Learning to Love Yourself

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Behind closed doors, it is impossible to know how people feel about their bodies. It’s common sense that making rude comments about bodies isn’t acceptable. However, individuals ignoring this are harming others.

Frankly, shaming a person based on their appearance isn’t a good personality. It makes people feel like they can’t love their bodies. This behavior has a grip on the LGBTQ community, especially from what I’ve seen on Twitter. It is nothing new since it’s been prevalent within the community for as long as I can remember.

Dr. Jo Ann Martinez-Contreras, the director of behavioral health and substance use at the Valley AIDS Council, said body shaming has been around for generations. Telecommunication development, like instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, made unintentional changes to how it happens.

While people hide behind a screen, negative remarks about bodies are “devastating to a gay individual,” Martinez-Contreras said. She added media influences what consumers view as beautiful.

“The media has said you have to look a certain way to be desirable or attractive,” she said. “Its supposedly ideal kind of body to strive for … after you see so many of those images, every individual is apt to buy into it.”

Martinez-Contreras reminded me of learning the idiom “sticks and stones may break my bones (but words will never hurt me)”; however, she argued words can harm people deeply.

“Yes, they do,” she said. “They really hurt. … It affects an individual for many years. Even if someone says ‘Oh, well it’s nothing,’ [we’re] always aware of it because we’re surrounded by images of what is perceived as or what is [beautiful].”

Regardless, people are embracing their bodies. On Twitter, there is an increase in body positivity posts and photos in the LGBTQ community. Additionally, people are setting realistic lifestyle goals for their health. Dr. Jorge Miranda, a physician at Wellness Health Group, a healthcare center in Mission, said it is not difficult to make these goals.

Hard work is needed to achieve goals, especially when they’re related to one’s health. Miranda recommends seeking help when needed.

He explained there are several bodily and health processes to be aware of while setting lifestyle goals. They are nutrition, stressors, and sleep.

“By doing that, you can, I think, relatively achieve your goals, so long as they are reasonable,” Miranda said.

The shape of a person is like a spectrum. I’ve seen people eat junk food but have a chiseled body or consume a wholesome meal with little muscle definition. Miranda said it’s all about being balanced with our body’s delicate health.

Nevertheless, body shaming has left a few scars on those who have experienced it and live while worrying about their bodies.

One of these individuals is Noel Rangel, a Brownsville native. He shared his story about being body-shamed and how it affects him.

Rangel uses the dating app Tinder, but he felt discouraged to talk to others whenever asked for a body photo. People have told Rangel on dating apps he’s “too heavy.” It makes him feel bad, as he’s trying to stay positive and accept his body shape and weight.

Although he wanted to retaliate, he remains respectful and moves to another conversation.

“Everyone, I think, has this fight or flight instinct,” Rangel said. “Sometimes my fight instinct is a little bit stronger and I wanted to respond rudely, but … it’s not worth it.”

Rangel feels intimidated whenever he’s around fit gay men.

“Maybe that’s a personal issue,” Rangel said. “If they’re in a clique, it’s four or five of them. They’re all skinny and tall and I don’t fit in [those categories]. It feels like I’m being excluded.”

Specifically, Rangel feels like this at hangouts or other social gatherings (before the COVID-19 pandemic).

“There might be other gay males there that are not trying to make you feel bad, but the aura or the energy they carry with themselves is very condescending like they’re better [because] they’re skinny or fit,” Rangel said. “It feels sometimes a bit … discouraging or sad, knowing that I’m not on their level.”

Rangel practices self-love. He compares it to being “at the beach with your friends and [feeling] like they’re going to see my stomach if I get in the water, I shouldn’t take off my shirt,” he explained. “Your friends [are] probably concerned about playing Spotify or getting the sandwiches out. Your friends don’t care. Your family members don’t care.”

The Brownsville native has felt that he didn’t want to take off his shirt. However, he noticed that his friends don’t say anything about his body.

In addition to accepting his body shape, Rangel wants to lose weight and get fit.

“I think people confuse the fact that you’re a husky guy or husky girl and you can’t love your body because you’re promoting [an] unhealthy lifestyle,” Rangle said. “You can still practice self-love and get fit or lose weight.”

Another Rio Grande Valley resident who shared their body-shaming experience is Josue Jimenez, a Mission native.

While exploring Grindr for the first time in 2018, Jimenez received a message from a blank profile. The person complimented his face but called him fat.

In response, Jimenez called the person out by saying “at least I have a face to show,” thus ending the conversation.

“He kind of reminded me there’s still some hostility towards people who may not be in the best [body figure],” Jimenez said.

Unfortunately, the person who body-shamed Jimenez sent him a request to be friends on Snapchat. Without thinking, he accepted it and saw the individual’s post body shaming others on their Snapchat story.

Seeing the posts reminded Jimenez of his similar experience. Thus, he removed the person from his Snapchat.

“I’m not here to entertain people like this in my life,” Jimenez said.

The advice Jimenez gave is knowing support is plentiful compared to negativity and learning to accept yourself.

I, too, have experienced being body-shamed. Though I grew and learned from it, the process was grueling.

At 18 years old, I download the Grindr app onto my phone after hearing about it on Instagram. My awareness regarding the body-shaming issue in the LGBTQ community was low. So, I wasn’t prepared to experience it firsthand.

I scrolled down the small orange grid, occasionally stopping to check a profile. Suddenly, Grindr’s notification binged, signifying I received a message.

“It’ll be another bland conversation,” I said to myself while opening it.

Although it started as one, the person asked me if “I was looking.” That means they wanted to have sex. I declined because I didn’t feel comfortable with doing it at the time.

The person didn’t like that response as they said, “put down the fork.”

This statement is a rude way to jab at my body image. I started feeling anxious after reading the message. I felt my heartbeat increase, my breathing quicken, and my eyes water. I didn’t know what to do. So, I blocked the person.

Getting over the interaction was hard for me. At the time, I didn’t know how to handle these situations. That, unfortunately, caused me to hate my body.

“I look too fat,” was a constant thought in my mind. It got to a point where I believed people stared at me. I felt judging energy whenever I was shopping, eating, walking, and more.

Eventually, I didn’t want to feel awful about myself anymore.

“I deserve better,” I told myself.

I opened up about my mental health to family and friends and went to therapy. Feeling weird, awkward, and emotional became normal during this. I often felt like I made no progress. However, I learned to change that perspective.

The change started when I began appreciating what the body does. As my confidence grew, I explored my appearance. I painted my nails, wore perfume, let friends put makeup on me, and wore a crop top.

Becoming comfortable in a crop top felt like a test. At first, I only wore it in my room. If I needed to leave, I changed into a T-shirt. Gradually, I walked around my apartment in it.

What took the longest to be OK with was going public in the crop top. The judging feeling prevented me from comfortably wearing it. I remember when I wanted to wear the crop top while taking the trash to the dumpster. It was dark; not a lot of residents would see me.

Doing it was a rush of adrenaline. Since then, self-esteem grew. I looked in the mirror and felt attractive.

It grew after I posted a pic of me in an orange UTRGV “South Texas Showdown” T-shirt I cut into a crop top on my Instagram story. My friends reacted positively to it as they complimented me and expressed their support.

With confidence, I can say it does get better. I’m proud to be 200 pounds, a person of color, gay, and nonbinary. The key is being honest with yourself and talking about it, learn about self-compassion.

 

Steven Hughes