Fruit of the Loom has a new, and rather clever, marketing campaign for their t-shirts: PutAShirtOn.org. Their tongue-in-cheek video1 explains that the real reason for all the shirtless selfies on social media is because the guy’s shirts are poor quality and are getting “ripped” and “shredded”. Their social media campaign suggests that people comment on these photos with a #putashirton hashtag, which ties into Fruit of the Loom’s marketing campaign, and promote their EverSoft shirts.
It’s also body shaming men.
I spent all of my childhood and most of my adult life hating how I looked and feeling ashamed of my body. I remember in middle school my dad took my brother and I to an after-school basketball program. I had so much shame taking my shirt off for the “skins” team that I refused to go back after the first night.
In college I remember riding my bike one day without a shirt on. Some assholes in a truck pulled up besides me at a stop sign and mocked me to “put a shirt on that ugly body”, laughed, and drove off.
It wasn’t until two years ago that I did enough mental and physical work to like how I looked. After feeling more confident I started posting some pictures to Instagram (warning: I’m often shirtless). Positive reinforcement of those pics by friends and strangers helped reinforce that I’m not ugly. I can easily imagine how shamed I would have felt at the beginning of that journey if someone had posted this marketing hashtag to my shirtless posts. (Today I would just consider them trolls and delete them.)
Feel free to roll your eyes at we narcissists (or want-to-be narcissists) posting shirtless selfies, but please don’t use this marketing hashtag to shame us.
1 A video which includes generally slim guys, most of them white, and all but one of them smooth, thus further perpetuating this as the “right” way that men should look. To their credit, it isn’t all really buff guys, so there’s at least that.
Earlier this week I modeled for a portrait artist almost, but not quite, in the buff.
S. Pettit is the artist behind the beefcake superheroes of Tumbled Heroes1. I connected with him on Instagram a couple of weeks ago and he asked if I was interested in being a model for some figure study sketches. I’d never been a model before although I have friends who have (Scott) and friends who have drawn models before (Jonobie) so this wasn’t completely foreign to me.
Much like my photoshoot a year and change ago, this was a chance for me to push outside my comfort zone and try something new. Since the photoshoot though, I’ve become much more comfortable in my own skin and how I look.
So one evening he came over for two hours and sketched me on his iPad while I stood and sat and reclined. We had a running conversation about all kinds of random things as I held still. After each pose he would show me the results and we’d move on to the next one. He sketched 5 poses total in a bit under 2 hours.
The next day I had an awesome sketch in my inbox. A couple of hours after that a portrait drawing appeared too. I was floored with the results! Wait — that’s me? It was an incredibly fun experience and I can easily see myself doing it again in the future.
It has become very clear to me over the past two years that we often see ourselves very differently than others do. It is fascinating to see yourself through someone else’s eyes.
On Friday, Daniel and I attended our first ever Naked Tie Party, hosted by a friend in Denver. You read that correctly: naked tie party.
It was my first ever nudist event and I knew going into it that it would push my boundaries in all good ways. Since last November I’ve become more comfortable with how I look and decided this was something I wanted to try. I’d been meaning to get back to Denver to visit friends and this seemed like a great opportunity.
Here’s how it worked: you show up to a well-warmed house and are directed to a guest room where you strip down to your birthday suit, put on a tie of your choice (I wore a narrow black tie, Daniel wore a black bowtie), stash all of your belongings including your phone into a bag, and socialize in your altogether. Note that your phone is also stashed with your clothes. This doubles to ensure that the party is photo-free and that people talk to each other rather than retreat into their phones.
The invite was explicit that this was not a sex party and that naked was a goal, not a requirement. Being a voyeur was not allowed but if you weren’t comfortable being completely naked you were welcome to wear underwear.
The party attendees were all men, presumably but not exclusively gay, and ran the gamut of body types. Some were experienced nudists and others were newbies like myself. I don’t know how many people were there in total, but I would guess 70 to 80 over the course of the night. I only knew 4 of them going into it.
The entire experience was liberating and after the first minute or so I stopped even thinking about being naked. Instead it was a chance to meet and socialize with new people. Without phones people were fully-engaged in the conversation which was probably the best part of the entire event. I loved how body-positive and non-shaming the experience was. Oddly my biggest fear going into it was what to do with my hands without pockets to stick them in (apparently you hold a drink like in any club).
I would do this again in a heart-beat and have considered hosting one here in Seattle.
I’ve always struggled with body-image issues and been unhappy with how I looked. It’s only been in the past decade that I’ve had moments, rare but wonderful moments, when I liked what I saw in the mirror or in a photo. Despite quickly approaching 40, those moments are occurring more frequently now.
I’ve worked on this blog post off and on for many months now, unsure of how to approach the topic. It wasn’t until I read my friend Scott McGlothlen’s post Posing Naked: The Good Kind of Awkward (link is safe for work) that I realized what I needed to do was just be honest and vulnerable.
It starts early and follows us forever
Like many of us, my body-image issues started very young. I remember in middle school my dad took my brother and I to an after-school basketball program. I had so much shame taking my shirt off for the “skins” team that I refused to go back after the first night. I’m uncertain my Dad had any idea the real reason why I refused to go back, but to his credit he didn’t force me.
I am very fortunate that I didn’t grow up in a hyper-masculine household. I was never shamed by my family for how I looked, yet shame I had nonetheless.
In college I once went on a bike ride without a shirt and was ridiculed waiting at a stop sign by guys in a pickup truck telling me to stop embarrassing myself and put a shirt on.
In 2012 while I was riding a bus to work someone took a photo of me, posted it on Facebook, and their friends proceeded to comment on how disproportionate I looked.
Neither of those incidents did anything to make me feel better about how I looked.
Physical and mental workouts
Over the years I’ve put a lot of effort into how I look and how I think about myself.
Shortly after I started working for IBM in 2000 I got a gym membership and began working out in the mornings before work. Every workday lifting weights or running. 16 years later and I still go to the gym every weekday morning before work. On the weekends I run with friends and sometimes run half-marathons.
I have undoubtably made progress on how I look physically, progress I am very happy about. I have also made noticeable strides in how I feel about myself and that’s the progress that I’m happiest with. I’ve finally accepted that I will never look like the models we’re marketed with and that’s OK. I don’t always love what I see in the mirror, but I am at least content with the image I see. That’s huge strides from two decades ago.
Take more, not fewer, pictures
Because of my body-image issues, I’ve almost always hated pictures of myself. My mental critiques run something like:
That photo has the profile of the nose that I hate.
I’m smiling like a dork in that one.
Oh god, all you can see is how skinny I am.
Yet in some ways pictures are one of the best things to show us that we change over time. That those hours at the gym are actually doing something, something we don’t see day-to-day in the mirror. That concerted effort of eating better really has shrunk those love-handles. That maybe, just maybe, we’ve grown into that nose that we hate1.
Pictures provide a great opportunity for some mental growth too although posting them on social media is a double-edged sword. It’s hard being vulnerable, and strangers can be real assholes sometimes, but nothing gives you a shot of confidence than having friends like and comment on a picture of you.
If the social-media hive-mind thinks I look good, maybe I do.
Maybe the internal record I play for myself is a broken reflection of the reality, a reality that others see differently.
Recently a friend who dislikes pictures of herself showed me a photo of her taken at a work party that she adored. In the photo she is beaming and beautiful — just as she appears to me every time we’re together. In that photo she was finally able to see what the rest of see daily.
Maybe we need to take more pictures of ourselves to finally capture those moments for us that others see all the time.
For my birthday in 2016 I gave myself a rather interesting birthday present: a photoshoot. Those moments when I liked what I see in the mirror had come more frequently and I wanted to memorialize it, for fear it might never happen again.
I asked my friend and photographer Ryan Pennington if he were willing, and he agreed. I knew Ryan would make me feel at ease and that at the end of the process if I didn’t like any of the photos, he would know it was due to my own issues and not his skills as a photographer.
Sometime during the middle of the shoot Ryan took a picture and showed me the camera. Without really thinking I exclaimed: “Damn, he’s hot. Oh wait that’s me!“. That’s the sign of a good photographer, folks.
The shoot was 7 hours and produced 800 photos. That set got culled to a final set of 70 that I love. Let me say that again a little louder: I have 70 photos of me that I love. I didn’t think I would ever be able to say that.
I shared several of them with friends on Facebook and guess what: they loved them too. My friend Jason Silzer commented on a photo with this pearl of wisdom that I am still trying to integrate into my reality:
Now you see what we all already see.
That’s so incredibly hard to believe, but I keep trying.
All of us struggle
Why am I writing all of this? My hope, my vain hope, is that knowing I have body-image issues helps someone else realize that they are not alone in theirs. That everyone has body-image issues. Old, young, men, women, boys, girls, straight, gay, cis, trans.
That good looking guy walking down the street? He probably has some body-image issues. And that cute girl always posting pictures of herself on Facebook may be dealing with some of the same self-esteem issues you are. We always present our best selves to the world, particularly on social media, but that doesn’t mean we alway believe the image we’re presenting.
It’s incredibly hard, but I encourage you to try and see yourself as others see you. None of us are as ugly as we think.