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.