Breaking through the glass

September 5, 2017

While a mirror is not always kind, it is always honest.

It is hypnotizing almost. It draws innocent eyes in, captivates them. It is a foundation for narcissists to build their castle of vanity upon.

But for a vast majority of the population, their mind will not allow them to see the truth in this irresistible reflecting pool. Their mind steals the image and twists it grotesquely, magnifying their flaws and distorting proportions, a funhouse mirror designed to manipulate and alter the truth.

It becomes a tool of self mutilation rather than one of self admiration. And in that moment, a fragile confidence someone has within themselves quickly begins to disintegrate, bombarded by advertisements, commercials, movies, books, clothing stores and celebrities who shove the idea that beauty is something definable and depicted through having washboard abs and a sharp jawline. Rather than something manifested in one’s heart.

“Beauty” has become something that people want to see, rather than feel. As a result, the people who model clothes, or honestly the lack of clothes, seem to have everything a “normal” person doesn’t have–everything they want to have.

Everything I needed to have.

This phenomenon has targeted both men and women for the past century; however, it seems that the nation has taken a small step to try to break this unrealistic standard for women by implementing an increased number of plus sized female models into mainstream advertisements and encouraging women to embrace various body types. However, this giant leap for mankind has yet to be taken for men.

There is currently only one plus sized male model in the United States, Zach Miko. One man faced with the task of being relatable to every body type that the general population of males relate to, and unfortunately, models that are blown up on advertisements far outnumber him, with sculpted bodies and chiseled faces.

Most men would most likely not admit to the fact that they are in fact unhappy with their bodies due to the fact that oftentimes “men” are brought up being stereotyped into believing that they are not supposed to be in touch with their emotions in order to spare their masculinity and bravado.

As a male, I attest to the fact that seeing these advertisements indeed lowers one’s self confidence. At least it did for me when I walked into a Hollister store as an innocent eighth grader where shirtless models, flaunting faultless bodies, stared me down. And in that moment, I realized that until I looked like that, I would not be happy with my body.

Looking in a mirror from then on became less about seeing what I looked like and more about what I didn’t look like. I didn’t look like “him”. I had narrow shoulders, scrawny arms, a little too much flab on my stomach. I covered my arms over my stomach when I came out of the locker room to make a walk of shame to the bleachers by the pool that I came to dread. I said I was cold, no questions asked.

Freshmen year. The mirror became something I was happy to look in. I was finally the boy with abs, getting compliments in swim and on social media. It was a dream come true. Compliments reassured the idea that my decision to skip meals and cut down on portion sizes was finally paying off. I looked how people wanted me to look, finally. I looked like “him.”

Sophomore year. The year that the funhouse mirror took full effect. The year of a routine– a mutilating cycle. The year of locked bathroom doors and running sink water in case someone passed by the bathroom. The year of soft smiles and shaking my head when my nana told me I was looking thin.

That was the year my knees were red from kneeling by the toilet. The year of shaky breaths and messy tears in the mirror. The year of wiping my mouth, of the acidic taste that seemed to stick in the back of my throat no matter how many times I washed it out.

That was the year that I saw a blotchy, wet face in that same mirror for three months with the same question hammering in my head of how I honestly got there.

There is something strange about watching yourself cry in a mirror, by yourself, knowing there is nothing you can do.

I remember it hurt. Looking at myself in that mirror hurt, but a mirror is alluring. It drew in my innocent eyes and hypnotized them– corrupted and assuaged them.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, a total of approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their life. It is a problem. For both genders.

Boys have been stigmatized into believing that they are unaffected by such things, but that is not the case. There are 10 million men living in this nation, myself included, who struggle with body image. It is not something to be taken lightly, romanticized, made fun of or ignored. It happens, and it continues to happen.

I say this because that was me, that was the life I constructed for myself. It was a nightmare. It was messy. It was exhausting. But worst of all, it was addicting which is why the cycle seemed to be so unbeatable. I didn’t necessarily want to beat it.

I am writing this because when I was sitting in that bathroom by myself, I had never heard an open, honest testimony from a male admitting to the fact that they too had struggled with how they looked in the mirror. It wasn’t something I thought other guys struggled with.

This is that testimony for any boy, girl, man or woman who is having a battle with their own funhouse mirrors. Every circumstance is different, but from my experience, it helped me to speak about it out loud with people who could relate It is about unlocking that bathroom door and putting thoughts out into the universe, not about condensing them.

It is remembering there are better things to come. Always.

A mirror is just a mirror until you give it the power to become something else. It’s pure, transparent and honest. It is there for you, a tool to admire and to appreciate what you see.  

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