Please help me take off my shirt!
June 9, 2008 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Okay so I'm about 30lbs over my ideal weight and live a relatively sedimentary lifestyle. I smoke about a pack a day, and don't really watch what I eat..

Despite all that, I'm a great guy with a lot of friends and I have a absolutely smoking hot awesome wife who's in perfect shape. It's a total "King of Queens" situation I guess :)

Here's the thing, as outgoing as I am, and as confident as I act, I'm mortally afraid to take off my shirt in public.

I guess I fear that its disrespectful to the other people at the pool / beach. I mean, who wants to see my pale gut & love handles? But on the other hand I feel like life is passing me by. I'm 33 years old and have passed up countless activities and potential fun times because of this "fear".

Obviously my wife has seen me shirtless / naked a million times and is totally cool with it, and so am I. But when it comes to a group setting or public place I'd rather not even go if it means the chance of having to go shirtless.

I know I'm an awesome guy, a great husband etc. And I see plenty of other people who look similar to me going shirtless and no seeming to care. Why can't I get to that place?
posted by Hellafiles to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
honestly, hellafiles, no one's going to pay attention. EVERYONE is overweight in america, and your paltry 30 pounds is not going to arouse a nelson-esque "ha-ha!" from anyone. or any attention at all, probably. people without their shirts on in the summer = par for the course, and since this course is on american soil, we all expect and accept guts and love handles. try to lose weight, if it'll make you more comfortable, but in the meantime, don't let 30 pounds keep you from having fun. no one will notice/care, i promise.
posted by alpha_betty at 10:47 AM on June 9, 2008

What happens when you see other people who look like you? Do you feel horrified or disrespected?
posted by sondrialiac at 10:52 AM on June 9, 2008

I've never really understood people who react with disgust and aversion to the sight of others being fat, making out in public, etc. Does this sort of thing bother you? If not, maybe it would help to remind yourself that most people aren't really bothered by seeing other people's bodies, and those that do have a problem with it are a weird and insecure but vocal minority. If they're offended, they deserve to be.

also: "sedimentary lifestyle?" That CAN'T be healthy.
posted by contraption at 10:52 AM on June 9, 2008

Look at some pictures of yourself from a few years ago. Don't you now think you looked better than you thought you looked at the time? Don't you now wonder "What was I so worried about?"

You will think the same thing a few years from now about the way you look today. Go to the pool.
posted by HotToddy at 10:53 AM on June 9, 2008

start counting how many other people like you are going shirtless. You're thinking it's a low number. It's a very high number. You need to get out of your head a bit on this issue and focus on the facts.

As for your living a sedimentary lifestyle, I would not take my health for granite if I were you.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:56 AM on June 9, 2008 [17 favorites]

If these feelings are causing you to be depressed and anxious and keeping you from enjoying regular activities, that's not good. But perhaps instead you can channel those feelings into motivation to start exercising, in which case it would be healthy.

As contraption alludes to, it's "sedentary lifestyle," not "sedimentary."
posted by ludwig_van at 10:57 AM on June 9, 2008

30lb? Pfft, I'm sure that you think it looks a heckofa lot worse than everybody else on the pool/beach who anyway are far more worried about hiding the bits they're self-conscious about than checking you out.

Why not get a really good quality spray tan done at a salon (built up over 3-4 sessions?) - it makes the world of difference to the way you view your body and you can then happily disrobe and get a real tan on the pool/beach.
posted by ceri richard at 10:58 AM on June 9, 2008

Agree with all of the above, plus there's always the option of not taking your shirt off. My mom hates-hates-hates my tattoos, so if I'm visiting family and want to take a dip in the pool, I usually just wear a lightweight t-shirt so as not to incite interminable conversations about how I have ruined myself. A lightweight tee won't interfere with swimming and will dry in minutes if you decide to change out and just drape it over a chair.
posted by Shepherd at 11:00 AM on June 9, 2008

First, I don't think that people will feel disrespected or terrorized by your extra 30 pounds. But if it's really making you feel like you're missing out on parts of life, it sounds like you could use a small change.

If you start doing a little exercise, you will probably feel better (even if you don't lose any weight) and therefore also feel better about how you look. I'm not talking joining a gym, but going for walks after dinner just to feel less sedentary.
posted by Airhen at 11:00 AM on June 9, 2008

I see many people who just go ahead and wear a shirt at the beach, and even in the water. I'm in the same boat, weight-wise, and also wife-wise. I feel a tinge of self-confidence issue rising up when I do take off my shirt in public, but I just focus my mind on other things (namely keeping track of the two kids) and it soon fades away. Believe me, people are not staring at you, they aren't talking about your weight in the pool. Many people who have no reason to be embarrassed by their figure are the ones who are really freaking out about it.

As an in-between solution, get a comfortable Dri-fit style workout shirt to wear into the water. They tend to dry very quickly out of the water, and ideally you can find one that doesn't cling to every inch when it gets wet. Check out some other swim trunks as well. It doesn't look super hot, but I have a pair of long board shorts that I can pull up over the love handles a bit to make it not so obvious.

If you get any questions about wearing a shirt in the water, tell them you burn like a mofo and it saves you a lot of pain later.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:10 AM on June 9, 2008

To get over this fear, you should travel to Australia, where the fat middle-aged smokers just wear speedos.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:11 AM on June 9, 2008

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is emotionally invested in what you look like with your shirt off to anywhere near the degree you are, and if you're going somewhere where men going shirtless is acceptable or expected, you're going to be around people who are tacitly expecting to see (and have already seen, a thousand times), shirtless overweight men. They've seen much bigger guys wearing nothing but speedos. They don't care. They aren't worried about how you look.

So go to the beach and take your dang shirt off. Do it until you stop worrying about it—which is only going to happen if you get used to it, by doing it.
posted by cortex at 11:12 AM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can chalk up your sedimentary lifestyle to the fast food conglomerates.
But seriously--your wife sounds amazing, and may be holding back some of her feelings in this regard. Ask for her help with your diet and exercise. Do it for her.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:19 AM on June 9, 2008

You don't actually have to take your shirt off. I see lots of people wearing rash guards or swim shirts these days, even in indoor swimming pools. Outdoors, there is even more reason to be covered up, chiefly sun protection.
posted by needled at 11:19 AM on June 9, 2008

This was me until relatively recently. I was pretty happy with my lifestyle at the time, but I lost the smokes (although I still indulge occasionally), made some tweaks to the diet, and got much more active. I can't tell you how much better I feel and look. I don't know how many pounds I lost but I'm skinnier and fitter than I was in college. I have crazy amounts of energy and focus. So 1) I recommend that.

2) Honestly everyone in the thread is right, no one will care, it's a total wash as far as the public is concerned.
3) You care because you have some dignity and concern for the impression you give. That's a good thing. See 1) and participate with or without a shirt on according to how you feel about it.
posted by lackutrol at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2008

There's no shame in being a big ol' fat dude, as long as you're owning the fact that you're a big ol' fat dude. The two kinds of big ol' fat dudes that exist are the doughy ones who feel that there's a male standard of perfection that they haven't attained, and the alpha-male Tony Soprano types who basically act as if it's the most natural thing on earth to tote around a lot of girth. The former type conceives of his body as something which is done to him; the latter thinks of his body as something which he does to the world.

The important thing is to keep your shoulders back and your head held high. Your posture will slowly seep into your brain, shifting your thought process from "Sorry y'all have to see this" to "Y'all should be motherfucking HONORED to see this." It's good to have positive rôle models for this way of thinking, so I suggest you look at plenty of pictures of silverback gorillas. Also, explore other cultures that have different conceptions of what an adult male should look like; all over the world, since the dawn of humanity, humans have realized that the natural order of things is for men to gain weight as they grow older; keep in mind that the current American vogue for slim, tanned, hairless adult males, stressing youthfulness as the ne plus ultra for good looks, is just one of many potential man-fashions that have paraded through this world.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:45 AM on June 9, 2008 [9 favorites]

Like you, I'm not very comfortable showing a lot of skin in public. One option is to wear a surf shirt (aka "rash guard"). It's a good cover-up for both sun protection and personal modesty / shyness, and doesn't shed lint into the pool as much as a regular shirt. There are some decent-looking, sporty styles.
posted by CruiseSavvy at 11:48 AM on June 9, 2008

I guess I fear that its disrespectful to the other people at the pool / beach. I mean, who wants to see my pale gut & love handles?

This is crazy. Really, really crazy.

I understand *why* you feel this way. Fatness has become this very strange, loaded symbol in our Puritanical culture that's conflated with self-control and purity and all sorts of things we like to believe that we've moved past. Of course, we haven't, and instead we have this moral panic about fatness. (Would you be healthier if you ate more veggies, less crap, and exercised? Of course. But I'm betting you know that, because the mere fact you're here means you haven't lived under a rock for the past 10 years. So I'll forgo the lecture, because I'll assume you're not an idiot, and also it's not my damn place to pass judgment on your eating habits any more than it's my place to pass judgment on your sex life.)

On the "disrespectful" thing: I'm betting that this is more about your own shame at your body than it's about other people. People out in public are regularly exposed to the unwashed masses, and somehow we manage to get on. Can you imagine how sad it would be to have someone here post a question saying, "I'm in a wheelchair, and I know no one wants to be reminded of the inherent frailties of the human body, so I feel like it's disrespectful to go out in public"? That would be crazy. As is the thought that there's any sort of "disrespect" involved in you taking off your shirt in a public place. You don't exist to make other people happy; actual disrespect involves treating people badly, not failing to live up to some ideal as eye candy.

There's a whole blogosphere of people who write very beautifully about confronting some of their own demons about fat and weight loss--perhaps it would be helpful to you to read some of the stuff out there. The ones I'm aware of are mostly women, but I imagine you could get a lot out of their writing, as the messages are somewhat universal. The one that pops to mind is Kate Harding's The Fantasy of Being Thin. The rest of her blog has some good stuff, too.

You could also try googling "health at any size"--from what I understand, that should lead you to resources about living healthy (if that's something you want to address) along with confronting internalized shame about body size.

Good luck. I'm sure there are much better uses for your brain cycles than feeling ashamed of your body.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:11 PM on June 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I know I'm an awesome guy, a great husband etc. And I see plenty of other people who look similar to me going shirtless and no seeming to care. Why can't I get to that place?

Those people see their gut as a something to be proud of. - you obviously don't. It doesn't really matter what everyone else thinks or says about how you look - you obviously dislike how you look to the point where you won't take your shirt off. Your body is your insecurity and it is something you are extremely well aware of and something that you are ashamed of. And guess what? You're not going to become the big pasty lovable tub of fun at the beach by using a magic wand or getting people to tell you to just get over it because everyone is fat. That isn't going to happen because you do give a crap. The only way you're going to become that big pasty lovable tub of fun at the beach by changing your lifestyle. Quit smoking. Start a diet. Start becoming more active (exercise or just start taking an evening walk) And why? Because soon you're going to start feeling as if you actually lost weight (which won't be true - you'll just have more energy) and you're going to want to show yourself off. You'll be hanging out at the nudist beach and you're gonna become the naked guy who goes outside to pick up his morning newspaper.
posted by Stynxno at 12:34 PM on June 9, 2008

Lose fifteen, and you'll feel so good about yourself that you'll lose the other 15 with the self-esteem momentum. Really. I was "30 lb over my ideal weight" at the beginning of the year, and will be at that idea weight by the first of summer. Dedicating myself to the first fifteen was all I needed.
posted by notsnot at 1:10 PM on June 9, 2008

Everyone's right. Stop worrying about it - no one else is. Just no speedos, please.
If you CAN'T stop worrying about it before you go out, do calisthenics (pushups, situps, etc.) until the feeling goes away. Eventually you'll lose either the pounds or the guilt response. Victory either way. :)
posted by bartleby at 1:33 PM on June 9, 2008

weapons-grade pandemonium: "But seriously--your wife sounds amazing, and may be holding back some of her feelings in this regard."

I'd suggest you ignore WGP's presumably well-meant but absolutely astonishingly presumptive and rude remark here.
posted by WCityMike at 2:23 PM on June 9, 2008

Er, presumptuous, not presumptive. (I've been seeing the phrase "presumptive nominee" a bit too much, I presume.)
posted by WCityMike at 2:25 PM on June 9, 2008

Yeah, don't worry at all about it. Most people are probably more obsessed how they look on the beach to worry too much about how people around them look. NOBODY there has a perfect body, so take your shirt off and have fun.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:27 PM on June 9, 2008

I love how people always post these "I've got an irrational fear, how do I overcome it?" questions and everybody chimes in with "oh, you don't have to be afraid about that, it's not rational!" Obviously you know that if you take off your shirt in public in an ordinary situation, nothing will happen - women will not gasp in horror, anguished fathers will not cover the eyes of their children, you will not be descended upon by the Flab Patrol and taken off for reeducation. The only negative thing that will happen is that you will feel bad about yourself. You've allowed the fear of this bad feeling to control your life.

The problem is, you want the irrational fear to go away so that you can take off your shirt at the beach or whatever, but every time you avoid a situation where you would have to face this fear, you increase its legitimacy and power in your mind. There is no way to overcome fears without facing them, which means, you're going to have to take off your damn shirt and experience that bad feeling. And you will, it won't be pleasant, but a more rational part of your mind will be observing and thinking huh, what a nonevent. Nobody gives a damn that I'm out of shape except me. And the next time it will be easier. (I'm assuming this is not fear of a pathological level, i.e. the moment your nipples are exposed you have a panic attack. For that you might need professional help).
posted by nanojath at 3:04 PM on June 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

> There is no way to overcome fears without facing them, which means, you're going to have to take off your damn shirt and experience that bad feeling. And you will, it won't be pleasant, but a more rational part of your mind will be observing and thinking huh, what a nonevent. Nobody gives a damn that I'm out of shape except me. And the next time it will be easier. (I'm assuming this is not fear of a pathological level, i.e. the moment your nipples are exposed you have a panic attack. For that you might need professional help).

Damn, nanojath. You nailed it right in the bullseye. Pertains to a few demons on my back, too. Way to go.
posted by WCityMike at 4:49 PM on June 9, 2008

A different idea: spend some time at a hot springs or spa where people go nude. First of all, the first time you leave the cabin (or whatever) will make your shirtlessness anxiety pale in comparison. Also, you'll be outside without clothes, but in a more private-feeling setting than a beach -- ironically, sort of a middle ground. But those aren't my main reasons for recommending it.

My main reason is that most places we go in society are very appearance focused. But nude beaches and hot springs are a surprising exception. It would be skeezy to be staring or parading or preening oneself the way people tend to do at beaches. You may also feel surprisingly more like "your real self" than in a bathing suit, since I imagine you spend more time naked-naked than shirtless (10-20 minutes showering and changing, etc). I feel very self-conscious in a bathing suit, because maybe I should have gotten the "boyshorts" instead of the bikini bottom or the one-piece instead of the two-piece, but I don't feel self-conscious at the hot springs because there's almost nothing I can do "better" -- I look the way I look. Finally, you will see so many people comfortable being totally naked, with all varieties of the human body, that after a while the whole shirtless thing will seem like nothing.
posted by salvia at 6:36 PM on June 9, 2008

Thanks a lot guys! There were some great suggestions in here!
posted by Hellafiles at 8:30 PM on June 9, 2008

Look on the bright side: I'm sure there are some people who are horrified that you think you can hide the love handles by keeping your shirt on.

No, seriously, you should go buy, or download, something from Christian Finnegan and embrace your inner douchebag.

Oh, in the end, you'll be using your gut as a beverage tray!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:06 PM on June 9, 2008

Do you have any interest in moderate lifestyle changes? Perhaps taking a long walk after dinner with that fabulous wife of yours?

I'm not suggesting that you lose weight, but taking good care of yourself will increase your confidence.
posted by 26.2 at 11:09 PM on June 9, 2008

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