Written by Monte J. Wolfe
Please untie the nots.
All of the can nots, should nots, may nots, and have nots.
Please erase from my mind the thoughts that I am not good enough”
Everyday I Pray - Iyanla Vanzant
Memory is a funny thing. It’s amazing how much the mind can retain about a period in life, and how those memories can emerge and immediately take you back to a time that you had long since forgotten. This happened recently when I was in a clothing store & it dawned on me that I was looking in the 38 – 40 waist size while shopping for pants. I haven’t worn that size in almost 20 years.
I have issues when it comes to my weight which tend to fuck with me on a regular basis. Sometimes it shows up like the “shopping for pants” episode. Other times, it’s while I’m in the gym. Then of course, there’s the enigma that is black gay life. No matter what, my issues with body image always come to the surface. I’ve been dealing with this as long as I can remember and while a lot of it has become somewhat easier to manage, there’s still times I find myself plagued by feelings of insecurity about my body.
I don’t recall when being self-conscious about my body began but once it did, it never went away. As a child, I was a skinny little boy. Somewhere along the way during adolescence, I got heavier. I distinctly remember gym class in middle school being a sore spot for me. The boy’s locker room was one place where there was no escaping the ridicule coming from other boys my age. I remember being afraid to take my shirt off because I always got teased. High school was a continuation of what started in middle school, but fortunately by then I had developed coping mechanisms which made it a bit easier to navigate my way through being in public spaces with other young men my age who dared to try and fuck with me. Unfortunately, by then the die had been cast and the feelings of unworthiness had started to swell, which would continue for years to follow.
By my late teens certain things had become normal for me, none of which was healthy. I always wore clothes much larger than needed, because I didn't want people to make fun of me and how heavy I was. By then, I was conditioned and ashamed. As a result, certain things like the act of taking off my shirt in front of other people would rarely, if ever happen. In my early twenties while coming to grips with my sexuality, I found my way into black gay life & the world of sex & dating, which was ripe with sexual energy and emphasis on physical appearance.
There’s an entire book I could write about how I got from there to here…but all I’ll say now is that it’s been a journey filled with a lot of hiccups and even more growth.
Today, at the age of 42, I’m still challenged by the perceived imperfections of my body. There was a time in my teens when I remember looking at myself in the mirror & hating everything I saw looking back at me. I'm proud to say that those days are far behind me. In the 25 years since that time, I've mastered the art of doing a lot of ongoing, internal self-work. I've also committed myself to a rigorous routine of working out which includes cardio and weightlifting at least 3-4 times week (when my schedule allows).
When I started working out in college, I began to see noticeable changes in my body which inspired me to keep the routine going. But over the years, working out has also come with repercussions that I still have to learn how to manage from day to day. On weeks when I've hit the gym hard & exceeded my goals, I'm great. Now when I don't get to the gym as often as I would like, what almost always happens is that I beat myself up, terribly. There's always that voice in my head reminding me that I'm still fat, I'm not enough, that nobody will ever find me attractive or love me because I don't have a flat stomach.
That’s been most important since beginning to incorporate daily exercise and healthy eating habits into my life has been striking a balance. I don't deny myself what I enjoy eating, but I also make sure I'm exercising as often as I can to offset some of the effects of my "emotional eating" episodes.
After years in therapy and unpacking a lot of what’s at the root of my issues around self-worth, I’ve accepted that is that a lot of this stuff will most likely be with me for the rest of my life. So I've committed myself to working as hard as I can on paying attention to what goes on inside my mind as it pertains to my self-worth and how much I weigh on any given day.
Monte J. Wolfe is a trained actor, singer, songwriter, playwright, director and producer who graduated from Howard University in 1999 with a BFA in Theatre Arts Administration. He is the Founder, Artistic, and Managing Director of Brave Soul Collective, an arts, education, and outreach organization with a focus on HIV/AIDS, and issues affecting the lives of LGBTQ people, through the performing and healing arts. He currently resides in Washington, DC where he has lived and worked professionally since 1995.