The American psyche is battered by relentless media projections of what the “ideal” body should be. While women have been targeted historically, men are an increasingly lucrative playground for the industries that profit off of insecurity and self-hatred. AskMen.com reports that between 2009 and 2014 worldwide purchases of beauty products targeted to men will rise about fourfold from nearly $20 billion to $85 billion per year. In a 2009 follow-up to a 1984 survey about female body image, Glamour found that for twenty-five years, body dissatisfaction has remained steady across eras at 40 percent. Extrapolated into recent census data, this means that nearly 63 million women are unhappy based solely on subjective views about a vessel they cannot escape. As a result, the diet industry, which has a tremendous failure rate, flourishes with promises of beauty and happiness.
My honest advice for people enduring body hatred is simple: be naked more often. Not necessarily among other people, but definitely more than just for your daily shower.
It sounds crazy and counterintuitive, right? I certainly thought so.
During the two years I lived in Hollywood playing the wannabe actor game, I developed a devastating case of body hatred. Striving to achieve the airbrushed status of popular stars of the early 2000s, I hired an esthetician, dermatologist, and chiropractor, became a member of a gym, ran 90 miles per week, and nitpicked the quantity of my food. The funhouse mirror in my bedroom displayed a very heavy and lumpy 150-pound man whenever I looked into it. My hands, used as calipers, found fat where others saw scrawniness.
When the dream went bust, I returned home and discovered my parents’ scale. I weighed myself up to ten times daily, and obsessed about calories and fat, though I continued to eat low quality items. I was emotionally distraught about this curve in my path and about the perceived fact that I was too ugly and out of shape to make it big.
I decided to resolve this myself, because the situation proved untenable. It’s all I thought about. Taking my search to the Internet, I looked up “body image” and “body acceptance.” Up popped community message boards promoting nudism and naturism. In younger years, I would hang out naked at home if no one was around, so I decided to go forward. I asked questions and members of the websites would reply that I should stand nude before the mirror and shower myself with words of love and beauty, accepting my body as is in that moment. Silly them! But, okay, I was desperate.
I did this for months, first cringing at the sight of myself, then adapting, then finding enjoyment. It had taken about a year to hammer the idea of my hideousness into my brain and took considerably less time for me to rediscover my comfort. I felt I’d discovered gold and wanted to tell the world. How do you tell the world that being naked saved you from yourself without receiving ridicule in return?
The first answer is that you simply don’t, which is what I did for many years. Then I realized that nudism has been a life changer for me, and while going to beaches, spas, or clubs might not be for everyone, the ethic behind it could be beneficial to many.
When I was alone and naked confronting myself in the mirror, I had no escape. Certainly, I could have pulled on some clothes, but I believed in the idea that accepting my body as is required my patience in its presence. I stuck with the exercise and soon realized that I had manufactured the self-hate because of the messaging and attitudes around me in the acting world. Without the persistent drumbeat, my own jadedness melted away.
From there, I literally threw away my parents’ scale. I researched quality ingredients and ceased eating fast foods. I never ran 60 miles in a week again, let alone 90. I initiated my studies in holistic wellness.
For Americans reading this, we live in a society that has separated our emotional self from the physical. Though we have evolved in many ways during our short time occupying these lands, we still hold Puritanical beliefs about the “sinfulness” of the human body. Society tells us early in life that nakedness equals dirtiness and sexuality even though desert and tropical peoples have shown us otherwise, as do nudists in more temperate regions. A friend told me that a Swede she knows has said she cannot believe how uptight we are about the human form. When the message of fear and distaste is so ingrained in the culture, how should we expect ourselves to react?
Rampant eating issues (including those underreported in men), billions of earnings going to self-improvement products, a bursting diet industry, and 63 million miserable women are the direct results of our disordered thinking about the human body. The mountains of pills, supplements, books, and exercise regimens build around us, when maybe all we need to do is strip down. If you can find peace with the skin you’re in, healthy adjustments will follow. Exercise or change what you eat because you absolutely love your body and want it to thrive. No good change ever comes from hate. I’m talking about uprooting four centuries of mental programming, so I understand that my suggestion could seem weird or scary.
It worked for me. It could work for you, too.