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I know and understand the unreal and linear standards of beauty society imposes on both men and women. In this particular case, it’s about men.
So, I’m a man and I know what the standards imposed on me are. I know what I’m “supposed” to look like, which is essentially a slim tall figure with a ripped body and all that. And I know that while these aren’t unrealistic, they’re also toxic because they tag the section of the population that can’t fulfill these demands as unattractive.
I generally endeavor to make other men know that a man doesn’t have to look one particular way to be considered attractive.
And that he should be comfortable with the way he looks or strive to look the way he wants and not what society dictates.I also make sure they don’t fall to false assumptions that women would like them if and only if they look one particular way.
And this is where the problem unfolds. While I’ve been able to tell my peers and everyone else that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and most standards these days are toxic, (and have made a significant impact on quite a few, I’m proud to admit :D) I fail to convince myself of these.
I don’t preach before I teach. I see myself as completely unattractive, unwanted, and have called myself an abomination multiple times simply because I’m fat, kind of hairy and of course not fit or flexible. And I see all these as hurdles that make all women find me as someone to be kept at an arm’s length, barring a few who know me personally and aren’t afraid to touch me.
This bothers me, because I’ve been able to talk to many men out there out of the same problem but failed on myself. I believe that the imposed rules apply only to me but not to anyone else. And I can’t understand why.
Part of me does want to get fit because of health reasons. But the other part wants to because I want to be seen at least as approachable and not something remotely hideous.
It struck me recently that this might be a problem that other people might be facing as well. So I thought I would ask you about it.
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In school, did you ever learn that poem by Robert Browning Jr. – or was it Robert Downey?
How many ways can I hate myself?
Let me count the ways.
I know, I know. You are rolling your eyes, you are getting that lopsided smile, that self-aware ironic look, that body language of – I already know that I should not hate myself, let’s just move along, we already know I’m too clever for therapy.
So never mind therapy, let’s continue where we started, which is school.
So, you know, I was really bad at science in school. I was an arty type and arty things came easily to me. Science was hard, not only perhaps because it was a different shape than I could recognise intuitively, but the teaching of science came from such a different place. Students were expected to score high and compete well.
Me, I didn’t like to compete. Now, we could say I didn’t like to compete because I didn’t want to fail, because failing would confirm that I was somehow worth scorning, and confirm that the system’s hierarchy was based in truth: sciencies were superior to artsies. So, why risk finding out?
Looking back, I think that’s a little true of the me I was, and may still be.
But it was also simultaneously true that I did not want to compete because I just wanted to be better at what I was good at, not prove that I could be good at everything and so, crush the world (hello, patriarchy, do loosen your grip on the education system. You must be tired holding on so tight, no?). I wanted to be judged by a standard appropriate for my sensibility and ability. And well, that was not how the world worked.
I am happy to announce I had enough self-esteem to arrive at an understanding of this structure early, and develop a trenchant articulation of it. I also rebelled by not studying for my science exams and just about passing, as if to prove I could be good if I wanted, I just didn’t deign to be.
Because the thing is, I wanted to be loved for what I was. Not for the high-scoring topper I was supposed to be because everyone said I was so intelligent.
This has stood me in good stead in my life, for I did the things I liked and that has worked out for me eventually, though everyone may not agree, as they wave to me from their private jets en route to Hawaii.
On the other hand, in my heart I knew that according to the world, doing well in the Humanities was always considered less achieving than doing well in the Sciences. And so, I added that to the list of things that meant I wasn’t going to get what I wanted from the world.
That hasn’t stood me in such good stead. It comes up as a struggle from time to time – when I want to be seen as worthy, deserving, important within a context, that the world does not fully recognise. And every so often, I internalise that it means I really am not worthy, deserving, important – or loveable – and so, don’t try for things I want. Actually, I don’t even admit the things I want because I don’t want to confront the thought that I may not get them, thus proving the world right.
So – you win some, you lose some.
Therefore, should you lose some weight, going by this story?
The thing is, like me, you’ve sufficiently understood the system – it is weighted (sorry, sorry) in favour of those who are ‘fit’, conventionally botoxed, I mean, good-looking and generally high-scoring topper types in the physical category. However, you have also understood that that’s not the only way to be attractive in the world and people are turned on by charm (Charm-dev nahin toh Kama-dev nahin, as the ancient Sanskrit couplet goes), warmth, grace, brightness and, oh yes, sometimes intelligence too. But somewhere deep in your heart you feel that all those things are like Humanities subjects, a little lesser than the Science subjects of being hot-looking, conventionally speaking.
Then, you have told yourself you can beat the system, very simply, once you have seen its insides. You just have to stop believing in the system’s beauty myths and people will want you. You have seen proof of it on others. But when it comes to yourself…what?
You seem to believe in beating the system, rather than stepping out of it. You feel rejected by the system and you want the system to acknowledge you. In other words, you’ve defeated yourself before the system has a chance to defeat you.
1. If you don’t lose weight you are unable to think of yourself as attractive. This makes you feel you are a hypocrite.
2. If you do lose weight, you are a hypocrite, and worse, do the people who love you love you for who you are, or who you became? So you can never believe people if they love you when you are fat, and never believe people love you when you’re not fat, because you are really fat on the inside?
3. So you can’t have love and sex when you are fat.
4. But the love and sex you have when you are thin is not worth it.
5. And if it’s not the above, I have no doubt you are smart enough to think of something. Because since smartness in understanding the problems in the system is your equivalent of beauty, you have to keep validating it, no?
In other words, like me, you are happy with the pass marks in PCM – some girls can bear to touch me – because you don’t want to try and fail.
And you know what – you may try and fail. Absolutely. There are as many people trapped in the standards of the system as you are – partly because good-looking people are attractive and beauty is not a bad thing – it is natural to be attracted to it. And some people may not find you attractive. Which doesn’t mean other people won’t, but you won’t really be willing to try again.
To judge ourselves by the standards of political virtue is a kind of moral policing of the self. In this moral policing, like in every moral policing, the thing that gets a bad name is love.
Wanting to be loved, wanting to love – these don’t find much room in the system analysis school of moral policing either.
It is like telling yourself that to want anything that does not fit into a grid of political correctness is shameful. And if you abandon the position you have taken so far, even more cataclysmic is the fear that you have nothing left that’s valuable about you, not even your political ideas.
But it’s okay, you do not need to hold tight to your political ideas like the patriarchy holds tight to the political system. That is exhausting.
So, yes, lose weight if you want. You may fail at that like the most of us, succeed sporadically or maybe succeed wonderfully. That may improve your confidence and help in some ways. But at the heart of it, it’s got nothing to do with your being loveable, and that issue will come up again.
So often, when we try to help others, we are really putting out in the world the thing we want people to tell us or do for us. Very few people understand that. They think, if you are helping them sort their shit out, it means your shit is sorted out.
But no one’s shit is automatically sorted. Since politics itself is a work-in-progress, it stands to reason that each one of us is a work in progress too, politically, personally.
For too long it sounds to me you have valued your intellect over your emotions. Give the intellect a little bit of help here, it might be tired, holding on. Admit to yourself you want to study for the Physics and Chemistry exam. Really, it doesn’t mean you will stop being good at History and Geography.
But most important of all sit down and ask yourself a hard question which is not in the politically correct syllabus– how do you define love? What do you want out of love? Short-term love, long-term love, one-minute love. How do you want to be loved? How do you want to love?
Because for too long you seem to have defined love as ‘helping others’. As if you were an NGO or one particular type of activist person. Now, like some of them, you are afraid to say you don’t know something and take some time to reflect, because that might mean losing power. But we all know the surest way to lose power is to cling to it.
So let go of that. Stop uplifting others. Think about what you want first, then find the means to shape the path to it.
I have one practical suggestion.
You know, a simple way to sometimes get out of this paralysis of opinion and political judgement is to get out of the space where it has become toxic (even if only in your own head): your peer group.
Get on a dating platform and date someone not in your social circle. Give yourself some time off from the constant fear of scrutiny and judgement of your peer group. Give yourself the chance to be liked and to be loving, not in a ‘useful’ way – as in helping others feel better, but loving, just to be loving. Loving, just to enjoy love, as you enjoy the beach. Find a space in which you can be far, far simpler, and join your simple self to your complex self.
It may help. Or it may still not be easy. The complicatedness of knowing what’s wrong with the system but still having internalised it is hard to work out, and self-censoring is the norm in that place called the back of your mind.
I know you are too smart for therapy. But therapy is not about smartness, it’s about working stuff out slowly. So, really, if you find this hard to do on your own, find a good psychotherapist and let it bring your heart into alignment with your head.
There’s no need to look down on therapy as toppers looked down on people who went for maths tuitions, no? How does it matter, if tuitions help you get to college where, you know, you are allowed to date.