I have a nasty tendency towards perfectionism. It’s a symptom of my quintessential Virgo nature. This extends, as it does for more than a few of our gay brethren, to my body image, and I’m as susceptible as anyone to nitpicking this little roll of flesh or the way my tummy interacts with my belt when I sit down. So I work out like a man possessed (okay, I am a man possessed!), and of course the changes happen slowly enough that I tend to be more or less unaware they’re happening.
Thus it’s always with a certain amount of surprise that I’ll have new photos taken for some project, and in looking through them I’ll find some new definition or some new muscular shape that hadn’t been there before, and wonder “When did that happen?” Sometimes I’ve even had a moment of disbelief that it was actually my own body in the photo.
And there are reasons for that. I was a chubby child. And a fat teenager. And a chubby adult through my 20’s and into my 30’s. Bear in mind I’m 41 now, so we’re not talking ancient history, but rather a good three quarters of my life to date. It was never that I was poorly or overly fed: while growing up my family believed in good quality food, perhaps sometimes in more substantial quantities than was best. Mom was adamant about low sugar and artificial ingredients well before that was considered a parenting standard; peanut butter tended to be Teddy and never Jif, and it was only last week I had my first taste of Lucky Charms cereal (it’s not “magically delicious” but just overly sweet, I’ve decided). We were hardly a sedentary family; dad wasn’t one to go throwing the pigskin with us in the back yard, but in family vacation trips where other tourists took the shuttle we’d walk. We as kids were encouraged to follow athletics among our other extracurriculars in school; I’d been the musician and thespian and it was only senior year I joined the new wrestling team (I was awful), but just hanging with friends I’d proven a decent soccer and hockey player so long as I was on defense (my athletic talents being much more adroitly exploited if they involved getting in the way, let’s say) and a pretty decent volleyball player. But then I went off to college, majored in music, and between being a full-time student, working nearly full-time for the music department, and keeping a heavy performing schedule, there just wasn’t time for anything physical. Towards the end of my years in college I was looking distinctly rotund-professorial…
That’s me on the right, just in case you couldn’t guess. This was taken at the reception at my apartment after my senior composition recital, and I’m (not atypically) holding a plate of mostly-eaten grandmom’s otherworldly lasagne.
So when I moved to New York City a month shy of my 29th birthday, I was nothing anyone would begin to look at. I wish I had full-body photos of this, but I don’t. This one was taken sometime around then; the best it might convey is the roundness and softness of my face:
It’s worth underlining how few photos I’ve allowed to survive from those days that show my body in any way. I still have this sweater, as it was one of my favorites, but it’s a tent on me now. I mean, it was a tent on me then too, but I felt back then that if you were a circus elephant it was better to live in a tent.
So the prompt to write this post was coming across, in the dusty recesses of my hard drive, this next photo, maybe the earliest I have that does show my body. By this point, I’d been living in NYC for about 6 years. I’d had two high-pressure jobs in sequence, and on recommendation from some friends I’d entered into a gym membership fairly early on to try to alleviate some of that stress. I took on a trainer for a year or so to make sure I knew what I was doing, but really I was feeling more like I was going through the motions just to stay reasonably healthy and keep my weight down. I’d become involved in the kink community, and through that had found a new boyfriend with similar bondage and S/M inclinations. One evening, noting I owned no leather gear, he pulled out his Nasty Pig chaps from the closet, coerced me to put them on, and snapped some pictures. These were a revelation to me; I had no idea I’d made such a transformation in my own physique; that that was my body came as a complete shock. This was what I looked like:
I remember looking at these photos on his computer and thinking “OMG, I look GOOD! Who’d have thought?”
I got more serious about my gym time. I went back to mom’s notions about cleanliness of food, cutting out salt and sugar and anything artificial. I swear when I removed anything hydrogenated from my diet ten pounds of fat simply dissolved away. I was never a heavy drinker, and as expensive as drinking can be in NYC it came as no great challenge to dump most alcohol, but again even that little bit definitely made a difference. Cardio went from being my 15-20 minute warmup before hitting the weights to a serious workout endeavor in its own right. Thinking to thicken my legs a bit I joined the NYC gay men’s cycling group OutCycling (and even served on the board briefly). Progress was made and in June of 2009 I appeared with a circle of sexy bears on stage at Folsom Street East:
It had not been long before this that director Paul Wild at Titan first approached me about doing porn. To note how far I’d come was one thing; for me to have thought I’d have any business putting that body on camera was another thing altogether though, and I expressed my appreciation for the invitation and declined. Admittedly it may not have been so much my physical condition that was the principal reason he’d have wanted me on board so much as that by then I was known in NYC as a good S/M practitioner and even educator, having been active with GMSMA and the NYBC for some years at that point. He kept the invitation open, though, and half a year after this photo was taken…
In January 2010 I said yes to Titan. Paul’s first instruction was to work out HARD, and I did. A few dates to film a first scene that spring didn’t work out schedule-wise, and that was probably just as well; my confidence was still not quite where it needed to be. Finally in May we set a date for the last week of July. And in the following month to my utter shock I discovered something I knew was under there somewhere but was certain all my life I’d never see. My abs.
A buddy of mine took this photo one morning while I was dressing to march with the Big Apple Corps Band in Boston’s Pride Parade in June of 2010. Those shades of my six-pack I’d never, ever seen until this photo. Even a month before, if you’d told me that I’d have been able to see my abs, I’d have reflected on my genetics and history, and I’d have laughed at the silliness of the idea. This photo did make me laugh, just in an entirely different way.
Final push. I don’t necessarily recommend the diet strictures I put on myself those last two months, especially considering how hard I was pushing myself in the gym. Terror motivates people in desperate ways. I have one photo of myself from the weekend of that first filming, taken in the hotel bathroom the morning after my arrival in SF; otherwise all I have are stills taken from the actual production.
I must’ve done something right. I walked into that shoot figuring they might make one or two films with me, and find someone younger, hotter, more muscular, more hung… and that’d be that. Even if that had been what transpired, I would have been happy to say I’d managed to get up there and do myself proud. Titan had a surprise for me though — they kept asking me back, and on the second shoot, for Thrill Ride with the incredibly sexy Dario Beck, I have stills:
Um, to say I was inspired and emboldened is a bit of an understatement. Those photos were taken two years ago now, and I haven’t stopped. Taking a regular photo of myself, in the gym or at home in the mirror, has proven such a good tool for identifying what I still need to work on, and so often has proven such a reward and validation for the hard work. This one, taken at Steel Gym in NYC this summer, benefits from a well-angled spot, but I’m still looking at it in wonderment that that is in fact my body. Kindly overlook the goofy facial expression:
My point in this over-long recounting of my physical metamorphosis is not to imply anything along any sort of body-nazi lines. Be comfortable in your body, be the best yourself you can be, regardless of your shape. Beauty in a person of course goes far deeper than skin & muscle, and this post is only meant to address this one superficial physical aspect. However I have to say that many other aspects of my life have benefited massively just from the confidence that gains in this particular area has instilled in me. I won’t pretend this hasn’t been a lot of work; it HAS, and for many this will not be as great priority in their lives, and I understand and respect that. My point though is that if *I* can do this, anybody who wants to do this can do this. Done laughing at the perceived naïvité of that comment? Go back to that photo of me in my BF’s chaps six years ago and compare it to the one above. It will take time, patience, determination, and consistency, but it’s entirely possible. If you don’t know how, find people who do and learn from them, don’t just try to figure it out or guess; you’ll speed your progress, maximize results, and reduce the chances of hurting yourself. Pay attention to what you eat, and make sure you eat a good variety of food. I’m firmly of the opinion that the quality of what you eat is far more important than the quantities, though keeping calorie counts on the lower side is vital, especially if you’re trying to burn through a layer of fat. That said, don’t forget that all bodies are different and what works for me may not be exactly what works for you, so be prepared to tinker. Don’t be discouraged by slow gains, or periods when nothing much seems to be happening; it is, just not quickly.
And that brings me to the final suggestion. Trainers will tell you to keep a log, recording the exercises you perform, how much weight you use, how many reps and sets you do, to chart your progress. I’d add to keep a visual record; TAKE PICTURES. Lots of them, from all angles. You don’t have to show them to anyone if you don’t want, but every once in a while look back on this record of your progress, and remind yourself that there were once rolls somewhere that you hadn’t realized had since vanished, or (as I have to remind myself) that at one point when you sat down your belly didn’t just kind of wrinkle around your belt but completely obscured your buckle. Look back and see how far you’ve come; it makes those things you’re looking ahead to accomplish next seem so much more possible. And it’s all possible, absolutely.