Monday, August 9, 2010

Reflection

Over the last few weeks, as I’ve begun to disturb the layers of complacency that have settled into the furniture and cupboards of my house, I’ve run across some photos of myself from my teens and twenties. Usually when I look at old photographs someone has taken of me, I tend to look at everything except for the figure in the snapshot’s center. I’ll scan the background, and bring to my recollection. I’ll study the faces of the other people around me and remember them fondly. But when it has come to my own self, in the past my eyes have automatically glided over anything having to do with my body.

I suppose somewhere around the seventh grade, when boys are at about their least appealing to most—oily-faced, pimply, awkward, clumsy, slump-shouldered, self-conscious, and shy about their bodies—I stopped liking what I saw in the mirror. Though I’ve changed over the years—now, I’m dry-skinned, not-so-pimply, and just as clumsy, though my posture is infinitely better—a part of me has settled on that pimply seventh-grader as my self-image. For thirty years since, whenever I look in the mirror or see a photograph, that’s what I’ve tended to see.

Now, I can’t say that’s the way I feel about myself now. There came a point about four years ago when very suddenly I started to like very much the image in my reflection. I liked the way I looked in clothing. I grew a short beard and unexpectedly found myself liking my face. Instead of avoiding mirrors, I started to preen in them and to check myself out when walking past them in department stores. I liked posing for photographs, instead of hiding my face and trying to ease out of range of the lens.

Here’s the thing, though. Lately, as I’ve been finding old photos scattered around the place and have been collecting them to pack, I’ve realized how really cute I was in my youth. Some of them are embarrassing, admittedly. I’m not my proudest about the really old ones in which I’m sporting horn-rimmed glasses, braces, and a bowl cut. But those taken when I had more control over my appearance in my late teens and after? I’m fucking adorable. Everything I find I like about my face now, I find in those old pictures. I like my smile, my impossible leanness, the tautness of my skin. The things I don’t like . . . well, I know now how little it all matters, in the end. There’s much more to a person than his looks

What bothers me is that it took thirty years to reach peace with my appearance. Over the weekend I had two sexual encounters with men who very obviously were not aware of how very sexy they really were. (I’ll write about those this week.) It bothered me that both deflected the most sincere of my compliments almost without thinking. I know that, when they look into the mirror, they’re not really seeing themselves. They’re seeing some geeky boy, or some fat kid, or the picked-on youth who tried to blend in and become as invisible as possible. Like me, they settled on some vision of themselves formulated by thoughtless children and mean girls and maybe even the people closest to them, and that twisted vision is what they’ve seen ever since.

So much time we waste, with our eyes half-closed, don’t we?

So I’m curious. Readers, what do you see when you look at photographs of yourself, or when you pass the mirror? Is it your thirteen-year-old faults writ large? Is it the faulty and unattractive you from some other portion of your life, carried around as an unchanging burden for much of your life? Or are you blessed with clarity of sight, and appreciate yourself for what you are?

In other words, how different is your actual appearance from the mental image fashioned from your self-doubts and fears?

I’m curious to know, and would appreciate your comments on the matter.

31 comments:

  1. Quite the serious way to start a Monday....

    In my case, it's simple, I hate everything about myself. I can't look in the mirror, and if I do, all I see are the imperfections, the wrinkles, the ugly face, the fat body...

    I've starved myself to get thin, I've gone nuts at the gym... there are days that I cry because I can't stand myself. I walk down the street with my head down, because I know every man I see is better looking than me. And yes, I even tried to commit suicide because I hated myself so much. I'll be honest, sometimes I regret that I was saved.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well,
    As I'm am rather young (late twenties)(yes, that's rather young)(lol), I'm still quite insecure with my body... I have parts I like, parts I've accepted and parts I'm so trying to change and just dont see the light at the end of the tunnel...
    But I hope I'm getting to your level of self-acceptance rather sooner than later...

    the Dr.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Im 22, starting to get used to my body but still not keen on what I see in the mirror. I used to be fat and spotty with a really bad cheap haircut. I look back at the photos and really dont like what I see. I was bullied a fair bit which also lowered my self esteem.

    Ive done well to drop the weight and am now thin and spot free with a decent haircut but still see that old image when I look in the mirror. Its taken a good friend and a very caring and loving boyfriend to help begin to turn the tide but still some way to go. I dont see the fat spotty kid I once was, but im still not seeing what others see.

    I doubt there is anybody in the world who doesnt have body image problems. The result of years of eating convenience foods or low self-esteem due to bullying. I suppose it takes years/decades for those wounds to heal and for those of us whose wounds do heal, should be very thankful to those around.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This morning was different.

    Instead of my usual routine of pouring coffee and stepping out back to smoke a few cigarettes while reading your latest entry (take that any way you like) on my little "poor man"s iPhone" (Palm Centro) from which I am unable to post comments, this morning's narrative prompted me to finally run inside and open my laptop to comment for the first time.

    Your words always ring so true with me, but this morning, you struck a chord that resonated with my own experience.

    I turned 44 last week. I was that kid: berated, bullied; any sense of self-worth eradicated at too early an age. With the exception of junior high school (horn-rimmed glasses, braces, zits, skinny effeminate painfully shy; i.e.: the works - side note: I posted a my 7th-grade school picture on my Flickr account a few years back under the tag "fugly" and had to finally delete it upon realizing I was coming up in the top ten Yahoo! image searches for "fugly"), I was the most beautiful golden-haired, blue-eyed boy.

    But I didn't know it.

    It took YEARS to create the man I am now and I LOVE me! I'm still gangly and klutzy; and the silky, golden locks receded all the way back by the time I was 24, but now, I have to beat the men off (again, take that any way you like) with a stick!

    Do I think I'm Adonis? No, not by a long shot, but the difference between the scared and scarred little boy and the more-confident man who sits and writes this, is that a few years ago, I found my self-worth, and in finding that, I learned five very important words:

    "There's nothing wrong with you."

    Thank you for all that you choose to share with us, Rob. You're making a difference.

    All my love,

    Drew

    ReplyDelete
  5. For the last seven years I was very overweight. When I looked in the mirror, didn't like myself very much. A year ago I committed to making a change. Since then I have lost 85 pounds and am now at a healthy weight for my height. I have also been going to the gym not so much to bulk up but to tone up.

    The positive comments I've received from coworkers and friends have helped boost my self esteem a bit. I'm finally at a point where I don't only see my flaws, I can actually find some things I like about the way I look.

    At the same time I do have a tough time accepting a compliment. I was with one guy who was saying "You really are cute you know, I love the way your eyes light up when you smile." But I don't see that.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I hated the way I looked most of my life. Your description of your young self could so easily be me. I hated how skinny I was, never mind that it only made my oversized cock look even bigger. I hated having my picture taken. My first school picture is me scowling at the camera--and no cajoling from the photographer could change it. I was happiest being some one else…so I went into the arts. What a good choice: working in an industry that is allowed to judge you on how you look. I always played the parent, grandparent or the villain. I remember an early review that was carping about how the director had cast stereotypically with the good guy being handsome and the villain being ugly. It only confirmed and deepened what I felt--for I didn’t find the ‘handsome’ guy good looking…so what the hell did that make me….

    You’d think a partner of 30 years might have changed my outlook…but no. A great family?---not at all. Countless bottoms still haven’t erased all that, either. (“But I like tops who aren’t that good looking---I feel degraded!” ) But somewhere, in the last 5 years…a man I find attractive looks back at me from the mirror. I wish I knew what it was--shaving the head? Finding that leather ‘completed’ me? It’s more likely just growing up and acceptance. I still have trouble with compliments. As you know. But I can now for the first time look at myself as desirable and even say--“Yeah, I’d fuck him….”

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think you know . . . . I still see myself as gawkey tall and super thin with big glasses and no friends. Regardless of much muscle I put on (90lbs and counting) thats how I feel. I hate looking at my pictures. None of this is helped by fact I had severe dsylexia . . . . School was huge struggle. But I made it through college with 3.7 gpa and got a graduate degree. Sorry to go on

    ReplyDelete
  9. Teacher,

    Since I know how you look, let me just say from an objective viewpoint that you're a handsome guy.

    Besides, even if you were fugly (which you definitely aren't), there's still a lot more to a person than his looks. I wish you'd make peace with yours, because you're a sexy man and you should enjoy being so.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Dr.,

    I have parts of my body I like and parts I very much dislike, but I have learned not to worry about it overmuch. I dress to de-emphasize the parts I don't like and to accentuate those I do. When I'm naked and having sex, I rarely have any guys complaining about my softer areas once I'm inside them.

    It sounds to me very much as if you're on the road to self-acceptance. I wish you well on the rest of the trip.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Gordon,

    I think you're right that there are remarkably few people who don't have body and self-image issues. I'm just always astonished when the people I find enviably good-looking have them (especially when they have them more deeply than I!), since I spent years assuming that the good-looking people of the world got a free pass from feeling miserable about the mirror, most of the time.

    Congrats on your good haircut. My hair just flops however the hell it feels like it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Kiltmaker Drew,

    You expressed my sentiments more eloquently than I. And it certainly sounds as if we've had similar epiphanies about our looks. I'm no Adonis myself, but I know how to make my looks work for me and am confident enough not to care much, when they don't appeal to a certain individual.

    For the record, I'd love the man you are too. I've looked at some of your photographs and you're very damned hot. There is definitely nothing wrong with you. Now make me a kilt.

    All my love back!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Gloryhole Fan,

    So many gay men are really bad at accepting compliments. I can be one of them, though I am not nearly as bad as I used to be. If I give a guy a compliment, I would really not rather have to have him bat it away and make me feel embarrassed for having proffered it, nor do I want him instantly to lob the same compliment back to me with a "So do you!", which makes me feel as if he thinks I was fishing for it.

    All that's necessary is to say, sincerely, "Thank you! I like hearing that."

    Many congratulations on your weight loss. I know from personal experience what an accomplishment that is.

    ReplyDelete
  14. FelchingPisser,

    It's a shame what a few off-handed and unthinking words can do to our psyches. You make me want to kick both the writer of that review, and every bottom who said you weren't good-looking, squarely in the nuts.

    When I was in college I took private voice lessons for a summer until the day that the voice teacher said, after long consideration when I was done with a piece, "Your voice is not unpleasant. . . ." It wasn't an insult exactly, but it was faint enough praise that I considered it damning. I didn't return for any more lessons, and I didn't sing again at all for almost another ten years—whereupon I discovered that my voice teacher had just been a dick, because I possessed a really good singing voice. I also discovered that I loved singing, and here I'd just blown a decade not doing it because of one stupid comment.

    There was supposed to be a parallel in there. I'm too tired to elaborate on it.

    I find it surprising when I hear someone like you say that you have hated your looks, because I find you a highly attractive man. I think you instinctively scowl at the camera like it's your worst enemy, which you shouldn't, because it's not. You're handsome, particularly when you're talking about your profession, because you love it so much.

    And I know you're bad with compliments. Hoo, doggie!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Sammy Bear,

    I removed the comment screening late last week, since the nasty commenters seemed to have backed off. But if you made a comment on here earlier today, I didn't get it. (I did delete your second comment because you asked.)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Johnny,

    You apologize for yourself too much. Again, you're another man who surprises me very much when you talk about self-image issues—what with your porn star good looks. I wish I looked a tenth as good as you!

    ReplyDelete
  17. My take is a little different,but the result the same. I don't take compliments well and I don't look at myself in the mirror - except shaving in the morning and that really doesn't count.
    I can't say I ever felt ugly - I look back and I was kind of cute, even with my ears stuck out at age 7 or so. But I really didn't feel anything one way or the other -sort of emotionally autistic I guess.
    Only now am I developing a conscious self-image and a pretty good one at that with ny partner always calling me cute. But i still don't look at myself in the mirror.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Paul,

    Your partner wouldn't fib. You probably are darned cute. I hope you learn to like that reflection, because it's a darned shame when cute guys don't realize how adorable they really are.

    As for taking compliments, all you have to do is smile, nod, and say, "Thank you!" Nothing could be easier, and being gracious about it will only win you more.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Interesting way to start off the week. I just became a fan of your work. I started reading your blog last week. I even sent you a personal msg on A4A -- Dark_Knnight19

    Even though I'm fairly young, 25, I still have issues with my own self image. Its always weird to hear someone compliment me as a 'sexy stud' when I actually don't feel that way. I grew up as a skinny kid and now I've acquired a muscular/athletic build but I still have issues with myself.

    Its odd though, looking back at younger pictures and realizing too that I was a cute, sky kid. Now if only the adult me can merge that thought now so that I won't be saying this 20 years from now.

    I think its one of those things that truly takes time to love yourself. No matter how 'hot' people perceive you.

    -- From Chicago, with love ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  20. Dark_Knight,

    Yeah, sooner is better than later when it comes to coming to terms with yourself, I think. No matter how 'hot' or 'not' people find you, making peace between your inner and outer self is always going to be a daunting task.

    So love the muscular sexy stud you've become!

    ReplyDelete
  21. A very interesting and introspective premise today. Does the way we feel about ourselves determine what we see in the photograph? Or does what we see in the photo (or mirror) affect the way we feel about ourselves?

    I was adopted as an infant and grew up with that knowledge from as far back as I can remember. A bedtime story called The Chosen Baby, very 1950s and naïve, convinced me that my parents had searched the world over to find the perfect baby that would make them a family. (That would be me.) I knew I was different, but if anything, I felt pretty special. And I figured out pretty quickly that I was very fortunate. So even as a child, when I looked at any family photographs—and there were a lot of ‘em—I saw myself as the luckiest little boy in the world.

    I always saw him (me) in just that way. I think that learning early on that I was different-but-that’s-okay made it easier to accept other differences later on. Like the awkward and unattractive boy with glasses-braces-pimples. (Been there.) And ultimately, the gay boy.

    I was always okay with the pictures and, as we all do, grew into my looks. I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen myself as the guy in the photos that others generously compliment—but I try to accept such comments as graciously as they’re offered. I’m honestly rather ambivalent about my looks. I had nothing to do with ‘em. And I don’t have my mother’s eyes or my dad’s nose. But I do have the self-confidence they instilled in me and, I think, it shows through.

    Like you, I’ve had occasion to look back at old photographs recently. Not for a move, but in the sorting through and packing up after the death of my parents. When I look at the Easter and Christmas and birthday poses, I see a boy that looks every bit as happy as my misty watercolor memories remember him as being.

    I’m a little harsher on the man in the mirror, more in the sense of the Michael Jackson song lyrics and not physical vanity. I see the faults and foibles, the missed opportunities, the things not done. But the guy in the photo frame gets a pass. Lucky bastard.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Throb,

    I can sum up your lovely and tender self-assessment thusly: "I take really good photos!"

    And you do.

    But seriously, thank you. I loved the unique perspective you shared. I've never known your self-confidence not to shine through. I'm glad you were blessed with the ability to be happy. Too many people simply don't give themselves permission.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I do not disagree with you in the main, Rob. Groupthink and flattery are not for me, however, so let me offer a few differences.

    I have come to accept what I see in the mirror -- when I tilt it to compensate for "gravity," that is;-) Most of the responses posted so far fall into two groups: 1) those who have gained self-acceptance with time; and 2) those who have yet to enjoy it. None of us, it seems, always did and always will have strong self-esteem -- the hallmark of certain "hets"? For me, the frank summing-up is ambivalence: Since early adolescence, I have both loved and loathed myself, and still do. Sappho got it right: Love is bittersweet, to which I add that self-love is no different.

    Perhaps I have arrived at acceptance of my ambivalence. Perhaps this is my equivalent of what other have experienced as an epiphany of self-forgiveness.

    As a avid fan of Titan, Hothouse and Colt video, I will not decry what some have called "body fascism" -- the male "Beauty Myth". Neither, however, will I deny that the all-but-impossible standards they embody (!) affect us all, and seldom for the better. I want you to know, @Teacherluvscum and @Johnny, that my eyes moistened, on reading of your anguish. (I may write prissy prose; but I cry not once in two decades.) I wish I could send you my empathy, and that it would somehow be enough. I wish that objectivity did not demand that I also accept how "Beauty is harsh."

    [As I was writing this, one commenter posted about ambivalence. I feel much better now;-)]

    Anonicus II

    ReplyDelete
  24. I hit puberty very early - at eleven - and instead of being supportive my parents thought it was hysterically funny when my voice started to change and encouraged other people to laugh at it as well. Then the acne hit, when I was twelve, and it was so severe as to be disfiguring. But they wouldn't take me to a dermatologist, because a boy's appearance didn't work. (By contrast, when my sister's first zit popped up they were ready to call an ambulance.)

    I'm 39 now (with clear skin and a gym body) and I haven't looked at myself in the mirror without my glasses off - which blurs the image - since I was fourteen. Being told you're ugly three or four times a day for five or six years is hard to get over.

    Thank you for writing about this.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Breeder: I'm constantly amazed by your blog! Not only do I find it to be endlessly erudite (yes, I use words like erudite everyday) but incredibly hot and sexy as well, which brings me to my point. I can usually find something about most every man that turns me on -- his hands, his smile, his eyes, his tattoo's. However for me, personality is the chief motivator for my cock and hole. Most every man I've ever been in any sort of long term relationship with, either fuck-buddy or boyfriend, has been with someone you wouldn't see in a GQ ad campaign. I'm much more turned on by the muscle between the ears than those on the arms or legs or chest. I've had the opportunity to play with stereotypically "hot" men who've left me cold and flaccid because they assume everyone thinks they are as good looking as they do. Alternatively I've played with men who might not be considered good looking by many and have had the hottest sex of my life (as well as some of the best friendships).

    Growing up I was the overweight and over-tall kid (6'2" by 8th grade, 6'6" by Junior year) and endured all sorts of taunts from other kids. That, I think, is who I still see. Although my weight is now appropriate and I rock what I'm told is a hot mohawk and mustache, I still feel like that tall fat kid in high school. I often feel like I'm too smart for my own good, too tall to be a bottom yet not hung well enough to be a good top. Interestingly enough, more and more I've been told that I've got "a big fat cock" yet all I see is something average on an aging, tall fat guy.

    I know that I'm smart, funny, kind and as sexually open as they come yet I'm still a bit surprised when anyone wants to fuck me. For some reason (maybe it's living in Los Angeles?) I still operate under the assumption that most men (other than me) look only at muscle-mass, or body fat percentage when choosing a partner. Odd, I think, yet there it is. Perhaps it's my own little superiority complex - my way of making myself feel better about my own perceived short-comings. If I can convince myself that no one else is as open-minded as me, that no one else can find the gold amongst the pyrite, I can feel just a bit better about myself. Go figure. Maybe I should talk to my shrink.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Anonicus,

    How far are you tilting, exactly? All the way horizontally is my favorite angle.

    Your compassion and sweetness does you credit, my friend. Thank you for your kind words to my other readers.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Anonymous,

    I hope that sometime you'll gather up the courage to look in the mirror with your glasses and not automatically criticize everything you see. Clear skin and a gym body are better than what I have.

    I also wish you someone to tell you the things you need to hear. I wish I could give you a squeeze. Thank you for sharing your fears and doubts with me.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Tallpig,

    I love your capacity for rigorous self-analysis. And your use of the word 'erudite.'

    You've touched on many points that made me nod my head with vigor--about the muscle between the ears, about seeing yourself differently from others, and also about having sex with men not considered mainstream-attractive. Okay, and the part about 6'6" and the mohawk and mustache kind of made me hard.

    The bit at the end about the airs we give ourselves also rang true. I try to avoid it, but sometimes the games my mind plays with itself are hard to escape. Maybe I should talk to your shrink, too.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I saw this post the first day you wrote it but I really couldn't read it or reply to it until I felt ready. While I don't think I'm paper-bag ready nor do I tihnk I'm model attractive. I think I'm average and get by. I'm not sure what others see. I've been told I'm good looking. And I guess I can see that at times. In the right light. With the right tilt of the head. Well, you get the picture.

    I don't know if I'll ever be at peace with how I look. But, I do try. It doesn't help that I always felt people weren't attracted to Asian dudes. I think it's different now, but when I grew up you really didn't see Asian dudes in pop culture. And that's some ingrained in my mindset.

    -Scott NYC

    ReplyDelete
  30. I'm only 4 years behind in reading your blog, and have been hesitant to make any comments, because a) I haven't read enough to have the knowledge of you so many of your other readers have, and b) I don’t even know if anyone would notice, it being so many years after the post. But this one I couldn't let go by without a comment or two.

    I had a rhinoplasty in my late 20's, but until then I had a hump in my nose. It was most obvious in profile of course, but even straight on there was always a little something off about my nose. When I see pictures of my younger self I usually have to stop and pause, and sometimes cry for that young boy. The jeers, the taunting, the names...it was enough that I wasn't sports-minded, which in small town Pennsylvania meant sissy. No, I had to endure names like 'beakboy', and 'hawknose' as well. We lived way out in the country. The nearest neighbor kids were miles away, and even then they were farmer's kids so there was no playtime to be had. I pretty much grew up in my own little world of loneliness, but at least nobody was making fun of the way I looked. I simply cannot look at pictures of myself from that time and not want to tell that boy that it would be okay someday, that a nose job was waiting, and the names would stop.

    Now, I am a few decades past that operation, and its all changed. In my mind’s eye, against all reason, I still look like I did at 30. I was lean then, had all my hair, and thanks to dancing in a lot of community theatre, I was pretty healthy. It’s when I walk past a mirror I didn’t know was there, like in a mall, that I have a shock. I really don’t know who that is for a second or two. That reflection isn’t a 30 year old anymore. Oh I can look in the mirror at home when I shave or brush my teeth…I know that guy. I’m not happy with him, but at least I know to expect him when I walk up to the sink. Sometimes I wonder if I wasted my money having that nose job after all.

    A company I once worked for hired a caricaturist for a company picnic, and I dutifully sat down to have my drawn. Now I know everything is exaggerated on one of those pictures, but damn if he didn’t draw my nose with a slight hump to it. Maybe a ghost of it is still there, visible to only certain people. I’m one of them.

    ReplyDelete