In this 4th installment of our series exploring "New Male Beauty Myth," a skinny boy turned fat boy, turned not-so-fat boy struggles with self-love while being far from the “desirable” image of a man.
by Jeffrey Campbell
Throughout life there is a vast array of things that come into our world. Some of these things come and go abruptly, others stay for longer periods of time and go, or they come to be known in our conscience from an early age and stay with us every day of our lives.
I remember as a child the times in which I became aware of my personality traits, my interests, my “flavor” of love, and particularly my body—the way it looked and the judgment of other people cast down upon me. I was just your everyday little boy running around, getting into whatever I could get into, and scraping my knees, blah, and blah. But by seven, however, my parents divorced and my mother moved my brothers and I back to central Washington where her family was to—in her mind—raise her three boys in a safe small town environment. Up until this point, I had never been made to feel that I was chunky, a big boy, or even remotely overweight—and I wasn’t. I was a very healthy, skinny, adorable, green-eyed, brown-haired, little boy full of bright energy. By seven, going into second grade at Mt. Stuart Elementary in Ellensburg, Washington, it all changed – physically and emotionally.
Heifer. I’ll never forget how this one word made me feel, and how it changed me as a person for a very long period. I had never heard it before and I did not know what it meant. Heifer. Heifer: a young, female cow that has not borne a calf. I was 7 the first time this word was lobbed at me like the first rock of a stoning that would continue throughout my life. “Heifer” never left me. I did not know how to deal with the emotions and pain that the teasing caused. I had no one to talk to. My parents, and remote family included, heavily drilled into my head that I was a fat fuck or a fat piece of shit. So I turned to the one thing that could not talk back: food. And boy oh boy was it a comfort.
Fast forward twelve years, I weighed a whopping—well, I honestly cannot say for sure what my exact weight was because once I got to 350 lbs., I just stopped weighing myself. But there I was, 350+ goddamn pounds of Jeffrey graduating from high school.
Fast forward another twelve years to the current star date, I am no longer that person plagued with horrible eating habits, diving into the nearest Twinkie, PB&J sandwich or Pepsi, and wallowing in my depression—and I'm over 150 lbs. lighter. Although I am happier and healthier today, there is still this constant reminder that I am not the “desirable standard” of American men. I have heard many different opinions of what is the standard of male beauty. I have made decisions about how to treat myself, how to dress, smell, act, live, eat, workout; how to act more like a traditional alpha straight man, or queen out and let all my inhibitions go out the window based on—if not in reference to—this standard. I made these decisions in my development regarding masculinity, the “male image” and what I am supposed to be based on outside factors such as: the opinion and acceptance of my father, the influences from the brothers I once was close to, and friends that I once had. I also made—subconsciously and not—decisions purely based on the overwhelming amount of advertising that is slapped all over the world by major companies telling us what is to be desired, and how and why you must fit in. Yet I continue to re-evaluated the opinion of myself and maintained that self-validation, respect, and love without letting the opinions of others whittle me down into nothingness. Trust, it is not easy, especially when you come from a family of great looking people who point out your weight in some manner or another every time you see them.
The idea that all men are supposed to achieve the body of the “spornosexual” (A word I hate, to be honest. Merely uttering it from my mouth makes me want to vomit) is just not humanly possible. So many factors come into play here and the one you ultimately can’t mess with is genetics. I have had to create my idea of what a real man is supposed to look like on my own. Granted I did ask a lot of questions of others for their opinions, but my definition of masculinity is my own. I did not have a full-time father or male figure to guide me through this world and teach me all of the things that make a man “a man.” He was not there for the emotional complexities growing up: from puberty in my adolescence to teaching me how to tie my first tie, from my first high school dance to becoming a young male. He was there however to instill an alpha male complex as much as he could. My father took hold of this component of my upbringing as soon as he could if for no other reason than a false hope that he could change me in the straight, burly Campbell family man that he so desired. It didn’t work.
A real man to me is one that is first and foremost loves with themselves inside and out. I admit that I struggle with this, but continue to work on it every day. A real man is one that approaches everything in life with an open mind with everything that he faces – whether it be love, family, career, challenges, goals, body image, etc. He is battle-tested: not one to be easily uprooted from his confidence. He is nurturing to anyone that he comes into contact with. He is a leader – makes decisions while considering and valuing the input of others and those closest to him. He is independent; he does not need another person in his life (male or female) to be happy, but he appreciates, loves, respects and truly values another (again, this is a hard thing for me to do). He is assertive and stands up for himself. He is present, honest, and welcomes adversity because he knows his self-worth. He is not afraid to ask questions. (“Let’s pull over and ask for directions, George!”) He understands that greater happiness comes from helping others, not helping himself. A real man is humble and a true, true gentleman. A real man learns from his mistakes – but he may have to take a few cracks at it. I have made mistakes, though it takes me a bit longer to get through these learning curves. This is what makes me special, and makes me who I am.
In Harris O'Malley's “The New (And Impossible) Male Beauty Myth,” he starts his article by saying “the new standards for male beauty and how the quest to live up to them has been taking a deadly toll on men” and continues to do so. I not only agree to this heavy hitting statement but can relate to in a profound manner. I, for a period of my life, was anorexic and bulimic, as well as one of my brothers.
According to O’Malley’s, there is an overwhelming desire of American men to achieve the spornosexual's stature—having replaced the now apparently “dead” metrosexual – which is supreme in beauty and epitomizes the masculinity desired by most of America. To this observation I personally would disagree. Humankind’s constant evolving physical and emotional attractions to all characteristics of another person are so fluid and ever-changing. I love and am endeared to every kind of shape, size and color of human being on this earth – most of all men. If I had to face this world like a scene from a version of Clone Wars where every gay man I have to interface with was the spornosexual – I would honestly put a bullet in my head.
Everyone live life as they see fit. As O’Malley said in his closing and I will follow suit: “Be fit, sure. Be healthy. But fit and healthy – just like beauty – comes in more than one shape.”
Jeffrey Campbell is a 30-year-old, born and raised Washington native. Currently residing in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle, he is one of six children. His true goal is simply to be happy.