My Dyslexic Body-Image, Part I…


This is Part I of a 3-part column I will be posting over the next several weeks.  Comments are open, and private emails are also welcome so long as they are mindful and constructive.

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Is A Picture Worth A Thousand A Million Bad Choices…?

I’m highly susceptible to images – it’s my disease. Well, it’s one of them.  Since my adolescence, many images have collected in my mind to influence the millions of individual choices which have unfolded to make me the me I have become.  The image below was the first image to truly impact the direction of my life.

Dave Draper, bodybuilder supreme from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and yes, even the 2000s. If nothing else, he’s certainly been consistent.

I first saw the image above when I was 13 years old, BSE (before Schwarzenegger exposure).  Though the existence of Arnold Schwarzenegger would become central to my life in later adolescence, and kept me at its draw for nearly a decade, the picture above was the gun that started the race.  To this day that race continues, though I now run it half-heartedly, and care much less about crossing the finish line.  Still, every so often the picture above gnaws at me.

In the era of Seattle Slew, Dave Draper looked part human, part race horse and I wanted what he had badly.  I just had to have it – I just had to have this look of lean, vascular, muscularity.  From the moment I first saw that image, everything else in my life would become secondary to the pursuit of achieving that aesthetic – especially all the people and all the things which should have come first. 

Qualification Of The Aesthetic

It’s simple, one can’t get that extreme, lean, muscular, and vascular look without the use of drugs – in particular, the steroids of that era; Primobolin, Deca Durabolin, Testosterone Cypionate, Winstrol V, and similar vehicles for enhancement. No matter how hard one might train, and how clean one might eat; that look required drugs.  I just didn’t know.

For too many years I hit the gym like maniac, ate like a lunatic, and lived a life of social celibacy in belief that I would look like Dave Draper.  The bodybuilding magazines of my youth told me I was on the right path, and that steroids were not required – but their protein powders and supplements would make all the difference.  I had just enough want, and just enough youth in me then, to believe the lies those magazines told me.

My Identity Mask

Though I never achieved that lean, muscular, Dave Draper look, after several years, several thousand eggs, countless cans of tuna, and a lot of squats, bench presses, and pull-ups, I was able to build a respectable physique.  Those puffy arms, flared shoulders, and swollen quads would become my calling card.  Being the gym guy, in an era when there weren’t too many gym guys around, became the identity by which all around me would know me.  Though I was not Dave Draper, I felt like I had arrived in this world, and that I mattered because my arms filled out my shirt-sleeves, my chest heaved, and my physical peers were few.  And then… skydiving set in… 

Summer 2009, making one last Draper Attempt before resigning myself to a more balanced life -- under 200 pounds...

Life Outside The Palace

From 1993-1996, unable to workout due to fractures in my vertebrae from my skydiving accident, and no longer giving a rat’s ass about such niceties as saturated fat and sugar, my waist swelled from 31 inches to 42. My arms shrank, my chest began to sag, and the only identity I had ever known would soon be lost.  As my double chin grew, so did my shame.  I became relentlessly apologetic to anyone around me for my poor physical appearance, and did so at every opportunity.  Simply put, I hated myself because I hated what I looked like – or what I didn’t look like.

No matter that I was a great father to my toddler girl during my overweight period, or that I coveted my life like a diamond, and that I was kind and giving to anyone around me – I wasn’t the arm guy anymore and therefore I felt as worthless as shit on a shoe.  My depression would only lead to more depression.

Perception Of Loved Ones; Lessons Learned From Rocky I – Rocky III

In my life I have been fit, fat, and fit again.  Through all phases of my form, those who have loved me have loved me, and those who have loathed me have loathed me.  My physicality has never mattered to them.  Sadly, I have only come to know this recently – and it’s still hard to accept.  I am always apologetic of my appearance when I am in anything less than tip-top shape.  I am apologetic, not so much from vanity, but from insecurity – but mostly because when I was 12 years old, I saw Dave Draper and came to believe that anything less was not acceptable.

During my out-of-shape period, I had a wife who loved me, Buddha belly and all – and I didn’t believe her. I had friends who had appreciated me, arm size notwithstanding – and I didn’t believe them.  I now have a fiancé who I apologize to every single day of my life because my abs are currently more like a 4-pack than a 6-pac and she could care less and still, I don’t believe her.

I hate myself most days, even now, because despite my physical accomplishments, my current condition (which is way ahead of the game), and my fitness acumen, I still don’t look like Dave Draper, and it’s not even the goal anymore.  It was an image that captured me in my youth and never let go.  That’s on me – I’m an adult now and I own it, but I’m just not sure, all these years later, how to release it. 

To be continued…  rc

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Please check back in a week or so for Part II of,

My Dyslexic Body Image; I Need A Kind Of Therapy Which Does Not Yet Exist 

Oh, and there is this very trippy tune by New Texicans.  Please take a moment to enjoy this gem…

22 responses

  1. Roy,
    I went through this period where I was skinny, then overweight, then bulked up a bit, and then a little overweight, and then to something more moderate (and still fit).

    And through all of that – my wife, my kids, friends, family…they have still loved me. Even when I didn’t feel good about my appearance…

    And that all reminds me that – on this journey I’m on – it is good to be fit. Except that it’s not for the reasons I first thought (to look good, to be faster, to have a six pack). It’s because being fit also means being able to be active (given the limitations that are out of our control) and feel good (physically and emotionally).

    Before all of that, though – it’s about love. Love…first and foremost. (that one has taken a while for me to fully absorb too).

    So, Roy – know that I deeply appreciate the honesty with which you’ve written this. And I believe it speaks volumes to who you are, at a much deeper level than what the mirror shows.

    You are an amazing guy! I know that. And it’s so, so much more than what you look like on the outside…

  2. I have someone in my life who had loved me as I am, as I was and as I were. Pregnant like a fat whale (three times) at 300 lbs once, unhappy with my personal physicality I too didn’t really believe I was loveable. In my case it wasn’t due to a man named Draper, but rather a half-man named dad who didn’t seem to love me no matter what size I was or how happy or sad I was. I too have owned it but it’s not been as easy as flipping a switch. I’m a work in progress just as you are. You too are a beautiful person no matter your ab number. I’m glad you have someone in your life that appreciates that as well.

    • Thanks Bobbie. It’s nice to see you working beyond your dad-issues as well. And as you come to discover, as Lance and I have, given the choice between being fit and being fat, loves feels much better, as does life, when one is fit.

    • Trust me Lori, I have been in this industry for quite a while. I might suggest that many more women have image/body issues than men. I might also suggest that with men they often run deeper, wider, and with greater breadth.

  3. Unlike you, Roy, I wasn’t as focused on images. With the martial arts, I was focused on being able to do what my idols could. I was never able to achieve their skills, however, I came to realize that my true battle was with my self, and with that freedom, I was able to maximize my potential and reach skill levels that I had never before imagined.

    You were lucky, although you worked hard to make that luck, to be given a second chance with it all. From what I see, you are moving in a wonderful direction!

    By the way, even Dave Draper doesn’t look like Dave Draper now 🙂

    • In the battle with/against one’s self, there has to be a loser, yes…?

      And though Mr. Draper may not look like the Draper of old, he is a scrappy old man, and trains more intensely than ever — from what I gather.

      • The Nordic Runes say the Self is the self’s only friend, and the self is the Self’s only foe!

        When the higher Self, the Divine Within, holds sway, there is only a winner.

  4. Roy, I remember your skydiving post & I think one of the first I read from you & immediately posted to my blog. That a person comes back from that is amazing & that you survived says even more!

    Roy, I honestly can relate to your post more than you know. I am sure you might have figured that out. People like us live thru how fit we are…. people expect us to be fit & look a certain way so it becomes ingrained that we have to meet it & that is what makes us, us & makes us what people like no matter what anyone says.

    I am not quite in your place but I feel what you are saying…

    The thing is, you are so much more than a nice looking body! Your posts show your intelligence & honestly & love & what a wonderful human being you are….

    I say you are on your way to understand this & we are here for you!

    • Thank you very much Jody. It’s so hard to let go some times, and I know you know this too. Yes, I see it in you — we share it. Some days I wake up and think I have one more bodybuilding show in me, others I just want to run road races — hence, my dslexic body image — I just can’t see straight.

  5. I want to read the remaining parts before I comment. Lots of thoughts are banging inside my head like about loving oneself in order to be able to feel others’ love.
    Hope to read more soon. This part really strikes home though.

  6. There’s beautiful man at my gym – drop-dead gorgeous, young, totally yoked. He’s there every day, even when he’s in pain from some tendinitis or whatever. For awhile he said he hated being there, dreaded it, yet I saw him every time I went in. I asked him why he worked out when he clearly needed to rest, why he came when he hated it. His answer? He “had to.” He couldn’t fathom what might happen if he missed a workout and how it might affect his physique. To me this is very sad, because somewhere in his past he’s been conditioned to think he’s not ok unless he looks a certain way. I always thought this only applied to women, but I’ve been surprised to find it affects men too.
    Thanks for your honesty, Roy. You may find peace with this yet.

  7. Fabulous post Roy! In so many ways. You have touched on a theme that is currently resonating within my 59 year old mind/body as I push to improve my cycling fitness along with my physique. (testosterone level ain’t what it used to be!)

    Reid

  8. Thanks for dropping in Reid! I here you on the low-T issue, and on the cycling theme. As a daily commuter cyclist (on my bike about 90 minutes per day), always trying to beat my time from yesterday, I have hard time not pushing, and a harder time still on the days when I do push and lose to the me from last month. Getting old blows, but I will not fight it nor regret it. We are designed to get old.

  9. I believe that it’s impossible to feel worthy of love when a person doesn’t love or accept him or herself as they are at the moment. Clearly you were affected by the image of Mr. Draper, but I wonder what other influences in your life contributed to the overwhelming desire to reach your goal.

  10. It’s amazing how images can have such an impact on us. See, I look at a photo like Dave Draper and I think, “why would anyone WANT a body like that?” But, I look at photos of super-thin models in magazines and think, “I should be working harder to look like that.” …and I’ve been told by many people, “why would you WANT a body like that?”

    It’s this obsession with looking like something else, with being something else, with always being MORE than what we are. And it doesn’t seem to matter that we know that the people in those images use drugs or are airbrushed – it’s tough to move past it.

    But the people who love us truly love us… even though I’ve gained weight and feel really badly about it, it hasn’t affected my relationships with anyone. It’s more my obsession with trying to get rid of the excess fat that has had an affect, if anything! Being comfortable with ourselves is so important to knowing ourselves and really achieving health in body and in mind.

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