How can I feel happy about being a skinny male (125 pounds, 6 feet tall) when I have never felt comfortable in my own skin?
July 13, 2012 12:30 PM   Subscribe

How can I feel happy about being a skinny male (125 pounds, 6 feet tall) when I have never felt comfortable in my own skin?

I have never been satisfied with my body image because I am constantly trying to manage a case of cognitive dissonance. I am a thin (currently 125 pounds and 6 feet tall), gay male in my mid-twenties and I don't ever remember feeling comfortable in my own skin. My weight has fluctuated in the past as I try to gain weight and then loose it…honestly, I'm not really sure what body type I would feel comfortable in. Interestingly enough, my identical twin brother feels similar about himself.

Growing up I was bullied…probably more than the average kid. I would say that most of the bullying revolved around me being gay, but I also related it to being skinny. I felt like being skinny made me weak and an easy target for bullies. I could never really stand up for myself. Fortunately, I had great friends and a supportive family (still do) who always made me feel loved and accepted for who I was.

I would say that I am a relatively attractive male but I always thought I could feel better about myself if I just gained more weight. I have some idea's as to why I feel this way. I am not really that effeminate but I feel feminine because of my body, which bothers me. I have female friends who are always saying, "Oh I wish I had your body!" C'mon, I don't consider that a compliment. I also feel like I look very young because my body size. A lot people are quite surprised by my actual age…how could they not be when i have a teenagers body. I wonder if people take me seriously because of this and especially considering I have a fairly professional job. I've even had clients talk down to me before, which is very frustrating. One client I was advising kept relating me to her son and would amplify her years of experience beyond me. Thats happened a few times…I've asked coworkers if they've experienced this and they said not really.

The thing I hate the most is when people feel the need to make ingenuous comments about my body size… saying *Oh wow, you are so skinny! You should eat something!" This is not unusual for me to hear. I still don't understand why some people think it's okay to criticize skinny people. You'd never say to an obese person, "Wow, you are so fat…lay off the cookies!" Maybe I'm too sensitive and I care too much about what people think…but honestly, who wouldn't feel slightly offended by a comment like this? It just reinforces this stamina I feel about being thin. Thin people have feelings to ya know...

Last spring and summer, I was fed up with being thin and thought to myself, "seriously, stop complaining and do something about it." I started working out hard and eating a ton more. In turn, I gained about 20 pounds…some muscle, some fat. I wasn't overly toned but I looked bigger. I would get these random, punctuated moments of relief…like "finally, I can start to feel better about myself" But ironically, when I looked at myself, I didn't feel like me. I did get a lot of people noticing my weight gain, and most of my male friends complimented me. Some old friends I met up with were impressed at the difference in my appearance. I kind of felt annoyed by the compliments…like why did it take me gaining weight to get these compliments? Regardless, for some reason I felt like my new body didn't suit me…I looked strange. My small frame didn't look right with this weight on it. When I looked in the mirror, I didn't see me. I still wasn't happy *sigh*.

I had a stressful year this past year because of work, school, and a break up…I ended up loosing most of the weight I had gained. "Bummer" I thought and at first I was pretty disappointed, but then relieved in a weird way. I thought "actually, I don't mind being thin…it's more me. I should really just accept myself for who I am and stop trying to be something that's unattainable and doesn't suit me."

Something shifted in my mind the last few months and now I'm back to my old mentality…I want to gain weight again! These shifts in my mindset can happen because of impetuous, random thoughts. Sometimes I have two opposing thoughts simultaneously…like I want to gain weight and loose weight at the same time. I don't know why I am always unsatisfied with my body. Yes, I can see some underpinning reasons and social issues as to why…but c'mon…I really need to just get over these negative thoughts. I want to stop stressing about this because I do feel happy with myself on many other levels. I understand that I have to just accept myself for who I am, and not put so much emphasis on this shallow issue. I've even talked to a professional counsellor before…and done some self-confidence exercises. But, at the end of the day, these thoughts just never really go away. How can they when people are always rubbing it in my face? Even my friends joke around and talk about how narrow I look. Sometimes the joking gets out of hand and I get upset. An ex boyfriend told me that I should eat more, which was code for gain more weight (and trust me, I can eat and eat and eat). Another ex use to always "jokingly" squeezing my arms and ask when I was going to start working out more. The only time my twin brother compliments me is when I've noticeably gained weight. My motcho dad has spent most of my teens and earlier adulthood making workout and meal plans for me and my brother in order to get bigger. I've tried thinking through this whole weight issue, not thinking about it, meditating on it, not meditating on it, journaling about it, writing affirmations, pretended to like my body (fake it till you make it), stopped looking in mirrors, ect… I feel like the subconscious mind cant accept something it doesn't like…but what if I never like this part of myself? I like my personality, talents, and ambitions, I like my morals and values, I think I am decent looking overall…I like a lot about myself, but I just don't like this negativity I feel towards my body.

So my question is, how do I just be content with my body? How do I decide if I want to gain weight or stay thin…or how do I truly stop thinking about this despite all my efforts?
posted by jpritcha to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
May I suggest growing a beard and/or dressing "older" if you're trying to be taken more seriously, especially if you don't feel you're taken seriously at work. A beard will ALWAYS make you look older -- it ages my skinny boyfriend about 10 years (and gives him a chin!).
posted by jabes at 12:43 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two things.

1. Have you seen a doctor? Or a nutritionist? IANAD, but I do know there are some disorders that result in excessive thinness. Additionally, extremely low body weight (BMI < 18) can have some negative health effects. It might be worth it to rule out a physical cause and/or ensure that you are getting proper nutrition and an appropriate calorie intake, regardless of how much you weigh.

2. Would you consider trying therapy again but with a different focus? It seems to me that a lot of the negativity you feel is related to how other people interact with you and not so much how you feel about yourself. Maybe you could work on learning skills to help you deal with the comments other people make, either directly or internally.
posted by xyzzy at 12:47 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm 6'3" and was 145 lbs up until I was 33 years old (I'm 40 now). I've always had self-image issues that turned into self-esteem issues. What helped me:

I turn to jiu-jitsu. My long skinny arms and legs turned into lethal weapons. After a couple years I could easily take on people twice my weight and choke them out in a matter of seconds.

What I thought was once a negative became a positive. My self-image improved and so did my self-esteem.
posted by bleucube at 12:49 PM on July 13, 2012

At your age, I was 6'1" and 129, so I feel your pain. I'm now 41, and here's what I've learned (that I wish I knew back then) -- perhaps it can help you.

1. You shouldn't be wearing loose clothes to hide how thin you are. Reasonably tight clothes are your friend, no matter how silly you feel. Enlist the help of fashionable friends to help you here, and trust their assessment of your appearance more than your own. Being comfortable in your clothes is important for being comfortable in your skin, and getting positive feedback from your fashionable friends will help you here.

2. Apparently my skinniness was hot back then (80s), and in retrospect I got a lot of positive attention because of it; I just thought people gave me attention despite it. Embrace your body, because more people appreciate it than you think...especially since skinniness is hot again.

3. The older you get, the better you'll look. Inevitably, despite years of trying to gain weight and failing, you'll start gaining some weight in your 30s...and you'll look better than most of your peers, whose bodies start to look bad at the same time yours starts to look a little more filled out. So each year that goes by, you get to look better even if you don't do anything about your weight. At least, until you're in your early 40s. So enjoy it while you can.

4. Go look at videos of people like Iggy Pop and Johnny Rotten, and how insanely thin they were...but also insanely confident and attractive to their audience. Seriously, you could get away with fronting a band like that (from a looks perspective, I don't know if you have any talent) just by virtue of being thin and wiry. Man, if I'd realized that back then, I would have rocked it so hard.

5. You have height, my friend, and that's more important than weight when it comes to being a guy. And by the way, standing up for yourself -- even if you get beat up -- is more important than not being beat up, and your height helps there. I still remember being beat up a lot in grade school, until I was suddenly taller than my peers, and also stronger (you're thin, right, but that doesn't mean you're weak); I got jumped by three guys, and not only couldn't they bring me down, but I walked calmly to a neighbor's house for assistance, dragging them along with me (they ran when I rang the doorbell.) That was the end of bullying.

6. People who squeeze your arms and ask when you're going to start working out more are identical to people who pat your belly and ask when you're going to start eating less. In short, they're dicks, and should be treated as such. You don't have to be sensitive about it, mind you -- everyone could benefit from a thicker skin -- but you should file them under "asshole" and treat them accordingly.

7. Every partner I've ever had, and I've had more than a few, loved how skinny I was, and many wanted to hook up with me specifically because of it. Believe me, you're more attractive than you realize, a lot more. Like, tons more. Like, I personally thought I looked much better now, but then a friend saw a video of me from my late teens and blurted out "oh my god you were HOT!"

8. Your twin brother probably compliments you because he sees how hard you're working to gain weight, and he wants to be supportive. Just putting that out there.

Last but not least: your father is the biggest problem here, because he's spent so many years framing you and your brother's bodies as a problem that needs to be solved. He's wrong; being skinny is AWESOME, and the day I finally accepted that was the day that I realized I was the only one who cared. If your dad keeps on caring, that's his problem, and you can tell him you'll follow his meal plan the day that he follows your "stop being a dick and making me feel bad about my body" plan -- which is to say, never.
posted by davejay at 12:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [24 favorites]

3. The older you get, the better you'll look. Inevitably, despite years of trying to gain weight and failing, you'll start gaining some weight in your 30s...and you'll look better than most of your peers, whose bodies start to look bad at the same time yours starts to look a little more filled out. So each year that goes by, you get to look better even if you don't do anything about your weight. At least, until you're in your early 40s. So enjoy it while you can.

I came to say something like this. Assuming your health is fine, the older you get the better it is to weigh under average and the happier you will be to have a low-maintenance physique.
posted by BibiRose at 1:00 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are fine. Being skinny has lots of advantages. It's generally healthier than carrying extra weight, more comfortable in hot conditions, and a much easier body style for physical activities like running, hiking, and climbing. Don't bother trying to add weight by eating more, because you likely won't be as healthy. You will likely look and feel really good if you lift weights, because all the muscle contours show up pretty rapidly. Forget the comments people make. You'll age healthier and more attractively than the haters. You'll likely add weight gradually as you get older, but watch the pot belly.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:15 PM on July 13, 2012

One of the most attractive men I know is about your size. But that's *not* what makes him attractive. He uses his body beautifully -- he moves gracefully and efficiently, whether he's dancing, doing martial arts or climbing trees. He has a very high level of comfort with the mechanics of his body. He always knows where his limbs are; no movement is out of place or accidental. I think some of it is innate, but most of it is due to training. He's spent years doing martial arts and climbing things.

I would suggest, rather than working out to build muscle, find some physical activity that makes you aware of how your body is moving. Dance, yoga (acroyoga?), martial arts, parkour, whatever. As you learn what your body is capable of and push its limits to make it more capable, I bet you'll become more comfortable with it.
posted by linettasky at 1:26 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

FWIW, my husband is very tall (6'4") and thin, and he still had that raw-boned unfinished teenager look when I married him at 25. He didn't gain weight, but he looked more "finished" or "full grown" at 30. Tall guys seem to take longer to finish up physical maturation. You'll probably feel less awkward in your body as you finish off.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:54 PM on July 13, 2012

My situation is sort of the flip side of yours - I'm a short-ish straight female who tends to be on the rotund side - but I've struggled with the same issues as you, including feeling like I wasn't being taken seriously because I looked young. I only very recently started to feel comfortable in my own skin.

The biggest thing that helped was that I just stopped trying to fight my body type. After years of trying to get a thin body through diet and exercise, I just said to myself "well, what if this is the body you will have for the rest of your life? What would you do then?" Once I made that shift in my mind, I found that my body image started improving and I started doing things to help it get even better.

Some ideas:

- Definitely wear clothes that fit you! It will feel weird at first, I know, but over time you will get used to it. If it helps, start seeking out fashion inspiration for your body shape. I found that by looking for plus-size fashion blogs on tumblr - as a tall, skinny guy, you could look at pretty much any fashion magazines (for men) or blogs. Identify styles you like and buy clothes in that style. Even if it feels weird at first, just fake it till you make it.

- Pursue a physical activity that makes you feel good about your body. Stuff like working out in a gym doesn't work for me because I just associate it too much with "exercising to look good" which just comes with a lot of unfun emotional baggage. So instead I do stuff that I enjoy and that makes me feel good, and I view weight (loss in my case) and muscle-building as secondary gains. I would definitely recommend yoga if you've never tried it - a regular yoga practice has made me really love my body and the amazing things it can do. Outdoorsy stuff is great too, because it comes with goals that aren't just about your body - you might choose a hike because it leads to an amazing view - and on the way, you get a great workout. Climbing is great for building muscles, but you also get the satisfaction of getting to the top.

As for looking young, wearing clothes that fit will definitely help. Also, I've found that looking young can actually work to your advantage sometimes - people won't expect you to be as competent or knowledgeable as you are, so you have the advantage of surprise. :)
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 2:15 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

This might not help right now, but I think what you're going through is a process. I had an appearance issue
with myself for a long time, wasn't comfortable in my skin at all & didn't like the way I looked. In turn, I would get a lot of comments from people that were on the part of myself that I didn't like. It's an issue to people because it's such an issue to you (if you can think about people you see who are disabled in some way but have worked through what has happened & now are accepting of themselves, this is a very visual representation of this concept). Others treat you how you feel- this is in no way saying you "want" or welcome them bringing up the issue that you are sensitive about, I think that people just pick up on it because those thoughts are constantly in the forefront of you mind (these coming from past experiences when you were younger & ridiculed for it, your father's ideals, that you are carrying into your present day self).

As I've gotten a bit older I found much to my surprise I don't get the comments from people about a certain aspect about my appearance, that I used to get when I was younger. I think things changed because I wasn't thinking these thoughts about myself anymore. It was a non issue to me, I didn't think it was true of me anymore. Occasional comments would come up from random people, but when they did I would refute them & with my response it was apparent this issue was not true for me anymore. People would see that with the confidence in the way I responded, & would not make comments again, then the frequency of those random comments from people pretty much went to nil. This is funny to me, because when I needed them to go away (when I was younger & more insecure), they didn't, but now that I have more confidence & it's a non issue for me, it disappeared. I don't think that's a coincidence. Looking back as well, that time of my life is the time I looked the best I ever have, physically. Funny that I couldn't fully appreciate it at the time.

So I think the more you let it be a non issue to you, the more it will be to others. This has just been my experience. You say you already think "thin" looks right on you, so I think you're on your way. You might be in the middle of changing how you feel, but it's hard for you to know that because like I said I think it's a process. Everything in life is, we're all changing constantly, so is everything & everyone around us. The more you accept yourself, the more others do to. Hard thing to do though, I know! I still struggle with aspects of it as well. I think it naturally starts happening though, little by little. Of course, easier said than done. Just having the intention of it though, is the start. Do some physical activities that you enjoy, for the sake of enjoying them. Maybe find some people who are struggling with the same problem you do, that could help you feel more empowered, instead of the odd man out. In all, I think you will grow through this.
posted by readygo at 2:17 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

6' 125 is clinically underweight, which carries some health risks, so you should speak to your doctor about this if you haven't.

As for the rest of it, you will probably have an easier time with the mental aspect if you come up with some performance-based fitness goals rather than focusing entirely on your image. Set a goal of deadlifting twice your bodyweight, or get serious about a sport or something. You'll feel better about your body because you'll see what it's capable of, plus you'll be healthier and look better.

You should also understand that just like if you were obese and trying to lose weight, putting on size is not a project that you can get gung-ho about for a couple of months and then suddenly you'll be transformed. Making big changes in your physique requires being consistent for a long time. I'm the same height as you, and this took me four years (NSFW-ish).

You don't have to change your body to please anyone else, but if you want to, you can. Just about everything you need to know is on this page.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:22 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not really that effeminate but I feel feminine because of my body, which bothers me. I have female friends who are always saying, "Oh I wish I had your body!" C'mon, I don't consider that a compliment.

To address just this small part of your question, I'm as sure as I can be without knowing them that they don't mean to suggest you look effeminate. I think all they're trying to say is they wish they had a metabolism that would allow them to eat whatever/whenever they wanted without gaining unwanted weight. I've thought things like this and heard other women say things like this out loud, and it's never connected to the thin dude in question looking feminine or effeminate at all. The fact that you don't see it as a compliment is part of the envy: you're not even trying to be thin, and yet you are! How unfair! So while it's insensitive for them to say these things if they know how you feel, I don't think you need to worry about this aspect of it at all.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:33 PM on July 13, 2012

Seconding what davejay says. I grew up dealing with being called skinny (39.5 kg at 158cm until my early thirties) but loving it. I have a 'middle aged' shape now and miss those days even though I've actually got T and A now.

Think of the Thin White Duke and emphasize your shape and size.

I too was "clinically" underweight but always passed my physicals, could eat and eat and was actually nicknamed 'Pac Man' at one point in my life. Enjoy it while it lasts. Age will change you as your metabolism changes.

As for all of those who say things? Do what I did, stick your tongue out at them.
posted by infini at 3:07 PM on July 13, 2012

Just wanted to say that while it may feel like people are ganging up on you about either your skinniness or your weight gain, remember that they aren't. People comment and compliment on others out of habit as a way to start conversations. It's like being at a monkey social wherein you get the bugs picked off of you.

You shouldn't always feel like you have to react positively to their nosiness, but I do suggest practicing in the mirror and in your head such casual responses as,
"Thanks! It's been difficult to gain the weight but it feels great."
"Yeah, I feel pretty damn sexy *mock pose*"
and, perhaps if you're geekily inclined,
"Ah, you should've seen me when I was younger! I was just a wee worm but, lo', now I create the spice."

Basically, I'm saying to relax. You were bullied when you were younger (for which I wish I could give you a hug, oy) and people can be nosy and pushy as adults, but just know that NOT everyone is trying to be a dick.
This advice might be premature, but as you move toward acceptance of your body, have fun. Make silly faces in the mirror at home and say "Fuck those people. I love myself" even if you don't believe it yet. Trace your fingers over your angles, your hip bones, your (possibly awesomely sharp?) elbows, your jawline, your cheekbones, your collarbone. Look at yourself as an artist would, at the way the shadows or shower water plays over your skin.
Maybe, if it's in your budget, have a professional photographer take artsy photos that show off your beauty.

Jump into acceptance with both feet and perhaps you'll be closer to loving yourself before you realize it.
posted by DisreputableDog at 3:49 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm 6'1" and I've struggled with this same issue. I fluctuate between 130 and 140 depending on what's going on in my life. I may even be below 130 at this point. What it comes down to, is that you have to love your body. You're going to be stuck with it for a while.

When I'm home alone, I'm in my underwear. All of my friends know that when I say "I'll be right there" it means I'm putting on pants. I don't hide it. Sometimes I also have 'naked night'. It usually involves drinking, but that's not the point. The point is, I don't have the body the guys in the magazines have. I don't have the body that the guys in the pornos have. What I do have, is a body that I celebrate every now and then.

I'm gay too, and when I'm not in only underwear at home, I'm usually shirtless. That's the best part about being a guy! It doesn't matter if I'm fat or thin, a guy (somehow, I'm not sure how it happened) has the right to walk around shirtless like he's the shit.

Give your body a chance. Don't study it in a mirror, just enjoy it. One day you'll be 90 and you'll wish you had the body you have now.

Typed this in my underwear. I was naked earlier, but some neighbors came over so I put boxers on. They stuck around for quite a while even though I was in such a state of undress. Must like me for more than my body. :)
posted by one4themoment at 4:08 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I want to nth that people commenting on your weight, even to tell you to eat a sandwich or whatever, are really not trying to insult you - it's actually weirdly a compliment, which is why it's "ok" for them to say that. I'm not saying that to defend comments like that, but to offer that if you can reframe it in your mind, you might actually be able to use these comments to help you feel better about your shape.

Similarly, I used to get so self-conscious when people commented on how young I looked, because I interpreted it as them telling me I seemed immature. That was something I was self-conscious about because I was somewhat of a late bloomer in a few key areas. It took me a long time to really absorb the fact that every single one of those people meant it as a compliment, even if it was cloaked in a comment like "you can't possibly be the person in charge - you're a child!" (an actual comment I heard at the age of 28)

Basically, the thing you have to realize is that 90% of the random comments people make are a reflection of the inner narrative they have in their own heads, and don't have much to do with you. Once you get clear on that, things get a lot easier.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 4:40 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You get just one body and I'm sorry you don't feel comfortable in it. I felt the same way for most of my life thinking I was fat when, in fact, I was bang on the money. Your weight/build is as perfect for you as you let it be.

Find a way to accept yourself as you are. That puts you in a better position to choose where you might want to be and then to make a plan to get there. Being unhappy where you are can derail the planning and execution.

Not to be taken harshly - you have a gift right now in your body. Enjoy the living hell out of that gift. It suvks to get old, sometimes (my body has been breaking in all kinds of interesting ways, none of them enjoyable).
posted by plinth at 4:52 PM on July 13, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, such awesome advice! It was so nice to receive some new insight on the issue and not the typically canned responses that I seem to always get. Thank you kindly everyone:) I wish I could address each person because I feel like every comment gave me something to meditate on.

What I am coming to realize is that my perception is the first thing that needs to change…not my body. In all honestly, I have felt quite jaded about this topic for way to long which I know stems from specific ideals instilled within me while growing up. Nonetheless, that is not an excuse to live an unhappy life. I want to recondition the way I think about my body.

I loved all the suggestions about trying different activities that I might enjoy and that would help me embrace my body type. I always did love yoga…and I am encouraged to take it up again, alongside some of the other suggestions.

To quickly comment on me being "clinically" underweight …I do get a physical every year and ironically enough, it is my doctor who keeps telling me not to worry about my weight (I am quite healthy). Though, I think it was a good suggestion to check out a nutritionist (not to gain weight but to work on a balanced diet).

Thanks again everyone:)
posted by jpritcha at 5:11 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi there. I was 6'3" and 142 up to about age 32 and caught alot of the haze youre going through. My two thoughts are...

Dont focus on weight gain. Focus on strength (I dont mean muscle mass but just tone). Do something that builds strength and get a bit of a tan while youre at it.

Become a parent. Nothing will make you gain weight faster than than the parenting lifestyle. Bonus point = your kid doesnt care how skinny or fat you are.
posted by No Shmoobles at 1:37 PM on July 14, 2012

« Older Cat lost at Devil's Tower - help   |   No X-rated Content on Kickstarter? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.