken to me about their changing relationship with their bodies as they age. Hopefully some of those conversations will move out of the pub and onto the screen, but so far the women in my life are definitely owning this project. I am pleased this blog is giving them a platform to discuss their bodies and insecurities, but I don’t want men to be left out. I have said it before but body positivity is not just a women’s issue. In fact it’s one of the things that’s easier to talk about as a woman and I would like to see that change.
Ongoing debate about how men responsibly present and consider the power of their nude body is important, and we can’t escape how male nakedness was historically used as an overt expression of power, but I hope the narrative evolves. I hope we are soon occupying an artistic space where men can more freely celebrate their beauty and use imagery to explore their own relationships with their body without self or social censorship.