Advice about a poor body image and low self-esteem
June 22, 2014 4:50 PM   Subscribe

As I am now in a relationship and have some money, I have been looking at taking mixed martial arts classes and/or kickboxing classes, but I feel compelled to take these classes regardless of whether nor not I like them.

Generally my interests are writing, reading, photography, politics, taking care of exotic spiders, computers, etc., hence fitness classes and what could be seen as aggressive activities are really not within my usual comfort zone. I don't really know if a martial arts class is something I would like.

Nevertheless I would like to be more active and be in better shape, but what stresses me out is I feel compelled to do this kind of thing; it might make my girlfriend find me more attractive, and it might make me more respected by male co-workers and, well, males in general.

One of my friend's sons is a bodybuilder and he looks amazing, and I am frequently the target of unwanted and hostile behavior by male co-workers, much like I was in elementary and high school. I have had to notify my supervisor that I have been threatened at work.

But I don't know if I can afford these classes (at least not right now) or if I will like these classes. I will admit that a large reason for my wanting to take these classes has more to do with feeling inadequate and weak than it does genuine interest.

Any advice on what I should do?

If I may ask two direct questions to male and female respondents…

Women: Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend/significant other was more muscular and athletic?

Men: How do you deal with predatory males and the feeling of inadequacy in comparison to your male counterparts?

Sorry if this is a really shallow thread.
posted by 8LeggedFriend to Society & Culture (48 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I am frequently the target of unwanted and hostile behavior by male co-workers, much like I was in elementary and high school. I have had to notify my supervisor that I have been threatened at work

Can you explain this part more? Outside of the Marines or Navy Seals, I'm having trouble picturing a job where men get judged by their musculature or machismo. The good looking guys definitely get a head start in the workplace, but you're talking about outright harassment here.

I'm asking, because I have a feeling that the issues here go a bit beyond body image.

But as for body image: join a gym, start working out, join a sports team, do something to boost your confidence.

But body building and mixed martial arts might not be the best options ... because in those fields you will be judged - which is probably the last thing you need now.
posted by kanewai at 5:03 PM on June 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

You should not take classes you cannot afford. You should not take classes that you can't quit if it turns out you don't like them, which is what you should do if you take a class and don't like it.

When I am moved to do this sort of drastic thing, I require myself to complete a "proof of concept" period to see how serious I am. You should check out the available classes at your local Y or city recreation department, or an inexpensive gym if you have access to one. Or contact some dojos nearby to get more information, but maybe instead of MMA (which is a very particular culture as much as a discipline) try karate or tae kwon do.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:07 PM on June 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I go to a gym where there are kickboxing classes (I am female)- and because of the trainer being a super chill, nice, and genuine guy, there's a great team spirit and sense of fun at the gym. But because of the nature of kickboxing being a competitive and aggressive sport, I think in the absence of a welcoming instructor, it might feel like a very intimidating environment.

I think your motivations for doing it sound great, though. And since joining my body image and self esteem have both improved. The great thing about joining classes is the " social facilitation" aspect of exercise-- you have both an instructor, as well as fellow classmates to share that experience with and it's much easier to be motivated to go to the gym that way.

So my advice to you is: go for it! And also, try to find a gym environment that is friendly, welcoming and congenial- it will make a world of difference.
posted by winterportage at 5:07 PM on June 22, 2014

I'm a woman. Sure I'd be maybe slightly more attracted to my husband if he was more fit. But, I love him and find him sexy more for his overall personality and body type than how his muscles look. We're in it for the long haul and his (and my) body won't always be this way and will change, so I better find him sexy no matter what, right?

Honestly, if you want to get healthy, fit, muscle-y for yourself, then do it! But there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of ways to get fit that don't need money. You can use things in your own house for resistance and weights. Go jog outside. Hell, there's free apps for that and YouTube videos.

Your options aren't limited to classes you might hate and being seen as wimpy and get picked on. I think the work thing is separate from your body type to be honest.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:09 PM on June 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

I guess I would suggest trying out Judo; it's generally cheaper than MMA or even BJJ, but gives you the opportunity to wrestle around with other people. Being able to throw around people gives you a certain amount of confidence, but it's somewhat situational. There's a side benefit which is that generally, Judo people are pretty relaxed, welcoming people to be around.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:10 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

We don't know anything about your current fitness level or existing health problems, if you have quirky joints, etc.

MMA / kickboxing might be just the right thing for you - you might love it and it might be appropriate for your fitness level. BUT it might be something you hate or that isn't really right for your body at this time. Given the concern you have over expense, you might want to consider a free / inexpensive exercise option such as running or doing pushups and other bodyweight exercises in your living room. There might be free running meetups in your area or reasonably-priced gyms. Explore some other options.

I've dated skinny, average, fit and chubby men. It's nice to be with a fellow who is fit but there are so many other things that are more important to me.
posted by bunderful at 5:19 PM on June 22, 2014

Your problems sound situational (workplace bullies) and psychological (not feeling attractive enough, manly enough, needing outside approval, etc.).

I sympathise! Please, look into therapy - a therapist can help you with these issues.

As for exercise, how about trying weight-lifting? You can pick up some starter barbells at Target or wherever and try some simple exercises at home. This book helped me on my way. I didn't do the diet so much, but there's a weight routine section that lists routines by days of the week.

I saw results very quickly and found that weight-lifting increased my confidence, self-mastery, and improved my mood!
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:22 PM on June 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

(I'm sorry, I guess therapy might be off the table if you're concerned about money; I would recommend checking your local library for Dr. David Burns' book, "Feeling Good".

"Women: Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend/significant other was more muscular and athletic? "

Nope. I want him healthy but I love him no matter what.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:25 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

But I don't know if I can afford these classes (at least not right now) or if I will like these classes.

This book will give you some exercises to do on your own until you can afford martial arts lessons: Solo Training: The Martial Artist's Guide to Training Alone

Women: Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend/significant other was more muscular and athletic?

Yes, but I am an unrepentant fangirl who lusts after comic book superheroes so I may not be the norm.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:27 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I really like kickboxing, but in general, the stuff I do at the gym isn't particularly self-defense-y. On the other hand, martial arts is more intense and requires that you be going multiple times a week and get a uniform and get involved in that culture...which is kind of why I haven't actually gone through with taking up martial arts even though I've pondered it off and on for years. (That and getting thrown around.) The most physical stuff I've really liked doing for purposes of "I feel like I can beat people up if I have to" was self-defense classes (including RAD), but it's no longer offered around here.

Kickboxing probably isn't going to be super helpful on defending yourself. Martial arts might be, but I've read some remarks saying that it isn't as helpful for defending yourself against random bad guys IRL as you might think. I don't know how "buff" you will get from any of these activities, though. If you are being bullied at work, it might be better to focus on taking up weightlifting for conspicuous "muscle" results.

I'd suggest that you go to a gym and try some weights and take kickboxing there rather than signing up for some specific program. See if you LIKE doing that stuff without major money/time investment, and go from there.

You specifically ask if you would be more attractive to women if you do these things: well, yeah, probably, but it wouldn't be a high priority with me. I'm a nerd who does the same stuff you do for the most part, and "buff" guys spend a lot of time working out at the gym and not with me. So it would be nice, but not a priority due to the time investment thing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:27 PM on June 22, 2014

I can't imagine any body change my partner could make that would make him more attractive. I like him, and he looks fine. I was attracted pre-pudge and post-pudge, regardless of if he's been doing body-weight exercises or not. I've started going to the gym and doing weight-lifting and it's made some changes to my body, to how capable I feel, but I'm female so the musculature is different.

That said, I'd recommend therapy first, and body-weight type exercise if you're keen, over classes simply because your concerns about masculinity and presentation are a huge part of this question, with very little about health or even how you feel in your body.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:53 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your girlfriend clearly finds you attractive now or she wouldn't be your girlfriend. You can also always ask her what she thinks, since different people have different opinions about things. Does she work out, herself? That's probably a decent indicator of her preference, more so than a random internet person's opinion.

Most gyms will let you have a free trial period. Most gyms allow members to bring guests for free or reduced pricing for short-term stays as well.

You could also ask if you could pay a once-off fee to try a class out instead of paying for a full course.

Even though your interest in these activities stems from a more negative outlook right now, if you start to improve your fitness you may be surprised to find you truly enjoy it for the myriad benefits it brings completely aside from how others view you.
posted by vegartanipla at 5:55 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am frequently the target of unwanted and hostile behavior by male co-workers

Full stop. This is something you need to talk to HR or your supervisor about.

And even if you do dedicate yourself to a bodybuilding regime, this behavior won't change. Assholes can and will find any reason to be cruel to someone.
posted by Ndwright at 5:57 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

For me, physical attraction tends to be a function of emotional attraction. So if the relationship was a good, and my partner's health allowed us to do the things we wanted to do, it wouldn't matter how muscular he was.
posted by MrBobinski at 6:07 PM on June 22, 2014

Women: Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend/significant other was more muscular and athletic?

Yes, but not drastically so. It would make him "more attractive" in the same way as him getting a haircut I especially like or wearing an especially flattering outfit would.

Generally my interests are writing, reading, photography, politics, taking care of exotic spiders, computers, etc., hence fitness classes and what could be seen as aggressive activities are really not within my usual comfort zone. I don't really know if a martial arts class is something I would like.

I have similar interests, but I also like working out. Liking solitary or cerebral activities doesn't rule out physical hobbies, but you might enjoy a physical hobby that's also solitary or cerebral, if that's your general taste. Therefore, I'd recommend something like running or swimming over martial arts.

Something else that I personally found difficult about martial arts and that you might similarly have trouble with is that it's very regimented/strict and actually very social -- you have to do everything in a very specific way (you will be corrected by the teacher and she will likely physically move you into the correct form if necessary), and you learn and practice the moves in real time and with the entire class.

I do recommend that you try starting an exercise program, though -- it helps release a lot of physical tension and it's an easy way to take care of yourself and take pride in your body. Personally, I just run outside, first on a short circuit and walking as needed, and building up from there. All you need for that are shorts, a tee-shirt, and running shoes, so if you end up not liking it, it's no harm no foul, anyway.

And please don't let some jerks at work intimidate you. If they're pushing you around, it's because they're unkind and not because they're physically "tough." You don't have to "toughen" up for them, or become more like them, and they aren't better than you. If part of your question is whether your SO would find you more attractive if you were more macho, or if I would find my SO more attractive if he were more macho, the answer is no (if anything, it's the opposite).
posted by rue72 at 6:13 PM on June 22, 2014

I'm a woman. I don't find men who are muscular or athletic to be more attractive. I do very much prefer them to be and look fit and healthy. But to me "fit" doesn't have to be muscular per se. Actually I prefer a guy to not have large muscles and I find anything more than slight "fit" looking muscles to be a turn off.

I do care about whether a guy "takes care of himself" and part of that is being engaged in physical activity. A guy who inhabits his body is attractive regardless of whether he's muscular.

I've not done martial arts, but your reasons for wanting to try it sounds fine to me. And from what I understand martial arts have a lot of benefits over, say, just pumping weight at the gym and trying to get your muscles to get bigger.
posted by Blitz at 6:28 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't care about my partner's athleticism except in terms of how it affects his outlook.

Weight-lifting, as part of a general fitness regime, might make you feel better about yourself and will increase your physical strength. It will not give you any specific skills to address verbal or physical abuse.

Martial arts generally can be aggressive or not, depending on the style, the school, and the teacher. A good martial arts class will equip you with some tools to defend yourself in the event you are physically or verbally attacked (including prevention and de-escalation tactics), but there can be a lot of unpleasant competitiveness in a bad class or school and you might end up in a worse place than you started.

Body building is a specialty sport that might make you feel better about yourself or might just make you neurotic about your imperfections. It won't necessarily make you more able to defend yourself, physically, and there are very few body-building communities that are as supportive as they are competitive, and I've known some people whose body image disorders got really out of hand with body building.
posted by gingerest at 6:28 PM on June 22, 2014

If I were you I would get a copy of Starting Strength and find a cheap gym nearby. I think you're mistaken that getting stronger will earn you respect with your peers, but it may give you enough self-esteem to help the situation.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 6:30 PM on June 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I was big into martial arts as a younger man and teenager. I think it helped greatly with the way I look at myself, my self-confidence, and how I interact with others. It is a wonderful thing if you have the time to devote. But it really does take an investment of time. And it isn't for eveyone. I would recommend doing giving it a shot just to see. If you don't like it, no harm in trying.

Different studios are going to have different attitudes and be more or less welcoming. I think 95% of them will be welcoming as long as you go in with a attitude of humility and wanting to learn. Boxing is cheap and will get you in great shape but it's not easy. Judo or wrestling will also get you in good shape if you do it seriously.

As for your question, there's a couple of things. Physical confidence definitely helps. Good humor also helps. But I would have to know more about specifics to really give advice. The only place I've ever really faced harassment at work was working construction and I just gave it right back, as good as I got and sometimes better. Sometimes I also laughed at myself and that helps. If you take it seriously it will be serious. Predatory people sense fear and insecurity. So learn to not take it seriously, if you can.
posted by natteringnabob at 6:36 PM on June 22, 2014

I took boxing and kickboxing classes for a couple years (I'm female). I really liked them because they were a really challenging workout and made me feel kind of badass, and hitting things is kind of fun. They did NOT make me look like a pro athlete, nor did they make me more assertive either in or out of class. I was still my same marshmallow self, inside and out.

Try a class and see if you like it, but evaluate it based on how it makes you feel that day, and don't expect a physical or mental makeover. Self-consciousness and feelings of inadequacy have to be confronted head on; they won't go away if you try to fix them by proxy.

I strongly recommend you find a new job, because workplace bullying is the pits, and it's far from standard work culture. You don't have to prove anything to those assholes, and bulking up in an attempt to show them up is just playing their game.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:46 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

To respond to your question directed at women, my husband is very skinny so personally, I don't think that I would be more attracted to him if he was more athletic and/or muscular. That said, I think it's attractive when people try new things and I would be excited if he tried something new because I know that it can be scary to try something new and it takes confidence.

Why do you think you might like martial arts? I took martial arts from roughly ages 9-14 and I loved it - I was just thinking about getting back into it. It was fun, I feel like it gave me some insight into a different culture, it definitely helped me graduate from being a chubby child to a skinny teenager, I met people I wouldn't have met otherwise, it was structured and it was something where I could see myself get better. That said, I don't think it actually gave me self-defense skills so if that's what interests you, maybe try something else.

If cost is a concern and you just want to get more fit, I'd look into videos on YouTube. I don't know where you live but near where I live, there are tons of outdoor fitness classes during the summer so I'd look into maybe trying one of those.
posted by kat518 at 6:48 PM on June 22, 2014

Sorry to say that you really would benefit from having a stronger body if you're obviously weak and/or unhealthy - both men and women will respond well to the improvement though the specific bullies you mention will probably never reclassify you. Beyond generally fit the interest/respect will become more specialized; diminishing returns will set in.

There are so many ways to get fitter. If you spent days walking around collecting bugs, you'd look healthier. Or, you could do push-ups every time a game is loading or a computer is rebooting. Do what works for you.
posted by michaelh at 6:49 PM on June 22, 2014

Women: Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend/significant other was more muscular and athletic?

Nope. My object d'schmoop has even poked fun at himself about his build ("I'm half Mexican, so I can't help but have the build of a lucha libre wrestler"), but I think everything about him is hands-down adorable so it doesn't matter what he looks like. And I suspect your girlfriend feels the same about you.

The guys you work with aren't responding to the way you look, they're responding to the way you feel about how you look. And actually, my guy has a lesson for you there too - he doesn't give a good glorious god-damn that he's not ripped or svelte or buff or whatever, his attitude is more like, "well, too bad, this is how I am. Deal with it." As long as he's healthy, that's what counts. And that confidence is part of what makes him attractive.

The guys hassling you don't see how you look - what they see is how you feel ABOUT how you look. If you suddenly waved a magic wand and made yourself look like Adonis, but were still uneasy about yourself, they'd still be hassling you for that. It's self-confidence that you probably need here (as well as a different job where they don't let people bully their coworkers).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Men: How do you deal with predatory males and the feeling of inadequacy in comparison to your male counterparts? "

Your question has me a bit confused. Are you talking about physical violence or workplace intimidation? Those are two different things that have different responses available. The good news is that as you get older kids and predatory males don't fuck with you as much. The bad news is people at work are, lets say, ambitious.

As far as workplace "inadequacy" - I would just try to outwork them.

For violence - [I fucking bail [run] which oddly takes a bit of self-confidence] - with alacrity. It's counterintuitive to have the confidence to flee. I've stood there and gotten my nose bloodied because I was too scared to flee.

A martial arts class is decent exercise and helps with confidence. Mind the revenge fantasies yo.
posted by vapidave at 7:39 PM on June 22, 2014

A partner's looks: largely attraction for me is mental/emotional. As far as looks based attraction go, if a partner was overweight, losing said weight would be preferable. Gaining more muscles - nope.
posted by Ashlyth at 7:42 PM on June 22, 2014

Here's what I did:
Get a doorframe chin-up bar. They're about $20 or so. Or find any ol' place that you can do chin-ups.
Now, can you do one full chin-up? I sure couldn't at first...
You make doing one full chin-up your goal. And when you can't do even one of these things, it is hard my friend...So get determined. (Research beginner chin-ups, I won't go into detail here, there's lots of great info out there.)

The point of this is: When you can finally do that 1st full chin-up, you will feel GREAT.
You'll build stronger body muscles, but more important - you will build a stronger "confidence muscle".
This super simple, cheap, tried-and-true ages-old exercise that you can do in the privacy of your own home did wonders for me...and mostly in the mental department.
Go for the one, then two, then 5, 10 etc....I'm up to 7 for the record. And yes I do see a definite visual improvement. I've since added a few more bodyweight exercises to my routine, But the chin-up was my jumping off place.
posted by Soap D. Spencer at 7:45 PM on June 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also: I find predators tend to hunt what they think they can kill. Once you feel confident and capable, and indeed strong, you no longer feel'll feel that you're every bit as good as anyone else.
And that's when you will cease to be prey.
posted by Soap D. Spencer at 8:02 PM on June 22, 2014

8LeggedFriend: "Women: Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend/significant other was more muscular and athletic? "

Definitely not. For one, I find fairly buff men very intimidating and somewhat frightening, not at all sexy. Second, that would mean he would spend a lot of the time he could be with me down at the gym. I've had friends that were into bodybuilding and other athletic pursuits that their SO's would joke about being gym-widows. But this is my taste, and friends' SO's experiences, not your SO's taste, or her experience. The most important thing is that you be happy with you. Self confidence is incredibly sexy.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 8:02 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Women: Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend/significant other was more muscular and athletic?

No. I can honestly say that a muscular and athletic build makes no difference to me, personally. It's like saying 'Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend had different coloured hair?'
posted by Salamander at 8:38 PM on June 22, 2014

Men: How do you deal with predatory males and the feeling of inadequacy in comparison to your male counterparts?

I was bullied as a kid. I am a bodybuilder now and am beastly big. Bullies are cowards and they leave you the hell alone. It's awesome, highly recommended.

(Some women dig it too. Some don't. It's not universal.)
posted by Setec Astronomy at 9:23 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dear 8LeggedFriend,

it is unfortunate that you have to deal with bullies and low-self esteem. they sadly exist everywhere, just as nice people are everywhere if you look hard enough. how people perceive you comes to a large extend out of how you present yourself. someone who smiles all the time, always is friendly and happy to see the other person, someone who walks with their head up high, that's a person people will make different assumptions about than someone who slouches at the far end of the wall.

the good news is that you can influence how you feel. it's all in your head and that's where you are the boss. bodybuilding is a great way to get more comfortable with your body. be wary of all the not-so-smart people giving terrible advice, do it often enough (i.e. 3x per week) and within 6 months or a year you will notice differences. people will see you differently even before you notice.

but you have to get started and you have to stick with it to achieve your goal of feeling better. doing a little bit here and there gets little done.

*Men: How do you deal with predatory males and the feeling of inadequacy in comparison to your male counterparts? *
there are two possible ways to deal with it: either give back more than they dish out, which I don't recommend to you because of what you told us about yourself, or kill them with kindness. start being the nice guy at the office, the one who always goes the extra mile. the one who has people's back. it's a thankless position but people notice the good guys sooner or later.
posted by krautland at 9:24 PM on June 22, 2014

Women: Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend/significant other was more muscular and athletic?

No. My boyfriend is short and round and losing his hair, and I am crazy about him.

That being said, one of the reasons I get regular exercise is that it just makes me feel better about myself, like aside from any body modification purposes. It just creates good vibes knowing that you are looking after yourself. I think you'd be better off finding an activity you enjoy though rather than something you think you should do.
posted by jess at 11:55 PM on June 22, 2014

It sounds cliché, because it's the truth: if she's going out with you, it's likely because she's already attracted to you. Girls have different types. Some like the skinny dudes, some like really muscular dudes. Some girls wub the chub. Etc.

I would recommend taking a class when you can afford it, if you really personally want to learn judo, or just want to try a new sport for fun. Not when you can't afford it.

Also, if you want assurance that your lady is into you, seriously just ask her. "What do you like about me?" And then you can return the favor.

If she can't say anything meaningful about how great you are, that's on her not on you at all. If she seriously has nothing positive to say when you ask her for some loving compliments, it might be time to find someone else. I'm sure she will have many, many good words though to put your self esteem qualms at ease.

Cheers. Everyone goes through body insecurities, at some point! Good luck.
posted by tenlives at 12:01 AM on June 23, 2014

I lift and train combat sports. The short answer to your question is that I don't know that many predatory males. I ignore and avoid the ones I encounter. Not giving a fuck about these unpleasant men is easier when I know I'm stronger than them and able to defeat them in the realm of spontaneous one-on-one unarmed fighting (which, nota bene, has never happened to me). Note, however, that there's always someone stronger than you, always someone more athletic, always someone better at fighting. There are unpleasant men I know who are in fact stronger than me and better at fighting than me and it's unlikely that I'll ever surpass them in those areas despite putting in a lot of time and effort. So for me, lifting and training help, but there's a good deal of critical introspection necessary for them to help.

Some misconceptions I'd like to prevent: MMA and kickboxing classes (along with other combat sports like BJJ or wrestling) are for learning how to fight, not to get fit or strong. If the latter happens it's a happy side effect. Lots of non-athletes who take martial arts stay stay weak and fat (or skinny-fat) after an initial small improvement. Martial arts workouts help keep you healthy, but don't expect them to change your body. (The way to get fit and strong is to start a strength and conditioning program, which is a complicated subject but no regrets, coyote's advice is the best simple way to start.)

Non-athletes who start combat sports usually take at least six months of training several times a week to get even not-awful at it. That's a lot of time and energy to put into something if you don't enjoy it. (And not enjoying it makes it take longer.) If you obviously don't enjoy the training--if you're morose at class--it will be hard to make friends at these classes. Training partners who feel compelled to be there are simply not a lot of fun to be around.

Combat sports classes are expensive, too: usually at least $100/month.

My advice: The most effective way I've found to feel better about your body is to get stronger and more fit and to keep track of your progress. So: start doing yoga several times a week and order the Starting Strength book. Read it at least once all the way through, then join a gym that (which must have a squat rack (not a Smith machine) and must allow deadlifts and power cleans; many don't) and start doing the program as ordered. Continue the yoga at least once a week and keep a lifting notebook. (The yoga is to help ensure you're mobile enough to lift properly. A lot of adult non-athletes aren't.) After a few months of following the program your strength should be of at least an average level. That will be a major transformation. At that point you can re-evaluate whether you have the money and desire to train combat sports. If not, you can continue your strength and conditioning work. MeMail me when you run into lifting questions; everyone does.
posted by daveliepmann at 12:28 AM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Some background about where I'm coming from - I'm a guy inherited some crazy genes from my mother, so my natural, healthy weight at 100 pounds despite being 5'9. Naturally, this makes me almost freakishly rail thin - and as a result of not jiving with popular conceptions of what guys should ought to look like, I can never go anywhere without getting obnoxious remarks about my appearance. I took martial arts from ages 6 to 18, and have a black belt in Taekwondo.

First of all, if you're looking to bulk up, I'd argue you're looking in the wrong place. The current - and unhealthy, might I add - body image standard required of men is actually a very artificial one that requires following a highly regimented routine of weight-lifting to build and maintain. So if you do get into martial arts, do be warned that it might not result in what you have been culturally conditioned to think of as "healthy" and "athletic". Because my martial arts training focused on teaching me how to use my body efficiently, it didn't so much as bulk me up as it did give me an incredibly strong core and a sense of balance. I'm very strong now - and I sometimes demonstrate by hoisting 200 pound friends-of-friends up in the air at bars when they give me flack - but it doesn't "show" at all, because again, we've been conditioned to associate strength, health and masculinity with a very specific body type that only comes out as a result of certain, specific training regimes.

But I would argue that what my martial arts training did give me - self-discipline from carrying out repeated drills and exercises three times a week, confidence in my physical body from learning how to move it and use it, and the ability to stay calm and assess options quickly in threatening situations from sparring drills - were way more important to my body image and self-confidence than building a conventionally attractive physique. This has been especially evident ever since I've entered the gay community - there's a saying that the more time you spend at the gym, the worse you feel about yourself. It's the misconception that, if you can manage to attain an impossible (and harmful) ideal that's less about being healthy than it is about looking healthy, you'll all of a sudden have all of these people attracted to you, and your status will automatically rise.

Maybe things are great if you can manage to look like the cover of Men's Health. I don't know. I'll never be able to attain that type of body, and the same also goes for the vast, vast majority of men. So I'm really thankful that my martial arts training bestowed on me a partial immunity to these harmful messages of body image, and so I never feel compelled to chase it. I'm happy with my romantic relationships as they are - and maybe a little re-assured that they're attracted to me because I'm me, instead of chasing after me as a status symbol or the next in a series of interchangeable gym rats. And I'm happy to opt out of the toxic performance of masculinity. If other people want to build hierarchies and posture around those ideas, they're free to do so, but I have zero interest in internalizing harmful, sexist and degrading messages, and I make that very clear to anyone who tries to hold me by these standards.

Maybe martial arts might be a good thing for you too - but if so, it'll be about what it does to your brain, rather than what it does to your body. And for that to happen, you have to approach it with the right mindset and let healthy messages soak in. Which goes for any form of exercise, honestly. It doesn't even need to be martial arts, especially if you're strapped for the money. Whether it's jogging or yoga or dragonboating, people I know who do these sports tell me that they've learned the very same lessons about how they shape their body image as I have from martial arts.

So yeah, exercise is as much as it is about developing a healthy mind as it is a healthy body. Self-confidence would go a long way for you.
posted by Conspire at 1:05 AM on June 23, 2014

Hi. My honest opinion... I'm female and I am usually not attracted to men who have a lot of muscle from working out. To me it looks fake and desperate, and the men appear bland and too interested in the safety of routine. I guess I have my own preferences, but I know that a *lot* of women are not attracted to men who look like they could easily hurt them. :-) On the other hand, it can be nice to know a man can at least lift a box or walk up some stairs without falling over or having a heart attack.

If you don't feel physically confident right now and men are picking up on that, then yeah, I'm all for taking some classes. Not to make you stress about looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger though. And not to 'punish' the sorts of men who picked on you, or to win all the ladies - that would be sad and tragic.
posted by inkypinky at 3:49 AM on June 23, 2014

I would advise avoiding the martial arts at first.

You will find plenty of testosterone jerks there (including shockingly aggro 8 year old girls) and getting whacked isn't esteem enhancing (at first) and it sounds like that is something you need.

I'd follow the advice of others here and go the free fitness route at first. Running, pushups and chinups to get a bit of a fitness base going and to see if you are truly ready to stick to it (It sometimes takes a while to muster the discipline). Pick slow progression training programs (100 pushups, couch 2 5K and so on). These programs seem really slow at first but they get you there and you want two things psychologically from a fitness program - a sense of progression and a sense of accomplishment. Slow progress is still progress and a key to accomplishing your fitness goal is to not get injured and discouraged. These programs achieve that. Avoid macho stuff like P90X and don't compare yourself to a bodybuilder (the vast majority of them are on PEDs and wolfing supplements these days). Also the majority of looking ripped and muscular is more about dieting and losing water weight - those guys from the 300? They were all dehydrated during filming. Look at some pictures of Gerard Butler now and see what he really looks like. There is a reason you don't see photo's of Brad Pitt at the beach and that his because he and his publicist knows he doesn't normally look like Tyler Durden.

Set yourself some goals like 50 consecutive pushups, 20 chinups and 5K running and give yourself 6 months to reach them. Put the programs on your kitchen wall and work at it, recording your progress as you go. Any progress means you are better today than you were yesterday. Once you prove to yourself that you can do this then look into other more advanced and expensive options like martial arts or gym memberships.

I'd also steer well clear of any martial arts training where they don't let you try it for a bit first to see if it is for you. Lock-in fitness programs are run by shady types who bank on people quiting. Look for less commercial operations - YMCA, community center or local colleges often have cheaper courses by people who are actually more serious about teaching than making money.
posted by srboisvert at 4:41 AM on June 23, 2014

I recommended lifting too. I'm a woman but weight lifting (starting with a Starting Strength type beginner program and going from there) did wonders for my self esteem. My body too, but it's the confidence and happiness improvements that still amaze me. It's cheap and powerlifting does often tend to attract a nerdy, introverted crowd to some degree - it's a somewhat solitary sport, you put your headphones on and do your thing, and the tracking and programming and tweaking is attractive to a certain stick-everything-in-excel-and-analyze-the-hell-out-of-it person. I run into lots of engineers lifting heavy. And it's fun.

Kickboxing I found boring and full of the peppy, outgoing type of person you find at any cardio class, but I am sure that varies by location etc. MMA clubs seem to vary wildly in quality given its current popularity, I looked into it a while ago; yelp may be your friend there.

What other people find attractive doesn't really matter, what your girlfriend likes does, but for me physicality and energy and tenacity to go after goals is what's attractive in fit people more so than big quads or whatever. There are guys (and women) who sneer and look down on muscular folks who pursue bodybuilding goals or do MMA as shallow, meathead stereotypes - even some in every mefi thread on fitness - and I do find that attitude very unattractive. Being willing to give things out of your comfort zone a shot speaks well of someone, I think!
posted by jamesonandwater at 5:29 AM on June 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I do think you'd benefit from getting some physical exercise. Most of us would. If you're a quiet type who prefers non-combat activities, there are lots of things that might appeal to you. Yoga. Hiking and rock climbing. Running. Biking. All very good for your body, all very nonviolent, all unlikely to have that macho edge you seem to dislike.

And I do think that having a greater awareness of your body and admiration for what it can do will build your confidence. I always feel better, mentally, about my body when I'm exercising regularly. But none of these activities (and indeed, almost no activity other than lifting a lot of very heavy weights while changing your diet for the express purpose of changing your body composition) are going to bulk you up to the point where bullies will stop picking on you. For that, I recommend mental change more than physical. I honestly believe that exercise might help with your confidence even if your body looks exactly the same. I also recommend therapy. And I also recommend insisting that your boss and your boss's boss stop harassment in your workplace. But you may need the confidence first, because that's going to be a hard battle to fight.
posted by decathecting at 5:46 AM on June 23, 2014

I think finding another job would likely benefit you the most.

However, yes, judo, kickboxing, and MMA are worth trying. A few simple guidelines for finding a place to train:

- Never consider a place that won't let you try a class for free
- Never get into a contract that goes beyond a month
- Don't train somewhere in which the people make you uncomfortable

Working out hard will mellow you and help you feel more relaxed. Sparring (with good partners that understand the concept of mutual welfare and benefit) will help you feel accomplished and to view conflict in a less paralyzingly way — as not as big of a deal as you thought.
posted by ignignokt at 5:49 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Women: Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend/significant other was more muscular and athletic?

What I find attractive is a dude who I can geek out with, someone who has passions and hobbies in common with me. I myself am not interested in bodybuilding or spending lots of time on my appearance, generally, so, when I see a guy who's well-muscled, yeah, I have a kind of lizard-brain WELL HI THERE reaction, but then my rational brain kicks in, and I think, this is someone who spends a lot of time at the gym and probably watches his diet really closely and (probably) has interests in things like hair "product," i.e. someone who doesn't have much in common with me.

That said, I do find it unattractive if someone can't participate in normal physical activities (walking a couple of miles, say) or shrinks from doing anything adventurous and mildly strenuous because they're so out of shape. And cardiovascular fitness is an asset in many, many activities. *eyebrow waggle* I don't think I'd ever tell anyone who was thinking about starting to exercise, "Nah, don't bother," because the benefits are great and wide-ranging.

I exercise on my own (weightlifting, running and swimming) and I enjoy it because it feels good and is good for my body. As far as classes, though, I'm ambivalent, because 1) I hate exercising with people, and the idea of having a gym buddy or going to a class fills me with loathing, but yet 2) every class I've taken has been a really good experience. Maybe it's because I was so interested in the class, which was what allowed me to overcome the loathing? Or maybe the loathing is just anxiety talking and I'd actually pretty much like any class?

Anyway, in the spirit of my own contradictory feelings and experiences, I'd say 1) find a fitness activity you can do on your own, but also 2) try out a free or inexpensive fitness class that you find interesting and just see how it goes. There are lots and lots of ways to exercise that don't involve martial arts, and many people like classes, while others prefer working out alone. You have to find something that you like that works for you and your lifestyle, because forcing yourself to participate in an activity that can't afford and/or don't enjoy is no way to build a sustainable exercise habit.
posted by BrashTech at 7:44 AM on June 23, 2014

Try a regular old gym, see how it strikes you, before signing up for any kind of classes.

Women: Would you find it more attractive if your current boyfriend/significant other was more muscular and athletic?

My current boyfriend is fairly athletic.

My ex-boyfriend went from a coach potato content to watch TV and make dinner with me to a barefoot-running, weight-lifting vegan. He also started making fun of my weight, hobbies, and habits. Because that was who he was, under the hundred-plus pounds he'd lost. I'd found him physically attractive before and after all these changes. Emotionally... Well, he's now my ex for a reason.

Your mileage may vary, but don't try to change your base personality to be more attractive to your girlfriend. No one wants that false front.
posted by RainyJay at 8:53 AM on June 23, 2014

I will agree with Conspire that martial arts is not going to make you look tougher. And if you have fantasies that your mad martial arts skills will beat up all the bullies, that will take years to make any difference and the benefits are heavily exaggerated by king fu films. If you haven't been doing any sort of exercise, the biggest difference you'll see in a few months, not years, is improved cardio. (Which if you're concerned about the cost of a class, can be had more cheaply through many other types of exercise.)

Probably the quickest results you could get is if you can find a new job where you don't work with assholes. It's tough to retain your self-esteem if you're treated like garbage 40 hours a week.
posted by RobotHero at 9:34 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a woman who spent three years studying taekwondo in Korea, a place that is not very forward-thinking about the roles of women. I am also SUPER non-competitive and I have to really like an exercise to stick with it. My TKD classes featured full-contact sparring which I found to be a great release of tension and stress and super empowering in a society where women are expected to be meek and ultra-feminine. That said, I never fantasized about being able to overpower someone with my TKD skills — in fact, when I returned to the states and tried to find TKD schools here I was unsuccessful because most were geared towards self defense-style classes for women and I wasn't at all interested in that.

My suggestion to you: yoga. Seriously. If you find the right style of yoga it will get you fit as hell AND will allow you to learn how to be completely comfortable with yourself exactly as you are in such a way that you will no longer give a fuck about what anyone else thinks of you.

I practice Baptiste Power Yoga — here's a list of affiliated studios. Maybe there's one in your area?
posted by Brittanie at 12:00 PM on June 23, 2014

I would also like to echo EmpressCallipygos and several others by saying that bullies pick on people who are weak in spirit, not necessarily weak in body.

As a woman, I am more attracted to self-confidence in the long term than eye candy in the short term.

Exercise of any kind releases endorphins, which means you'll pretty much immediately feel better about your body even before more visible physical changes become apparent.

In addition to yoga, I love running. Running is free and can be done anywhere at pretty much any time. And is high on the scale for endorphin release.
posted by Brittanie at 12:18 PM on June 23, 2014

Try to work on acceptance. You know, when I was younger I also thought that certain parts of my body were not that great and could look better. But I have come to realize that the only important thing about my body is that it is healthy and mobile. That I can go and live my life without pain or constraint. Don't you think that should be the main objective?

I mean, sure: Move your body, dance around your house, walk to the store and back, stand on one leg when you brush your teeth, get active, feel alive in your body. Start some exercise if you like. But be happy that it is a good shell, a nice house for your inner being first and foremost.

And also: If you really want to buff up, take a look at your diet. Increase your protein intake. The normal recommended amount is 0.8 gr per kilogram body weight (it is usually cited in the metric system). So a person who weights 165lb should eat about 60 gr of protein per day (slightly more for men, slightly less for women). If this is your weight, try closer to 100 gr/daily, coupled with moderate strength exercise it should buff you up in a short time. Protein helps grow muscle.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:18 PM on June 23, 2014

I think yoga is a great idea, and studios often have 'community classes' that are pay-what-you-can. You'll see in those classes that people who don't look strong or flexible can be really amazing, and that really buff guys don't necessarily have an advantage.

To give another woman's perspective: All else equal, I prefer guys who are a little muscled, but not barrel-chested. There is a point where it just gets to be too much chest and how do I even reach around it all??
posted by batter_my_heart at 3:09 PM on June 23, 2014

Men: How do you deal with predatory males and the feeling of inadequacy in comparison to your male counterparts?

Oh, hey, I wanted to say a few more things. First off, having been in worse shape and then better shape; how athletic and whatever you look does affect how people will treat you, but probably less than you think. Secondly, hopefully you don't feel inadequate in comparison to your male counterparts. You're you, it's good to be you, we all have things we're good at and things we're bad at. If you want to work on stuff you're bad at and you care enough, you'll be good at it.

This might sound a bit Gift of Fear-y, but in my experience if people are looking for a target, what they do is try to test your boundaries and see what you do. I'm a fairly big guy and (now) in decent shape, but people still give it a shot every once in a while, nothing personal, they try everybody just to see what they can get away with.

If a certain kind of person is trying to play social dominance games, they're looking to get a rise out of you. They say something to poke at you, you react strongly, they 'win': now they know what they have to say to get a rise out of you.

The easiest thing, in a way, is look at them and just say basically that you don't appreciate those kinds of comments. Now those people might think you're a humorless jerk, but hey, that's OK. You can try to go with it and agree, kind of like you're so secure about whatever they're making a joke about that you can joke about it too. You can make a joke back (don't be defensive, but poke them right back. Not too hard, or it goes into the realm of 'they got a rise out of you').
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:23 PM on June 24, 2014

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