Working to feel comfortable in my skin started with basic health but has morphed into a key component of my body identity–thank goodness for dysphoria
My exercise journey was born out of necessity. A practical necessity. It was my work that was the trigger. The demands of a job that had me flying half-way around the world every other week for two years was literally punishing me physically.
I will admit too, that I had reached “teddy bear” shape, which my wife loved but made me cringe. Physical wellness became essential to me as a way to cope with the stresses of that life, but very quickly began to morph into something far more important and fundamental.
While this general physical deterioration had been going on for years, I had been blessed with a slim frame and high metabolism. Those gifts were being wasted by laziness and over-indulgence. My parents were also dying as all of this unfolded. If I look at them, I see so clearly what steps they took towards physical well-being from their 40’s onwards has been the strongest indicator of the way they were able to enjoy their twilight years. I’d hate to be decrepit, and I am now smart enough to see that work today will pay off for many tomorrows.
My first few runs were painful, awkward, and embarrassingly short. I was out of breath, struggling. Even doing jumping jacks, an exercise I considered in my youth to be non-exercise, was tuckering me out.
And yes, while the spark for this journey was given by work, the true underlying motivation was about my body shape, not being able to fit into clothes that I wanted to wear—and used to slip right into, and just not liking how I looked.
I started out with ugly and boring men’s running outfits, but it wasn’t long before I started finding skimpier things in the lady’s section. And I can’t tell you what a positive motivator it was to wear women’s workout gear. What you wear really does shape your mindset about exercise. [Written about here]. It was a huge motivator to slip into a pair of lululemon hottie shorts. For one, they look great on me. For two, they make me feel good. For three, they really, really make me want to work my body in a way that reinforces those first two things.
Women’s workout gear is designed for a female body shape, which is the way it looks best. It acts as a guide for me on where to focus. But I also like that it challenges my own sense of what looks good and right on me and helps me to find innocent joy in the things I wear. And I think that there is a political dimension to this too—why should a man accept such drab attire? Why should a man hide so much of his body? Bathing suits that go to the knee or below? That’s like what people wore in the 1920’s…who wants to go swimming in their clothes?
Yes, the choice of clothing and the chance to shop for cute outfits has been a really important part of the journey for me. So too, has finding the comfort to wear the things I have bought in public. People won’t care if I don’t care. That’s something my wife said to me years ago. “You want to dress that way, then don’t hide it. Go out in public, don’t make it something you hide in the bedroom and expect me to be a part of a secret. No secrets.” She was right but it has taken me a long time to live it. How could I have ever married anyone else? She sets very high standards.
The other part of this is the shape of my body. I do exercises that enhance the shape that I am looking for. I don’t seek out plans that build muscle in a male profile, but rather focus on being lean, slim, and flexible—ballerina exercises—strength without bulk, grace. I follow a bunch of internet coaches [written about here] who stray into diet, lifestyle, but I am mainly interested in their workouts. And I will just say to a man who thinks that women’s workouts are not going to be hard—just try some of them—you’ll be shaking. What I love about them is that they work in the way that I need them to.
Think for a moment of the idea that exercising your way out of a teddy bear body into one that is slinky in a long silk dress—androgyny is sexy…and working the body with energy, focus, and diet are enough to make it possible. Yes, would I love more explicit female curves? Without a doubt. But getting there in this way still feels pretty good.
Channelling dysphoria–and that sick feeling I would get when I looked at my body in the mirror and saw not just the ravages of sloth, but more than anything, that the most important part of me was disappearing because I wasn’t taking enough care of myself. And yes, body care, working out, is one of the most fundamental aspects of self-care. What do they say? If you can’t love yourself, how can you love anyone else? And you can also not expect people to love you if you don’t respect yourself first. Gender dysphoria just takes all of that and ratchets it up a few notches. But what I found is that in my case it has become the most motivator.
And you know what, five years in on this, there isn’t a day that goes by without me taking care to preserve and enhance what I’ve got. I haven’t felt this comfortable in my skin in a very, very long time.
I think of how society pressures us, especially women, to have a body that is sexy. Unfortunately, this push is typically couched in the male gaze. And that might work for some people, but I just want to look good and feel good for me. So if I can kick this sack of potatoes into shape, just imagine what you can do. I am not recommending being dysphoric even though it lies at the root of my own motivation, but surely you will find your own happiness when you realise that your body belongs to you and is one of the keys to your happiness. Own it, live it, love it.