Picture this: a semi-drunk Char at the end of a Sunday Funday, the first big gay Sunday Funday he has ever experienced. He only came out recently and didn’t know that one could find free vodka happy hours, disco dancing, and boys galore on the Lord’s day. It is a strange phenomenon that while the pious are busy genuflecting in pews, legions of homosexual men are gyrating and imbibing at a staggering number of bars and clubs all before the cold winter sun dips below the vales of New Jersey.
Our hero, good ole Chuckiebill, still reeling from this revelation on a cold January day, has finally made it to Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque in the West Village. The meats are sauced and steaming, the sides are plentiful, and young buck Chuck cannot wait to sink his chompers into something. He orders- pulled pork! Ribs! Potato Salad! Mac 'n Cheese- just in case! A pause as he marvels at the wonders which will soon travel across his lips, coating his taste buds in all things good and pure, before finding their way to his tequila-filled tummy. A voice from next to him, a friend, or so he thought:
“Damn, Charlie, summer bodies are made in the winter.”
A throaty laugh fills the void as our hero debates how to proceed. The food has already been placed on his tray. You can’t just tell them to put it back. And also, we hungry. Being gay takes SO many calories, you guys! Proper nutrition is key! What to do? He decides to laugh it off and eat his food because it’s still only January, and there is plenty of time to catch the mythical summer body.
Okay, so dropping this hero conceit now- I think of this interaction all the time. It was a comment made in good fun and not meant to be serious, but it left me shook. Before being openly gay, I felt some pressure to look a certain way or have a certain body type, which was made worse by the acting industry. Now the pressure to have the perfectly engineered summer body has increased tenfold, and I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.
I have never had a great relationship with my own body. I remember being in third grade the first time I became aware of my body being not okay. I was at a pool and an adult family member said, “what is that hanging over your swimsuit?” I looked down, confused, and picked up the drawstring and said, “these?”
“No, your stomach.”
My chubby phase in middle school left me with man boobs, or “moobs” as they were dubbed by my classmates who loved giving titty twisters (again, friends acting in good fun, but not easy to forget). Even as a competitive rower in high school, I never had the same physique as many of the other guys on my team. I was not overweight, but I was never toned and lean. This carried through my early 20s, despite staying active most of the time. I did have one phase right after Hurricane Sandy, where I went on a three month candy bender and went home for Christmas just over 200 pounds. Family members started asking if I was ok. I was great! I had been eatin’ good in the neighborhood and felt phenom. I hadn’t even realized that I’d gained weight until I saw a picture of myself at New Years, which prompted a three-month crash diet wherein I lost 20 lbs by basically living at the gym.
After that, I thought I looked great. I maintained my new weight over the next several years and generally felt good about it. Then I came out. I was sucked into instagram and looking at all these guys with ripped abs, big arms, and less than 10% body fat. It seemed to be the ideal. Have this type of body and you will be spending your summer in the Hamptons, jet off to Mykonos for a couple of weeks, revel in some debauchery in Fire Island, and choose your own adventure in P-town! Swipe up and use discount code IsCumACarb to purchase now! Even the parties throughout the winter became shirt-optional. I was mortified that something wasn’t quite toned enough, my arms weren’t big enough, and that, in the event that I did end up getting naked with someone, he would tell me to put my clothes back on and promptly return to sender.
Motivated by fear of rejection and self-inflicted societal pressure, I hit the gym hard. I worked my ass off that spring and had some decent results. I thought I looked good- a new level of good for me. It still wasn’t good enough. In joking about setting me up with someone, I was told, “yeah you’re cute, but he likes guys with big arms. Work on that and then we’ll see.” Another time, at the beach with a friend, he looked at me and said with a hint of surprise, “Charlie you’re getting into shape.” A compliment, but with caveats- was I not in good enough shape before? I thought I was. Also, I’m not in shape yet, apparently. I’m “getting” there. I wanted to scream, do a juice cleanse, take three spin classes and never eat again. I also wanted to just set it all on fire.
I experienced a couple rough rejections that summer and fall. The objects of my desire were into other people, as is the case more often than not. I had worked really hard to look a certain way, but it felt like it wasn’t going to be good enough for anyone. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should just go crazy, let myself eat whatever I want, abandon the gym, allow myself to become what I perceived as physically unattractive so that if I was rejected again I could blame my appearance. It could put a buffer between the sting of being left behind and the reasoning behind it because it would give me some agency. If I chose to look a less than ideal, then I would be able to use that as an excuse. Rejection when I felt good about my appearance either meant that I still lacked the ideal body or worse, it was a flaw that no amount of gym time could fix. My personality. My disposition. Something intractable. But my body I could change, and at least if I thought I wasn’t worth someone’s attention due to my appearance then it would make sense when they moved on.
Fucked up thought process, right? These thoughts still cross my mind. I still have the urge to put up walls in whatever form I can find them to make things easier to stomach when they don’t work out, but I try to choose to be gentle with myself. Let me issue this reminder to you, my little chinchillas, and primarily to myself: a summer body is just a body that a person has during summer. It looks similar to a spring, winter, or fall body. No two summer bodies are the same. If you want your summer body to become a winter body, all you have to do is cross the equator. The seasons are switched down there!
I still exercise often and I try to eat well, but I recognize that these two things also help my mental state. I am happier when I am healthy, but health is not tied to a six pack. It’s big picture. When I see my belly hanging over the waistband of my swimsuit, I try to remind that confused little third grader that it’s ok to look however you look. I also want to emphasize that I am not shaming or holding anything against those people who do have their ideal body and who have worked hard for their results. My point is that I now realize that holding myself to an external standard is not healthy or realistic for me physically or mentally. I want to celebrate my body in every aspect, especially in the places where I have had insecurities in the past. I am sick of wasting time thinking that I am not good enough, because this is the only body I’ve got, and the same goes for you.
If you want to make a change, whether through diet and exercise or plastic surgery or a little botox here or there, go for it! All I ask is that you choose to make those changes from a place of self-love instead of a place of insecurity. I am well aware that it is not easy to do these things, and I struggle with it constantly. Whatever we choose to do with our bodies, let’s own those choices. Love them even. It may not be easy, but one day it will be worth it.