Friday, July 22, 2011

Open Forum Friday: Gunn Shy

Tim Gunn used to have a segment on his self-titled and underrated Guide to Style that used to make me think about my body, more than any other television show on fashion and dressing. Now, none of that genre of TV devoted to makeover and tips on dressing really fascinates me. In my household, though, some of the shows were popular second-tier choices for viewing on the DVR after all other possible options had been exhausted, and I'd find myself occasionally absorbed by the disasters on What Not to Wear or wincing at the fashion reprimands of one or another of one of the Queer Eye guys.

I liked Project Runway, however, and I find Tim Gunn an upstanding, frank, and funny kind of guy. The part of his show that always fascinated me was designed to illuminate to that week's makeover victim some salient points about self-image. Tim would line up a bunch of women similar in coloring and height and age to the woman being made over. Usually they were dressed in nothing but underwear. They'd be arrayed from skinniest to heftiest. "Now, Yvonne," Tim would drawl to the woman, index finger pointing to heaven alongside his cheek. "I want you to go stand between the two women you feel represent your weight and size." Inevitably, the woman would head right for the last two women in the lineup—the heaviest, most rotund of the bunch. Then Tim would step in, gently shake his head, and steer the woman a place in the line based on her weight and measurements, which was always near the skinny end of the queue.

I used to scoff at this phenomenon, the first few times I saw it. Then I realized that given the same lineup, if Tim Gunn had arrayed for me a bunch of body types then asked me to stand between the two where I believed I fit, I'd make a beeline for the guy who looked like Chris Farley and squeeze my carcass between him and John Goodman. And then Tim would cluck like a worried hen and steer me over to Scooby Doo's Shaggy and call it a day.

My readers can take a look quick look at the photo at the blog's top and tell what kind of body I have. I'm lean. I'm six-foot-three and my waist is a size thirty(ish). When I'm shopping for dress shirts, I have to go for a men's small. Slim cut, or modern fit, or whatever you'd like to call it—I need clothes with a bit of structure and clean lines, to highlight the stuff I like and obscure the stuff I don't. Even shirts with a fitted cut have a tendency to look baggy on me. Because I have no ass, pants have a tendency to fall down around my waist and bloat out like I'm wearing a diaper. When recently I found a really nice pair of dress slacks that not only fit perfectly, but actually kind of flattered me, they came with a precious and vaguely insulting brand name like Calvin Klein Super Ultra Slim Tight Petite Nipped Tuck Tiny Trousers. For Men. No, Really. At those moments in which I manage to be objective, and conscious, and aware, I know that yes, my place in Tim Gunn's lineup is roughly between the clothespin doll dressed in Banana Republic, and Adrien Brody in The Pianist.

Still, my go-to reaction when I dress in the morning and look at myself in the mirror is, God, I'm a cow.

I'm aware that my perception of my body type can be pretty far off from what it actually is; I sometimes joke to people with whom I'm close that the only thing keeping me from a diagnosis as anorexic is that I'd get too hungry to stop eating. When I get into one of those moods in which all I can do is look in the mirror, grab the flesh around my waist and sling it around like a sack of Jello while pouting and moping, I need to stop, quiet my mind, and remind myself of the reality of the situation.

If I can manage to do that, instead of letting the hysteric in me shriek and cower, I'm actually pretty happy with my body.

When I was seeing Spencer, I went through a lot of the same rigors with him. Watching him hate his body really drove home the point that what we are and what we see are two different things. Here was a beautiful boy with a perfect dancer's physique, strong, masculine, and muscular, who daily would refer to himself as a tub o' lard, or a fatty fat fat fatty fuck. All I could do was gape in bafflement. I watched him stare in the mirror and tap on his chest and wish aloud that he was so skeletal that he could count his ribs through a leotard. I listened to him contemplate, half-seriously, a diet of nothing but scented Kleenex and cigarette smoke.


I've known it work the other way as well. One acquaintance of mine who has invested heavily in his life to become what in gay shorthand would be called a muscle bear, recently spoke about how he had grown up a skinny kid and always saw his skinniness as a sign of weakness; he'd spent a lifetime bulking up and growing to what in my eyes are almost comically massive proportions. He's groomed himself to fit the bear culture's ideal, and still thinks he's not big enough, not furry enough, not covered with enough facial hair. He can't look at a skinny man, he told me, without associating it with his weak youth, and with ineffectualness, and with femininity.

It was an honest confession, yes. But it still made me want to reply with narrowed eyes and an answer of Fuck you very much, I'll show you who's masculine, you big ol' queen.

When it comes to Tim Gunn's lineup, I think a lot of us have two instinctive reactions of where we belong—the first to move to the extreme where we fear others see us, and the other a more considered and honest assessment of where we fit.

We've talked about self-image before in our Open Forum Fridays, and the discussions have always brought out some interesting comments. For today's forum I'm curious about where you see yourself fitting, and where Tim would tell you that you actually belong. What have you done to overcome feeling like the fat boy or the skinny kid? How much influence does that phantom vision really have over you—or how does it motivate you?

Speak up, and let us all hear your thoughts.


  1. Like Spencer, I am a former dancer. Watching my body change from the "skinny chorus boy with a few places where the fat just won't seem to leave even when I wrap myself in saran wrap before dance class" to the slightly overweight bearish man I am today has been an emotional and physical roller-coaster. In my 20's and 30's the goals was to maintain a small waist size, have pretty pecs and decent arms. That worked until I adopted my son. Playing the parent role helped me stay fit when he was younger because I was forever chasing the little monster, then carrying him around when he was too tired to walk. I stayed thin and had great arms. Then he grew and started school. I went back to work too, teaching at a university. Talk about a sedentary lifestyle change!! I bloated up, and my HDL and LDL got all out of whack. I went from my 145 pound self to 195 pounds.

    I started the saran wrap dance regimen again, and it just made me sick. Then I remembered something really, really, really important. Your metabolism changes when you get older and so does your body as a result. I won't ever be the 145 pound chorus twink I used to be, and I am well on my way to getting rid of all the extra bloat. What I want now is to be normal, average, nothing fantastic ... but just plain old me! I have always known that an ideal weight for my height (5'8) and body type (stocky) should be between 160 and 170. I am good with that. I like my 34" waist and, I no longer need to squeeze into that white lycra unitard so no need to worry about the spare tire around my middle anymore.

    Like every other horn-dog who reads this column, I love reading about the hot men with gorgeous bodies and gooking at them at various sites on the internet too. It is fun to fantasize. The one thing I will say though is that I know that won't be me ... ever. I lack the metabolism body type and the intense motivation needed to stay that gorgeous hunk of muscle man we all glorify. I have come to a place where I get it. You are who you are, physically, emotionally, sexually and spiritually. When I remember to embrace that, life seems to just be better, more interesting and less stressful. I don't fantasize about looking like Gilles Marini anymore. I still fantasize about what I would do with him if I had him alone and naked in a room, but that doesn't pertain to this discussion forum, so I'll let you all develop your own fantasies about it.

  2. My dear Tom,

    I know what I'd do with Gilles Marini. Maybe we should have an open forum Friday about that.

    I appreciate your honesty here. Doubt about self-image seems particularly engrained in the dance profession, where everything is about appearance and line. But you're right to have gotten to that point at which plain ol' you is a wonderful thing to be. It's a lesson on which we all need a refresher course from time to time, me included.

  3. Like Tom, I spent my youth in dance classes (is this a rite of passage for gay boys?!) I loved the movement and I liked being thin. That lasted to age 40 (lucky me) and then I began to put on weight. I'm the person who has gained and lost the same 20 pounds over and over.
    My father cooked for 5 people and his mantra was the right food and the right portion. I've always known how to eat well and I still do. But my craving for baked goods sabatoges me all the time. So, I'm still active, I eat the right stuff, but I eat the wrong stuff, too. I lose weight easily but maintaining the loss, ah that's the thing. mwg

  4. When I saw the blog title with Gunn Shy I thought you were going to say you couldn't pee at a trough urinal or something like that.

    I don't watch those fashion shows or care about them but TV, movies and print ads have always played a part in making everyone feel there is something wrong with the way they look.

    If you're fat you're fat, if you are skinny as a rail then you are skinny as a rail. One should never feel they are any different then the next person because of looks alone.

    Now let's see some photos of your ass and we'll judge if you have one or not :-)

  5. MWG,

    I never went to dance class. Unless you count clog dancing. (Please don't.)

    Are you automatically thinking of yourself now in a realistic fashion? Or do you still think of yourself in fat boy/thin boy terms?

  6. I've always been skinny, and since I can remember, I've been self-conscius about it. It's funny, because I like the exact opposite of me, and while everyone is trying to drop some weight, I'm trying to gain it. Recently I joined the gym (again), let's hope I put up with it enough time so I can be, at least, at my ideal weight.

    By the way, you have a faithful reader down here in Colombia. I really like your writing.

  7. Rob,
    I always think of myself as a thin person. I'm always on the move. I can't slowly walk, I walk quickly. I am in denial when I'm at the top weight. I have a long time partner who has grown used to the weight boomerang. So this is not realistic: the gain, the loss, repeat. mwg

  8. Rob my friend,
    First of all, i'm a short man, only 5'5½" and weight 157lbs. I found myself a little fat cause i have a little belly. I don't like my body at all except for my ass and legs. People are telling me that i look pretty good but i never believe them. When i was young, i've been call "nerd", "little monster" and so on, never had a great reckoning of myself after that. Even today i'm still like that but finding myself a little better each day but it's a long process my friend.


  9. 3:45 Anonymous,

    You make me wish I were in Colombia. Thank you.

    I was very self-conscious about being a beanpole when I grew up, too. I didn't really notice it until middle and high school, when people would latch onto any old thing in order to make fun; I went from the complete un-self-consciousness of being fine of being shirtless or naked around strangers, to the point that I'd compare myself to any and everybody and find myself wanting. I weighed a hundred and ten pounds in college!

  10. Yves, you do look good. You should be totally happy with how you look.

    And yes, it's a very, very long process. Especially when we get into bad habits.

  11. a hundred and ten pounds? at SIX FOOT THREE? Holy crap.

  12. I think body image issues follow us throughout our lives. It seems like what is presented as the ideal body is very limiting.

    I always saw myself as being fat. I wasn't a dancer in school. I had the muscular body of a Wrestler, which while being desirable, did not match the image of the Abercrombie models that were so popular when I was in High School. I got really "thin" when I played Lacrosse in college. For that one year when I was a freshman, but that really wasn't a natural state for my body.

    I work out now but as a good friend of mine has pointed out "I'll never be thin" I'm still pretty muscular but I do have a little belly. I still feel insecure when I go out on a Saturday night.


  13. Sorry I'm posting a day late, I got forced to do manual labor and then forced out of the state with no time to get online and comment.

    I had recently thought I had pushed past my body issues. I had done the psychological exploration of where they come from, I was listening to people telling me I look sexy and not waving then off, and I was letting people take pictures of me again.

    Then I got mono. At the doctors office I was informed that I had lost 10 pounds in one month and once again was way below the healthy weight for a man my height. I was surprised at the news. As far as I would have guessed, I had gained five pounds. Looking in the mirror I saw my belly growing and growing. I couldn't understand.

    When I went home that day I lifted my shirt and really looked. I saw more bones in my ribs than normal and I realized I did look thin. But sometimes when I step out of the shower or just look down I still see fat. I know intuitively that I am thin, but don't feel it.

    Anyway, you already know my issues so I won't keep going.


  14. I have always struggled with my weight. Well, admittedly, there are a few years where I'm too young to remember it as a 'struggle.' But all through elementary, junior high and senior high I struggled. I figured out years later that some of the struggle may have just been in my head, but it's amazing what people view as 'fat.' I've yo-yoed up and down, and am still trying to feel comfortable in my own skin.

  15. I'm also tall and thin, and have a difficult time finding clothes that aren't baggy or saggy on me. Now that you're in the NE, you should check out the closest H&M and Zara stores. Their clothes actually fit me, aren't baggy, and I don't need to have them altered.

  16. 10:26 Anonymous,

    Yep. I was a toothpick.

  17. Blackwatch,

    I know what you look like. You shouldn't be insecure.

  18. Ace,

    We see our bodies different when we look down at them--where the first real thing we can see clearly is our bellies--and when we look in a mirror. I think the fact that I disliked my looks for so long and avoided mirrors meant that I was a belly-gazer for most of my life, and became fixated on it.

  19. Richard,

    I'm always amazed at what people view as 'fat' on television, especially, or in movies. In gay-themed movies there's always one poor schmuck who has the audacity to be a normal weight, so that the waifs around him can screech about how fat he is. Um, really? It's craziness.

  20. 8:49 Anonymous,

    We had an H&M in Michigan, so I was already a fan (especially of their underwear). I appreciate the tip for Zara. I'd assumed it was a women's clothing store.

  21. Rob,

    I'm a belly-gazer, I totally am. Sometimes I'll rest my arm or hand on my belly too, as if trying to hide it. And some times when I put on a shirt, all I can think of is how fat I look. And some times it is the opposite: I think it when I take the shirt off. I've noticed that it is worse on days my depression hits me. I'll start seeing my fatness in every reflective surface. But on my good days I can love my body and even get turned on by it. I'm just a mess.


  22. Rob,

    You're always making me feel good about myself and i'm thanking you a lot for it my friend. I'm getting through it with your help and Ace a lot cause you two are very kind and honest men and i believe you both.
    Thank you sexy man.