From that moment on, I felt self-conscious about my body. I would obsessively brood over my lack of abs or undefined pecs in the mirror. Summer days at the pool were a tedious chore, and I would avoid getting in the water so I wouldn't have to take off my shirt.
Although many men struggle with body image, it's a topic that is often dismissed as a non-issue for "real” men. And as a gay, cisgender man, my personal journey has been incredibly difficult, because I'm always comparing my body to men I'm attracted to, and even I am guilty of subconsciously shaming overweight queer men. Of course, it has nothing to do with their size; it's an act of self-loathing.
Being queer, dark-skinned, and skinny, I have never felt comfortable in my own skin, and until recently, I didn't have the words to express that discomfort. To be a desirable gay man means to be masculine, white, and muscular, a standard that’s reinforced by images shared online.
This is the age of the “Instagram thot,” in which people post scantily clad photos, videos, and GIFs to gain followers and validation. But the pendulum often swings the other way, too. While Instagram is a place where people manipulate body-image expectation with flattering filters, angles, and Photoshop, it’s also become a place where users can promote body positivity and diversity. We often hear about women tackling body image on Instagram to encourage themselves and others to feel more comfortable about how they look. In fact, there are several teens and celebrities (like Kesha and Iskra Lawrence) whose responses to body-shaming bullies on Instagram have gone viral.
I’m left wondering why there’s a relative lack of body-positive posts and accounts directed at men.
While I’m sure many women can relate to that sentiment, as well as my struggle with body image, the experience isn’t necessarily the same across genders. So I decided to help fill the void of male body-image representation and challenge myself to face my own self-esteem issues head-on by doing what I feared most: posting shirtless selfies on Instagram. For 30 days straight, I took a daily shirtless picture of myself and uploaded it to Instagram for all of my followers to see (and presumably judge). The point was not to have others approve of my body with comments and likes, but to find a greater sense of self-esteem by practicing a body-positive attitude. By putting myself out there, I was also hoping to encourage others to love their own bodies, even if they don’t look like those ripped men in sweatpants, either.
I've decided to challenge myself with a social experiment. My whole life I have been very self-conscious about my body, particularly what I look like without a shirt. Instagram is flooded with shirtless models baring their muscles and often I feel envious of the confidence these men have. So, in an effort to abandon my past insecurities and to create a more body positive place for men to share their honest feeling about their body I'm taking 1 shirtless selfie for 30 days straight. Here's to more happiness and a greater sense of self-esteem #selfie #nofilter
Throughout this period, I made no changes to my regular routine of diet and exercise. This experiment was not meant to be a before-and-after account of a physical transformation, but a documentation of how my self-esteem improved from sharing my thoughts and feelings about my body.
I also noticed a decline in my followers, which may have been a result of simply annoying people with uncharacteristic over-sharing. But I also suspect that my unfollows came from a different place: For most people, men aren’t supposed to be transparent about body image or their insecurities, so seeing these things play out on Instagram may have been unsettling — after all, rigid perceptions of masculinity don’t allow for men to publicly explore these issues.
At the beginning of the project, I was very timid about posting these photos. It would have been different if I were just posting a couple of pictures here and there, but to commit to laying myself and my body insecurities bare for a whole month felt like a huge undertaking. As the project progressed, however, looking at myself in the mirror or through the camera lens felt like less of an obligation and more like a celebration of how I look and who I am. Each picture holds my Blackness, my thinness, my queerness, and both my femininity and masculinity — all elements of myself that I have had to reckon with while documenting my body on Instagram.
I've finally reached the end of this journey in learning to love a particular part of my body. I've always been self conscious about my chest and abs and it feels incredible to have finished this project and spread a body positive to other men and women. Men can be insecure about their physique too and the more conversations we have about this topic the better it will be for both genders. Stay tuned! #queer #bodypositivity #30daychallenge #day30
Of course, I still can't say I feel 100% confident about my body, but I do feel like this project provided me with a cathartic release. It's as if I'm no longer hiding something. Although I wouldn’t do this same challenge again, I’m less afraid of showing my torso, and I worry less about how people might judge me. And more importantly, I’m hopeful that I’m just one of many men out there starting to share their struggles with body image on Instagram (and beyond). It’s time that men become more comfortable having these conversations.
Whether or not I’m contributing to a larger trend of men speaking out about body insecurities, I’m just happy that, after 30 days of publicly delving into my own self-acceptance, I can finally say that "no shirt" really means "no problem" — even when there’s #nofilter.