“If you had told 20-year-old me that I’d be celebrating my chubby body by posting provocative pictures on Instagram while navigating the body positive, body neutral, and sex positive movements – I would have told you to take your meds. 20-year-old me was in the closet, suffering a dark depression, hating his body, and contemplating if he would ever find love and happiness in himself, let alone with a partner. Now at 40, this ‘old man’ is on Instagram rocking skimpy underwear while discussing depression, the difference between body positivity and body neutrality, how thick men can lead a sex positive life, and encouraging other plus size men to look at their lives as a whole. And that means not to deny the beauty and sexuality of being big.
I’ve always been a chubby kid. Both my parents were ‘thick,’ ‘chunky,’ and ‘plus size’ – code words in our society for fat – so it was inevitable that I would be a kid with weight problems. In the 80s, in my formative adolescence, I loathed shopping for clothes each new school year. Things just never seemed to fit right as we shopped in the ‘husky’ section at department stores. I remember asking my mother, ‘What does husky mean?’ ‘It’s for boys like you,’ she said. And BOOM. There it was. The moment that would define decades of internal anguish and self sabotage. It wasn’t even what she said. It was how she said it – in an almost hush – as if it was something embarrassing to be discussed. My shame about my size and weight started then, at 8 or 9 years of age. That was the beginning of the unconscious societal bias of fatphobia. As I went through middle and high school it would grow, like a gremlin being fed after midnight, ugly… and dangerous. It became my best friend and my only trusted companion.
Middle school and high school were one long isolated journey with no real place to seek refuge, so I sought comfort in the one place I could always rely on and trust: food. I became a compulsive eater and did so at all hours of the day, always in secret. I would wake up in the middle of the night and gorge myself at the refrigerator door. This got so out of hand that my father had to start locking the door to the kitchen to keep me out. I would sneak snacks and hide them in my room earlier in the day, just to ensure I could find that comfort in the middle of the night. At school I found a group of friends but never socialized because how could they even begin to understand my shame? Gym became a place of terror. Not just because my weight made me the least athletic kid in my class, but also because of having to undress in front of all these other boys. I was going to have to stand in my underwear in front of them? Hell no! I was not like them. I was fat. I was also hiding a secret: I was gay.
I was born and raised Roman Catholic so identifying as gay was taboo. I was terrified that my parents would find out my secret… that anyone would find out my secret. But I was confused. How could I be gay? Gay guys had great blonde hair, blue eyes, smooth creamy skin, and six pack abs that they showed off every chance they could. I was a dumpy high schooler with crooked teeth, oily skin, flabby arms, and a huge belly that hung over the waist of my pants, allowing my belt buckle to dig into my skin painfully. Every day when I got home and took off my jeans I would sigh with relief as the vice around my growing belly was released. I would softly caress that skin that felt like it was on fire and wondered if it would ever heal. In hindsight, that was the only loving touch that I gave my body. It would be decades before I gave love to my body like that again. That pain, cutting deep into my belly, was a reminder that I was defective. I was fat. I wasn’t like all the other boys in gym. I was sinning against God because I was gay. Hell, I couldn’t even be gay right. For me, my body shame would always be tied to the shame of having been born gay.
College was a simultaneously liberating and terrifying experience as I found opportunities to explore my sexuality. I lived my college years as a gay man, finding a circle of friends whom I kept at arm’s length as I fed the binging food gremlin in the quiet darkness of my dorm room. I would never hit up the university cafeteria with friends because they couldn’t know about my special relationship with food, even though my body and sheer size betrayed my secret. Friends would come and go, but I knew food would always be there for me.
College also gave me the opportunity to take my first baby steps into body acceptance when a handsome young saxophone player from the music department started flirting with me. He would smile at me and his eyes would twinkle; I felt butterflies in my stomach. Was this what all my classmates were talking about in high school? In the quiet of my dorm room this saxophonist touched my body, playing with my skin like I was his instrument, telling me how much it excited him. He made me feel attractive. Wrapped in his arms, I felt sexy. That was a new experience and I was desperate to keep that feeling to the point that I became needy and lost him to my own insecurities. It would be years before I realized that it, too, was a secret. He wouldn’t look at me or touch me when he saw me around on campus. Ashamed to love a man, let alone a fat man. Only in the quiet, secluded safety of my dorm room would he and I experience joy and passion.
So went most of my 20’s learning to find my place in the gay community known as ‘bears.’ For those not inducted to the LGBTQIA+ lingo, bears in gay culture are usually thick, large, chunky, chonky, obese hairier men. That opened the door to ‘chasers’ – gay men who actively look for relationships with ‘big guys’ – guys who happened to look like me! Guys who I would now hunt for. Incidentally, that’s how my social media profiles got their name, hunting chasers. This was a safe place to meet men who wanted to get to know a thick man like me. That gremlin, my secret best friend, food, suddenly didn’t have to stay so far in the shadows.
Now let me tell you about the problem with the gay community. For a group who has so desperately wanted to create a sense of inclusion, we as a whole, can be very exclusive. As men we are told we need to look like the cover of Men’s Health Magazine. Tall, trim, muscular and white. Men come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We have to stop the obsessive criticism and unhealthy expectations of who we are. We have to be able to say, ‘This is our body. This is me.’ Instead, as I found myself thrust into the world of online app dating, I was being told, ‘You’re not masculine enough.’ ‘You’re not hairy enough.’ ‘You’re not tall enough.’ ‘I only date white guys.’ ‘Sure you’re big, but where are your muscles?’ And in a true sense of cruel irony, ‘You’re not fat enough.’ What?! Like they say in my favorite medical drama, ‘Seriously? Seriously! Seriously.’
I turned 30 and boom. I met a man, another musician as fate would have it – a harpist this time – and he would love me for me. He was a blonde haired, blue eyed, 5’11” beauty. He demanded of me self respect and love for the body he loved. He didn’t see a chubby man when he looked at me. He just saw a man. A man that loved him unconditionally and whom he loved most deeply. I suddenly didn’t care about the overhang of my belly or the stretch marks on my love handles. I was in love. He encouraged me to explore all facets of our relationship. In many ways, he opened the door to my understanding of sex positivity, helping me to learn that I deserved intimacy and I am most definitely capable of being sexy. Society had taught me that big might be beautiful but usually isn’t sexy. My harpist put all of those fatphobic thoughts I had in the trash and made me feel sexy… because I was.
It took me many years to come to terms with the idea that being a plus size man does not mean I am not a sexual being. Exploring my body and growing into sexual wellness is a priority in my life. That is the basis of sex positivity. I have a lot of insecurities when it comes to my body and sex. I’m constantly wondering why a man would want to touch my body. Then the seeds this harpist had planted began to grow. The high of being seen in a sexually attractive way was addictive and I learned to embrace sexuality with my boyfriend. But, that relationship too would end. My own mental health demons saw to that.
I suffer from depression and anxiety like 6 million other men coping with depression in the United States. My toxic relationship with food only fueled these new gremlins as they formed an army that pounced on every moment of self doubt and hate surrounding the implosion of my relationship. They sang a chorus of, ‘No man could ever love a fatty like you,’ complete with an encore of, ‘You will die alone… and fat.’ My insecurities gave them a standing ovation every night. I returned to the comfort of an old friend, food. A lot of guys don’t want to admit they have mental health problems, seeing depression as a sign of weakness. Being Latino, I grew up in a machismo culture that is basically the Latinx version of toxic masculinity. Every day I force myself to ignore the stigma surrounding mental health that stops many men from seeking help when they need it most because it is literally killing us. Suicide from depression is ranked as a leading cause of death among men, and yet we’re less likely to seek mental health treatment than our female counterparts.
Learning to cope has been a battle but in order to go to war with the gremlin army, I had to get to know the enemy that was self doubt, body shame, and internalized homophobia. So my weapons became body positivity, body neutrality, and sex positivity. These movements intersect and have been part of my mental health journey. Now I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what these things were when I started. My journey was more about falling over myself and in the process learning that I wasn’t the only person struggling with these issues. But where were we? I saw body positivity online and even on television and film but that was always for women. Not men. Don’t believe me? Think about Lizzo, the musical Hairspray, and Chrissy Metz. Sure we sometimes happen upon a Jorge Garcia or Jack Black but they are always seen in comic tones because fat men are funny – not sexy. Why can Rebel Wilson be sexy, funny, and fat but James Corden can’t? Let me say this loud for the people in the back, MEN DESERVE TO HAVE THEIR PLACE IN THE BODY POSITIVITY MOVEMENT. If I had seen men talking about the movement, I would have gotten to where I am today in my 30s and not as I was rounding 40.
Being body positive basically means liking and maybe even loving the way your body looks. It is an open embrace of your perceived flaws and imperfections. Body neutrality brings into focus the idea that your body is what it is. You shouldn’t feel positive or negative about it. Rather, accept it ‘as is.’ It is just another part of who you are.
My issue with body positivity is simple – it’s exhausting. You cannot be expected to maintain that level of positivity and love for a body you have spent a lifetime hating. When your own demons take a toll and you don’t measure up to the standard, you feel like a failure. The fall from body positivity is like a free fall from a cliff – you don’t glide down, you hit the ground hard. Enter body neutrality. Body neutrality for me gives me the flexibility to be body positive one day – but not the next. It rescues me from the fixation and energy required to maintain a body positive mentality.
I have a strong sense of purpose in life. It is disappointing that body shame has kept my fierce spirit at bay mentally, physically, and most definitely sexually. Toxic masculinity in gay culture has given me a sense of what my body is ‘supposed’ to be in order to be a Real Man. I am a real man. No washboard abs, perky pecs, big biceps, or huge genitalia will change that… that’s the truth. Body acceptance is ongoing and unfortunately, slow. So I started posting pictures of myself on social media in a desperate attempt to regain some of the self confidence I found with men complimenting my size and body. I posted a few provocative photos of myself in some cute undies – a fetish my last partner had helped me realize – and I found some personal acceptance in the compliments that men gave me but it was hollow. I was still hiding but I didn’t know it at the time.
I’m not ashamed of my account but some would consider it sex work. While there is definitely a sexual component to what I do – you have to see my body if I’m going to talk about body and sex positivity. This is actually my second attempt at a body positive account. My first account was a challenge to myself to embrace my own sexuality and sense of what it meant for me, as a plus size man, to be sexy. So that account was meant to be 365 days of underwear posts. That would be my account. Just a post of me in my underwear. Day one was terrifying. I kept asking myself, ‘Can you really do this? You know once it is on the internet – it never really goes away.’ I was tentative and insecure so I told myself I could just post from my torso down. No one saw my face.
After that account shuddered, I decided I had to be honest with my followers and more importantly with myself. If I wanted to go on this sex positive body positive journey – I had to embrace all of me. I had to be vulnerable. So I posted my face. That was a big step for me. An account user, @bigplo, who had been following my first account was the first to comment. It was just an emoji of hands clapping. It felt like something big had happened when I posted my face. It was big. It was acceptance. Body acceptance is a journey – not a destination and this was my first step in on ongoing journey. A journey that is not always easy, one that comes with ups and downs, but only serves to make a stronger me.
One of the biggest surprises in the journey of starting this account is the community I found. I recently got a message from account user @bigplo telling me how proud he was of how I had gone from a guy who wouldn’t show his face or too much of his body to now being unashamed and honest with the way I present myself to the world. ‘I’m proud of you,’ he said. His compliment and kindness left me breathless.
All this positivity and work on myself must mean I’m pretty well adjusted, right? WRONG. I struggle with my mental health every day. I remind myself that it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to surrender to my darkness. I am perfect, whole, and complete just the way I am… and that includes my gremlins. Last week I posted a photo of myself playfully flashing my derriere for the camera as part of ‘hump day.’ Suddenly, there staring back at me were gremlins, my back fat rolls. Panic. Anxiety. Dread. I can’t post this to my account. ‘Your fat rolls are disgusting,’ they sang like a tortuous choir. What will my followers think? I went to work with photoshop determined to change, smooth, and minimize the fat rolls on my back. I have no problem being a thick round chubby bear of a man, but I hate those back rolls… and as I soften them, I’m unable to get rid of them. They are your fat rolls, I tell myself. I don’t have to like them. I don’t have to love them. They are part of who I am… so, I accept them. And that is the POWER of body neutrality.
This account has become not only a coping mechanism, but an anthem and mission. My captions in many instances are affirmations of the movements that I believe in and advocate for. I want men to feel beautiful and sexy in their bodies. If I don’t add my voice to the small but powerful chorus of men who advocate for body and sex positivity, each fighting with their own gremlins, then I can’t expect change in the world. I will leave you with this thought, a quote from one of my earliest posts on my account. ‘There are lines on my face. Wrinkles and stretch marks on my body. Blemishes on my skin and pounds on my bones. This is me. I will celebrate the body I have. That’s all I can do about it. Well that, and smile.'”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Big A from Texas, USA. You can follow his journey on Instagram and on Twitter. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more about body positivity:
‘My mom would say I was ‘ballooning.’ I was in 4th grade. She’d implement some new weird food rule for my ‘health.’: Woman is ‘blown away’ by body positive community, ‘I learned to love myself, heal my relationship with my body and soul’
‘Curvy women welcome, but ONLY if the curves are in the bust or butt.’ I would wear t-shirts over bathing suits out of fear someone would see my stomach and die of disgust on the spot.’: Mother advocates for body positivity, ‘You are perfectly imperfect’
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