20/11/2013 09:17 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

International Men's Day and My Struggles With Body Image


Inspired by Ally Fog's brave piece, I decided to recall my own experiences in an effort to detail years of anxiety and struggles with masculinity.

When I was very young, I underwent open-heart surgery for an atrial septal defect (hole in the heart). The six-inch scar it left down my chest became the visible manifestation of my body insecurities. For years, I would never take my shirt off at the beach, even when my mother tried to convince me nobody would judge. Quite often, her words did little to comfort me but I would eventually heed her advice. I even considered getting a tattoo to deflect attention from my scar.

On the BMI scale I have been classed as underweight throughout my adult life. I have tried several ways to gain weight meaningfully, but living in a rural area makes joining a gym a logistical and financial headache.

I spoke for so long about visiting the doctor's and finding some miracle cure for my lack of weight gain (despite a ferocious appetite). Yet, the prospect still terrifies me. I have yet to make that phone call to book an appointment.

In the past, when I have tried to open up about my weight problems, both men and women have responded with scorn. "Join a gym," "do some sit-ups and push-ups," "eat more red meat," were the usual retorts. More painfully, some women would tell I should be so lucky to eat what I want without fear of weight-gain, or "it's fine for some!" Of course body image and body shaming is far more prevalent across media for women but these experiences taught me to be quiet about these problems for fear of similar responses.

Thinking back to my childhood, I believe an absence of a suitable male role model or father figure fuelled my misconceptions of masculinity. My father left when I was incredibly young and the yearning I felt for a nurturing father would not arrive until my early-teens. The other stopgap father in my childhood only served to reinforce a belief that I was weak for crying. As a result, my introspectiveness grew. Even today, I still struggle with my cultural identity as I seek to learn about my Spanish heritage, but I will tell that story another time.

As an adult, I feel my negative body image fuelled my crisis of confidence that was the footnote to my school years. A crippling shyness made approaching the opposite sex an impossibility. I was already described as "odd" and this behaviour merely fuelled the "fag" comments.

In the few relationships I have had, my insecurities are always tweaked by sexual fantasies of male-dominance that I know I might not fully fulfil. Sometimes, it feels like I fall short of the masculine ideal and my unhappiness grows.

I avoided the temptation to mock International Men's Day. My scorn is saved for those who hijack the debate with disgusting attacks on misandry and feminism. Like any ally, I do my best to listen and learn from those who deal with these issues on a daily basis. However, without Ally's article and the space it created, I could not have written this piece.