Accepting the fact that I can't physically appear/present the way I want
September 18, 2021 12:05 PM   Subscribe

There's a gender/sexuality angle, but advice need not take that into account 🤷‍♀️

I'm an AFAB lesbian woman in her early 20s. I feel like I'm going through late puberty or something, because I feel very strongly about being desirable, and *how* exactly I want to be desired, which I haven't really focused on in the past.

But specifically, I am very interested in having a masculine underwear model body (think: a triangle stacked on a thin rectangle. Basically, broad shoulders, an aggressive taper, and NO HIPS), with an emphasis on a small waist. And realistically... that is very much not my body type, and will not be my body type underneath my body fat. And it is not possible to dress myself in a way that gives that illusion.

It's not that I want to appear masculine in general, or make my sexuality more readable. I just have a very narrow masculine ideal that I want for myself, and if I can't execute it "well" then I don't want it. But I am PLAGUED that I cannot have it. Every time I see a man look the way I want to look, I shrivel up a little bit.

I have considered T. I do not know much about it, but I am open to it. But I have looked into bodybuilding forums where men bemoan their thick waists getting in the way of their aesthetics. It seems like a genetic lottery.
posted by typify to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
It’s really common for people to continue to develop hormonally in their twenties; I grew another inch and a foot size when I was 22-25, and my sexuality didn’t really settle in until I was nearly 30. So take comfort knowing that a ton of folks have similar experiences and it’s not late puberty so much as just continuing to be a growing and changing person.

I am a little unclear as to your actual question. If it boils down to “how can I be comfortable and feel attractive with the body I have” then I would suggest a few different things.

One is to kind of fake it till you make it. Try to cut all self deprecation out of your language - accept compliments and don’t deflect them, try being sarcastic about how fantastic and brilliant you are instead of boring and dumb, talk positively about people who look like you or remind you of yourself. It will feel weird at first but it can make a huge difference over time, and other people will respond to it with positivity too.

Another is to do physical activities you enjoy but find a little challenging. The more you can make your body accomplish, the better you will like it. So you might take dance lessons, or learn how to rock climb, or bike to beautiful places, or even get into weight lifting and see those numbers go up. Yoga is a classic for this of course. Getting comfortable with all the ways your body can move and feel will help with lots of things, including plenty of positive reinforcement about how the body you currently have is achieving things you want.

Of course also getting comfortable with how your body can move and feel is a sensual thing. I suggest investing in some high quality accessories for personal enjoyment. Take time to explore and figure out how to give yourself some truly toe-curling orgasms, but also focus on sensual things and not chasing completion so much as just feeling good in your body. Desire yourself as you are, basically, and see how that affects your need to be desired by others in a very specific way. (Also, toys for clitoral and vaginal stimulation are really pretty awesome these days!)

Of course also there’s therapy. I noticed another question you asked a while back was also in the realm of how to stop thinking certain thoughts. Acceptance is probably a better way to go about things but also if you are constantly plagued by intrusive thoughts or negative self-talk that increases your anxiety or triggers depressive episodes, that’s something to be addressed with help, and not all alone. Teletherapy is currently having a boom because of the pandemic and this is just the kind of thing a counselor can help you get a grip on, and point you in a productive direction for further help if needed.
posted by Mizu at 1:24 PM on September 18, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I think "If I can't do it perfectly, I don't want to do it" is something that a lot of us say at some point in our whole gender situation — including trans people, including genderqueer people, and including cis people who have a specific presentation in mind that isn't the one that comes easiest.

I don't want to tell you your business, but for a lot of us, that's grief speaking. Grief makes things feel like they'll never be right again. "If I can't get my dead friend back, what's the point of life?" or whatever. Or like "If I can't be with my ex, why both dating?" There's body grief too. "If I can't look a certain way, why bother wearing clothes that make me happy?" "If I won't get a super tapered waist, why even go to the gym?"

The thing about grief is, it's real and it's valid and it fucking lies to you. Like, okay, your friend dies, and the grief says life is worthless without them — but it's lying, and what really happens is, is you miss your friend forever, your life goes on anyway, and it's worth it after all.

That's true for body grief too. Before I transitioned, my body grief told me there was no point because I'm six feet tall. Well, transitioning did not cure my grief about being six feet tall. I still cry about it regularly. I still get mad about it. I'm eight years in to a really happy transition and at this point I'm pretty sure I'm just going to be crying about this indefinitely. But fortunately for me, the grief was lying to me about the "there's no point" thing, and transitioning was the best decision I ever made. Sure, I cry and get mad sometimes, and then I go back to having a fucking awesome life that I feel actually present in, with a partner who's attracted to me in the right ways for the right reasons.

I have no idea if you're trans. (I don't think it matters — I have genderqueer and cis friends who could say the same stuff I'm saying now.) Maybe the thing your grief is currently bullying you out of doing is, like, going to the gym today, or getting a better haircut, or dressing the way you feel like dressing, or just going through life with a certain attitude that feels silly without muscles to match. Fuck it. Grief is lying to you. Do those things anyway. Doing them will not cure the grief. (It may, at first, dig it up and make it feel sharper.) But doing them will be worth it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:32 PM on September 18, 2021 [93 favorites]

Totally cis guy here but give me a moment.

My wife has very broad shoulders from her early years of using a manual pipe bender as a welder, it's all upper body/arm usage from a workout prospective.

Her body is similar to what you describe, but it could all be genetic, when she gains weight it settles in her sides not the hips.

She also has worn "men's" jeans forever, they sit differently on the hips and actually have pockets.
posted by Max Power at 1:34 PM on September 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure whether it's available in your area but friends have had good experiences with trans-affirming* gender therapists--I know "get therapy" is not always a great answer, but being able to talk these issues out in an atmosphere where you have more of a guide and less of a "here's how you get rid of those feelings!" experience could help.

* Not to force an identity, more that you want to ensure that your therapist is open to all choices.
posted by kingdead at 1:50 PM on September 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

T changes your fat and muscle distribution in a way that would very likely assist with this matter by pointing your silhouette in the direction you want. It does other stuff, too, some of which is permanent (notably off the top of my head: voice changes), so it may not be right for you. But it’s certainly worth considering if your feelings are this strong.
posted by Gymnopedist at 2:22 PM on September 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Also big second to nebulawindphone’s comment which expresses another point I wanted to make better than I could have.
posted by Gymnopedist at 2:25 PM on September 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I just came here to say that broad shoulders with a taper is absolutely a thing you can get with exercise and lifting weights. Specifically, big lats will make that shape. Your waist, even if it doesn’t change shape, will look smaller by comparison.

There’s a lot of great advice above on the mental aspect of your question. But there is an answer to the physical aspect, and it doesn’t have to be either-or. You can have very real grief that you weren’t born with the genetics to give you the body you want, and also build your lats so you get some of that triangle shape even if it’s not a perfect triangle, and also consider T to redistribute your body fat and make building upper body strength easier.
posted by danceswithlight at 4:17 PM on September 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

Kate Mckinnon does masculine underwear model perfectly despite not having the body for it. Those Justin Bieber Calvin Klein commercials do something strange to me despite the fact that most of the time she's performing antics designed to hilairify. She romps around in her ridiculous tighty whities and she should look ridiculous, but she really really does not. Occasionally she stops drinking from a juice box or falling off her skateboard or whatever long enough to confront the camera from under her (not actually there but I swear somehow she makes it be there) brow ridge, and I'm like... something. Something happens that doesn't happen when I look at Justin Bieber in his boxers. She reads male not despite her notmale shape but kind of because of it a little? It's like this magical triumph of the will quality she has. I don't know; it's complicated, clearly. But anyway maybe you don't need your body to be a certain shape to make it convey your spirit. So your pelvis tilts in a manner that fucks up the perfect Calvin Klein model triangle: okay, fine, you can still work with this instrument. Imbue it with the masculine spirit. Learn how to dress and mostly learn how to move. I know it can be done because she definitely does it.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:36 PM on September 18, 2021 [12 favorites]

I’ve dealt with this by writing characters who look like what I want and share my gender identity. I’ve been doing this subconsciously since I was a teenager (oh so many boys with feminine hips and long hair) but do it more intentionally now. The effort it would take to get the kind of gender presentation I want is not necessarily impossible, but absolutely not something I can pursue right now. So I live vicariously through my characters. It’s a helpful way for me to explore those feelings and get to “be” that for a while.

Like obviously good advice here and pursue anything you want—my suggestion is not to use writing to ignore and tamp down these feelings. But if you can’t pursue some of these suggestions right now, it’s a good way to acknowledge those feelings in a way that hopefully feels good instead of bad.
posted by brook horse at 4:41 PM on September 18, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: This is a thing I used to find myself regularly consumed by despair over. I'm kinda cis, I guess (I spent about fifteen years debating whether to transition with varying degrees of urgency, from "huh, maybe it would be interesting" to "how can I go through life without answering this question?"). Now that I'm past forty and still living in a pandemic, I've just kind of given up I guess, mostly because it doesn't seem that urgent anymore: the idea of having to figure out how to perform a more conclusive masculinity seems too impossible now compared to back when I was more invested in performance-of-self overall and had more energy to figure out self, and style, and aesthetic as a-body-in-the-world. So as someone who's been conflicted about gender for most of my life, I probably shouldn't be offering advice!

That said! One thing that I think is important to thresh out is the difference between wanting to be someone else congruent with who you already are vs. a kind of self-loathing or uncertainty in which you imagine that becoming someone completely different would solve all your problems. Don't let the idea of some unattainable other self you can never actually be become a stand-in for things you can strive toward!

Like, you can go to therapy and take antidepressants! You can try out testosterone (which is a very gradual process; taking T won't fundamentally change you overnight, and in fact you may not see any changes at all for a few months!)! You can work on both "looking good" (from aesthetic and/or gender perspectives) and working out so your body feels strong and capable in a way that's satisfying to you and builds muscle congruent with your gender inclinations! You can strive to learn new things, to explore facets of your intellectual and creative self that have nothing to do with gender but will make you a happier and more well-rounded person! Etc! But part of the struggle of gender and self-performance (no matter who you are and what your gender is now or in relation to your assigned-at-birth gender, etc) is figuring out how to become a more authentic version of yourself, not some imaginary other.
posted by knucklebones at 4:48 PM on September 18, 2021 [20 favorites]

Best answer: I think nebulawindphone and knucklebones have given good answers to the broader question, so I am mostly going to explain why I don't think testosterone is the answer you're looking for at this juncture (let's assume for now that your "I don't want to appear masculine in general" is true). Fat redistribution definitely happens, but the degree to which it changes the overall shape of your body depends on... your body. It also tends to be a longer-term, more subtle change, something that builds over a couple of years. If the other changes are potential dealbreakers, well... those tend to come first, including the permanent ones. (I am reticent about detailing changes in what is a cis-dominated space, but I've been on T just under a decade, having started age 25, and will discuss details over me-mail.) Fat redistribution isn't considered permanent, either, but it's honestly not a change that people who stop T (either intentionally or by losing access) tend to discuss extensively, I think mostly because it's subtle enough that they don't notice.

There is a transmasculine weightlifting/bodybuilding rabbit hole to go down that may be more helpful than what I assume to be forums dominated by cis men. It's not my thing, but I have definitely seen pictures of people who've achieved what you are looking for who weren't on T. (Like someone else said, it's lots of shoulder muscle.)

If you are interested in looking into T, me-mail me. There's a good leaflet from Vancouver Coastal Health that I think I have a copy of somewhere (it's what Lyon-Martin uses for obtaining informed consent). Don't believe people on Reddit who tell you to try hormones to "test" if you're trans. Gender doesn't work like that.
posted by hoyland at 5:32 PM on September 18, 2021 [6 favorites]

if I can't execute it "well" then I don't want it

I don't mean to dispute your feelings, but sometimes one discovers one feels differently about something after trying it. Lifting weights, no matter what hormones you have in your body, can give you wider shoulders and back. You could give it a try for 6 months and see how you feel about your presentation, and about how you yourself feel in your body.
posted by yohko at 7:05 PM on September 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you do wanna start working out: Momo Muscle is a trainer specialising in online programs for AFAB folks looking to achieve a masculine physique. I use her app and highly recommend, it's detailed, varied and fun. There is a fairly active FB community too of like-minded people, which is nice.
posted by Bektashi at 8:43 AM on September 19, 2021 [5 favorites]

There will be some features of your body you cannot change. For example, if you have reached your adult height then you are pretty much stuck with it. You really need to learn to live with and ideally appreciate those things. There are other things that can be changed a certain amount. I think partly you do eventually have to come to terms with what is achievable from the starting point you have and the extent to which you are prepared to pursue change (such as weight loss, surgery, hormones, clothing discomfort, make up etc). This might mean being what you currently consider to be a long way from your canonical version of your preferred look, or it might mean deciding to go for a less preferred (but still liked by you) look which you can get closer to. Regardless of what you choose to pursue for how you look, appreciating the things that your body can do and finding ways to take pride in those would probably be helpful for anyone.
posted by plonkee at 9:32 AM on September 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maybe you can reframe your dream.

Instead of wanting the whole thing, like the triangular torso, can you focus on some aspects of it that you CAN realistically achieve, like a 6-pack and bigger pecs?
posted by kschang at 1:39 PM on September 19, 2021

Speaking as someone who is dubiously cis and has decided on multiple occasions that the annoyance of being "unable to take off the woman suit" still doesn't outweigh the social disruption of pursuing T/medical transition, my question is this: why isn't your best effort to achieve your aesthetic good enough? Basically what nebulawindphone said. If you have this perspective on your appearance ("what I want is impossible, so how do I stop wanting what I want"), do you have similar patterns of thinking in other areas of your life? Do you pursue unavailable people as relationship prospects? Do you despair of being ___ enough to achieve certain career outcomes, without essentially becoming a completely different person? Do you love who you are, and are your desires to change more about being a better you than becoming someone fundamentally not-you? Or do you get the sense that your true ideals are fundamentally out of reach for some reason? Longing for who we "should be" is a real and valid feeling. But if we allow that longing to take up more space than our actual love and acceptance and cheering-on of ourselves, then maybe it's time to ask who benefits from the longing. Is it you?
posted by All hands bury the dead at 2:06 PM on September 19, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Can you seek out images/art from people who have more your body shape, but present in a more masculine way? I thing that the desire to present gender a certain way has an innate component, but your desire to have the male underwear model look didn't spring out of your brain without influence from the outside world, there are tons of images and messages telling us that's the an ideal male body. Believe me, I know you can't easily change your desires, but learning to expand your views of what's appealing to include what is realistically attainable to you can make a big difference.

In my case, I'm a trans guy, and before I figured things out and transitioned, I never wore the androgynous/masculine styles that were appealing to me. The reason? I had a very feminine, medium fat body, and I believed those styles only looked good on thin women who didn't have big breasts and wide hips, because that's what I see in the media and in the world. So I wore the clothes that were supposed to be "flattering" to my body type--so many A line dresses!--because not looking like I was trying a look that I couldn't "pull off" was more important to me at the time.

Around the time when I decided to transition, Hannah Gadsby became a huge success, and in my opinion, she's super hot and really rocks a masculine look, and she's also someone with a similar body type to what I looked like at the time. Totally a style icon. In other words, I was totally wrong about what people with my shape are "allowed" to wear and about the fact that supposedly people with my shape could only be perceived as feminine.

Does expanding my mind a bit change everything? Obviously not. Testosterone has shifted my body fat enough after 2 years so that men's clothes KIND OF fit better than women's clothes, i.e., no clothes fit me properly but at least I can wear them. I am still very self conscious about the amount of fat on my hips/thighs, even if it is less. I still frequently get misgendered, people usually just avoid saying anything at all. BUT--it used to be this was my fear, that I'd get stuck in this awkward in-between where I'm not really pulling it off, and that this would be even worse than not transitioning at all. I.e., if it's not perfect I don't want it. Turns out I was totally wrong--it is still disappointing to not be where I want to be, but being here feels way better than where I was before.
posted by Bluebird Wine at 4:58 PM on September 19, 2021 [6 favorites]

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