Body Statement

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We have the power to pick the lock of our own suffering!

Our bodies.

There is perhaps no greater manifestation of anxiety than that which we place upon our physical form. We spend so much of our time in an elliptical of judgement, comparing ourselves to others. In a marathon of attack thoughts, we obsess over pounds we have yet to shed, muscles we haven’t developed, and physiques we may never attain.  It’s more exhausting beating ourselves up over our perceived imperfections than it is actually going to the gym!

Anyone who has known me for a while knows that I’ve had a turbulent relationship with my body. I’ve been obese, anorexic, and everything in between. I’ve carried the shame of being overweight, and I’ve known the pains of starving for perfection. At every weight, from a high of 240 lbs. to a low of 155; in lifestyles variances, a completely sedentary video gamer in my adolescence to a hyper active 7-days a week, twice a day gym goer by my mid-twenties; and in every diet, from processed fast foods to organically vegan, the feeling has always been the same: I’m not good enough.

That’s my life’s F.E.A.R. maxim, and by fear I mean “false evidence appearing real.” And indeed, it’s a pretty terrifying refrain!

Recently I started re-reading Gabby Bernstein’s May Cause Miracles. It’s a 40-day guidebook for manifesting a radically happy life. Four years ago, when I was living in Kansas and only dreaming of California, a friend randomly suggested it to me. What I thought would be another dust collecting Amazon purchase ended up being THE catalyst for a new and amazing life. I’m positive I would still be stuck in Wichita if I had not read that book and done the work that allowed me to attract the life I have today in Los Angeles. Three years later, everything about my life has changed! Well everything but one…

The sunset photos on the beach, selfies with colorful friends, inspirational meditation quotes, and vegan food porn pics have all been posted with that same “I’m not good enough” refrain lodged into my subconscious. That’s called the ego–the part of you that wants to cling to the familiar, playing it small so you never step into the uncomfortability  of the unknown. A positive statement about my body is what my ego fears the most.

So, of course, in reading May Causes Miracles again, one miraculous shift under my belt, it’s fitting that this longstanding ritual of body hating would surface. I’m so thankful that it did because in doing the course work this past week which was focused on the relationship we have with our body, I have finally come to not just know but truly feel a massive shift: You can either identify with the physique that is your body or you can vibrate with the grander purpose of what it is you are meant to do with the physical form you were given.

I’ve spent the last few days really meditating on exactly what it is that I, Jason Aaron Dilts, was put on this planet to do. Once the fog of attack thoughts cleared, it was so obvious. I am here to create community. I am here to bring people together as an activist under banners that collectively bring forward meaningful progress. I am  also here to use my gift of writing to articulate in spoken and written words messages that will resonate for positive cultural shifts and deep healing. When we let go of negative dialogue and limiting beliefs we allow in the freedom to receive everything those limitations have been blocking. Instead of the fear maxim of “I’m not good enough” I now have the mantra of “I am not my body. I am free.”

I know I am not the only person who is handicapped by body image issues. I am sharing this post because I hope if you too are gripped by negative perceptions about your body that you’ll be so bold as to step outside this limiting belief. Sit for a moment and think about YOU–not your body but your essence. What is it you were born to do? What brings tears of joy to your eyes when you think about doing it? What do you know you were put on this earth to do?

When you know the answer to that, you have the power to write your own body statement! And I want you to write it out. Sit in stillness and listen to a song that uplifts you. I listened to Donna DeLory’s “Sanctuary” while I wrote mine and I’m happy to recommend some otherbeautiful mantras. As the song plays, breathe in the feeling of joy that living this purpose will give you. Breathe out the any anxieties that arise.

Write it out.

There’s something powerful about putting down in words the essence of who you are.  Those words are your body!

I’ll start by pasting my statement in the comments. Share yours in the comments below if you feel called to. Or place it somewhere at home where you’ll be able to see it regularly to remind  yourself that our purpose is our body!

PS) Read May Cause Miracles–I’ll even buy you a copy if you can’t afford one yourself (serious, private message me!).

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Adonis and Narcissus- In Search of the Dance Club

Identity is a myriad of personal circumstances. Though we live in a diverse world, there are certain hegemonic standards we measure ourselves against. Deviation often proves difficult. To embrace being gay, one has to accept the difference within. Unmasking Adonis requires an examination of sexual orientation’s potency. Finding its connection to body perfection is a search for the location to an exclusive dance party.

A 2007 study conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health gave credence to the suggestion that gay and bisexual men are at a higher risk for eating disorders than their male heterosexual peers. This is one of the only known studies thus far that zero-in on LGBT populations and eating disorders.  Of the 516 subjects, 15% of the men who identified as gay or bi admitted to at one point suffering from anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorders. That’s a full 10% higher than straight men in the same study. It’s also higher than the study’s 10% of lesbian and bisexual women and 8% percent of heterosexual women who reported the same eating disorder issues. While men attracted to men make up a low percentage of the population overall, they appear to be disproportionate members of the eating disorder population. Ironically, a “women’s issues” seems to be tinged in testosterone.

The reasons for this discovery within the gay community are not entirely rooted in association, though. A key competent to this study was the investigation into whether gay and bisexual men with greater connection and affiliation with the gay community are more likely to have eating disorders than those with lax or no ties. Principle investigator Dr. Ilan BLADE. Meyer’s original theory that active participation in gay culture gravitated men toward certain body standards proved inconclusive.

“It is not clear why gay men have high rates of eating disorders,” said Dr. Meyer. “One theory is that the values and norms in the gay men’s community promote a body-centered focus and high expectations about physical appearance, so that, similar to what has been theorized about heterosexual women, they may feel pressure to maintain an ideal body image.”

Adonis and Narcissus dance at another club, perhaps.

“Even gay and bisexual men who participate in gay gyms, where body-focus and community values regarding attractiveness would be heightened, did not have higher rates of eating disorders than those gay and bisexual men who participated in non-gay gyms or who did not participate in a gym at all,” observes Dr. Meyer. “This suggests that factors other than values and norms in the gay community are related to the higher rates of eating disorder among these men.”

Author Tim Bergling explores some of those “other” factors in his book Chasing Adonis: Gay Men & the Pursuit of Perfection. Though not an inherent investigation into the root causes of eating disorders among gay and bisexual men, the text explores desire and questions physical attraction. Bergling interviewed over 200 men to examine how gay society objectifies the male body. The dynamics of Steroid use, body image disorders, gym culture, Internet hook-ups, obsession, stalking, porn, erotic Web sites, and strip clubs are all discussed.  There’s no conclusive reason for why men chase after the illusive Adonis, but a reading of the quotes by the men interviewed reveals some pretty raw truths about body image and physical expectations.

“I’m not fat. I’ve never been fat. Can’t imagine living life like that, especially as a gay man. I’ve seen how we treat fat guys, and it ain’t pretty,” said Brian, an accountant from Tennessee. An anonymous “Bill” put it even blunter. “The gay male is obsessed with beauty and youth, and we objectify and diefy muscles and looks over all else. There is no way brains will ever win out over beauty in today’s gay culture.”

“Working out is like a way of life for me, almost an addiction. I get depressed if I miss one workout and a panic attack if I miss more than that. Some people say I am way too obsessed, but a lot more are always telling me how much they would like to feel my chest and biceps. I listen more to that second group,” said Hawaii model John.

Bergling’s book is notable not for its scientific evidence, but rather for the honesty his subjects offer. Each chapter contains poignant, humorous, and sometimes harrowing accounts of how body-image obsession has impacted how gay men see themselves and their peers. Ultimately, it’s a broad window into the psyche of same-sex desire.

Somewhere inside that consciousness, Adonis and Narcissus dance seductively.

Filmmaker Travis Mathews visualizes collective body ideology in his documentary “Do I Look Fat?” It’s a 70-minute film that follows the stories of seven gay men who have struggled or are struggling with body image and eating disorders. It digs deep into both gay culture and straight society to examine root causes. Themes such as childhood wounding, internalized homophobia, the effects of HIV/AIDS on the body and the prevalence of substance abuse histories are among a few that underscore the film. Perhaps most importantly, the film doesn’t shy away from asking why these common histories have, until now, been left in the proverbial closet at a community level.

The film blends personal narratives with clinical support from several experts in the field of eating disorders including an M.D. of a renowned eating disorder clinic, an art therapist, and a gay therapist who’s battled with his own body image issues. The word “fat” becomes the focal point for how gay men shame themselves and each other. Gay culture is taken to task for its part in promulgating a “one size fits all” narrative. The men interviewed have approached body image differently. Some have suffered with anorexia and exercise obsession, while others have grappled with bulimia and binge eating. Their stories are weaved into the larger narrative of the scope of this issue. While gay men are thought to represent about 5% of the male population, they alarmingly represent up to 42% of men with eating disorders, according to research done by Dr. William Howard at the John Hopkins University School. Each story in this documentary is another window into a problem so easily seen, yet readily dismissed.

“The reasons behind the high numbers are complex, painful, and in part, unflattering to the community, but the alternative to facing them head on is continued isolation and shame, both of which feed our proverbial friend, the closet,” says Mathews. “As I’ve traveled with the film, people continue to ask me how prevalent this is. My answer remains the same: it’s difficult to know with real certainty. Men, both gay and straight, are generally reluctant to seek medical attention for any health related issue, eating disorders being no exception. Our culture feeds this reluctance by its steady framing of eating disorders as a woman’s issue.”

In looking to debunk Adonis, I discovered that silence was perhaps our worst enemy. The common thread in all of the research I found was a universal understanding that there is a problem within the gay community as it relates to body image, but there is also a relative dearth in knowledge as to numbers. The trajectory for tracking this forward remains elusive. The normalization of narcissism as a means to skirt the larger issue of body fascism means our problem exists in a vacuum. If we aren’t willing to confront these fragments of our own shadows, few are going to help us sweep them up.

Cleaning up after raucous revelry is no fun; it’s far more fantastic to continue the Adonis/Narcissus dance party!

Adonis Boys

Image“I only date really think guys.”

Those words fell out of my crush’s mouth like a prison sentence falls upon a convicted felon. I sat across from him at the Barnes and Nobel’s café in north Wichita, eating a blueberry-chocolate muffin. Instead of enjoying the sensation of sweet fruit colliding with milk chocolate, I began to notice the impression of my own muffin-top underneath my shirt. I knew he would never find me attractive, at least not in my current state. I excused myself to the bathroom, where a familiar ritual unfolded.

Find a mirror. Life your shirt. Gaze at the reflection in total and complete disgust. Curse your existence. Close your eyes. Wish you were thin. Get depressed when your sockets open to the same sight.

Call it a Narcissus séance.

That was the ceremony I had been accustomed to practicing since I became aware of the meaning  of the word “weight”. While I wasn’t hideously obese, I’d always been a pudgy kid. A large part of that probably had to do with my distain for athletics and sports. It wasn’t that I despised physical activity. It’s just that from a young age it was very obvious that I was “different”. Every time I tried to be athletic, my masculinity was measured against the testosterone of my male pears.  To avoid their name calling, cackling, and physical abuse, I decided at a young age to be as anti-athletic as possible. That muffin shape that cowered beneath my chest was a constant reminder that this wasn’t exactly a fool-proof escape plan.

I decided in that B&N bathroom that I wanted a trapdoor! I had come out of the closet at 16 and had yet to have a boyfriend—hell, I had barely had sex at that point. I was tired of the sense of rejection I felt every time I read a Gay.com profile that stated “no fats”. I was fed up with being digitally dismissed every time I went onto a dating sight where most of the guys wanted “only slim/athletic builds”. More pertinent, though, I was willing to do whatever it took to get my crush to heart me back. If he only dated “really thin” guys, I would figure out how to become one of them!

I had a mentor to help me out, too. Blade and I went to high school together. Like me, Blade had always been overweight. In the years since graduation, he had magically transformed himself from a size XXL to a small. I wanted in on the secret. He promised to teach me the ways.

I had loathed going to the gym. Blade told me, though, that this magical contraption called an “elliptical machine” existed that could drastically trim my odious reflection. The first time I straddled the bulky machine, I was exhausted after 10 minutes. I wanted to quit. Blade reminded me of an unspoken axiom: as an out gay man, you’re already ostracized; to fit into the gay community, you best fit into the image of what a gay man is…and muffins be damned, gay men are supposed to be thin! I wanted to fit in, so I figured out how to make working out fit into my life.

The pounds began to roll off, too! Within a month, I was able to do an hour of cardio a day and I had lost 10 whole pounds. I wasn’t even altering my diet much. Within three months, I was down to 200. I felt great, and rightfully so. There was no reason for someone my height to weigh as much as I did. I should have started to work out. However, I should have wanted to lose weight for health’s sake, not boy’s sake.  About six months in, somewhere around the 180 mark, losing weight became an obsession.

I always hated math, but ironically numbers began to define my life. My self-worth was based entirely on the number I weighed in on the scale. I was working out 2-3 hours a day and re-arranging my schedule so that I could weight in as low as possible. Often this meant getting up at 5am for my first daily working out and not eating until 10pm so that I could get a second work out in, with yet another positive affirmation from the scale. In addition to excessive workouts, meals were being skipped. Sometimes I would go 2-3 days without eating more than 1,000 calories. I kept my eye on the prize, though—converting crush into boyfriend!

Along the way, I had lots of encouragement. I didn’t have a boyfriend, but I did have lots of attention from boys. Once invisible at the clubs, my body was suddenly a hot commodity. Guys who had turned me down for dates in years past were lining up. Go-go dancers who I once had to fling dollar bills at to get attention were now dialing my number. The reaction to my reduction was collective encouragement from everyone around me. It was gay men, though, whose words mattered most.  Constant accolades greeted my every public appearance. Lauds of “Wow, where did you go?”, “You are thin as a rail” and “You’re practically invisible” only fueled my obsession.  The grueling workouts and constant stomach rumbling were the cost of admission to Adonis and Narcissus’s exclusive dance club of acceptance—or so I reasoned.

Though companionship had been my original intention, I found that all the time I spent at the gym left little time for socializing. Most men—including my aforementioned crush—got annoyed and bored by my incessant ramblings about my diet and weight. When you starve yourself, your hunger signals eventually start to turn off. Unfortunately, I discovered that when one signal gets turned off, others follow. I had thinned myself out to faun the attention of men, but over time my sex drive had dried up…or maybe it got burned off on the elliptical machine, too!

The one consistent contact I did have, though, was Blade. Several of our friends had warned us that we had turned weight loss into an unhealthy obsession. The idea that two overweight men could have an eating disorder was laughable to us. Eventually, though, being anorexic went from a punch-line to a point of empowerment. We dubbed ourselves the “Ana Twins” and made up t-shirts to show off the sense of pride we felt in starving ourselves. I was “Ana”; Blade was “Rexia”. We wore the size small shirts to a gay club one night to near universal accolades. Blade’s crowd of club friends delighted in his “accomplishment” of having come so far—and bringing me along with him!

Eating disorders have a way of isolating you and altering your reality. We’d done a good job of segregating ourselves from most social occasions that revolved around food. Though I had already lost over 1/3 of my original body weight—and Blade even more—no number was low enough. We set a competition to see who could get to 150 lbs. first.

Blade won. He died 2 months into our game. His heart gave out after he didn’t eat a morsel for several days. Blade was found dead in his apartment, logged onto Gay.com. I assume he was trying to find a date. His physique matched many of the men’s desired dimensions. Unfortunately, I’m told ashes don’t weigh much. At the intersection of Adonis and Narcissist, lean becomes lethal.

There aren’t words to describe the difficulty of coming to terms with a friend’s untimely passing, especially one that played out in such a sequence. After I had time to process what had happened, and once I had dealt with much the guilt of having willingly participated in a farce that lead to someone’s death, I became curious about the people behind those profiles.  Who were these anonymous men engaged in a digital pursuit of Adonis? Our obsession over losing weight was greeted with raves of compliments by our gay peers. Why did their praise lead Blade to drown in a pool of his own vanity?  I need to the bottom of the pond.

Were eating disorders a silent scourge in a community that already has a lot of heavy baggage? If so, what forces were at work in the culture at-large that contributed to this new outlet for self-loathing? Even more important, why weren’t we talking about this within the gay community? What was being done in the medical realm to remedy this? In the quest to exit Narcissus Ave., these questions are more important than any one story.

Really Thin Guys: Cruising at the Intersection of Narcissus and Adonis

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Narcissus by Caravaggio depicts Narcissus gazing at his own reflection.

There’s an adage in homo-culture that states “the gym is gay church”. While it’s a tongue-in-cheek statement, it’s also darkly ironic. There’s an unspoken expectation among gay men that physiques be toned and muscled or slim, trim, and spryly sculpted. At a time when obesity is at an all time high, many even within the gay community assume that LGBTs are just as overweight as the average American.  Observe what’s happening around you— both in popular culture and with personal connections—and you’ll likely unearth an unspoken epidemic.

Gay and bisexual men have normalized body obsession to the point that eating disorders are an accepted and unnoticed way of life. Most would assume that body image issues and unhealthy eating habits plague heterosexual women. Though little research has been done on this topic in regard to men in the LGBT community, evidence does exist to give this issue weight. Sporadic studies with startling statistics, a few books that touch on the topic, and a documentary that focuses on gay body image do exist. Understanding eating disorders within the gay community, though, requires examination on multiple fronts. Personal stories need to be told. Research needs to be put into perspective. The facts need to be absorbed into the larger prism of gay identity.

Though worship of the gods from ancient Greek mythology ceased thousands of years ago, the chase for Adonis and the reflection of Narcissus are modern venerations of the gay community. Immortalized for his undying youth and brawny splendor, Adonis didn’t just attract the eyes of Persephone and Aphrodite. In the dance club, at the gymnasium, and on a stroll in the park, a gay man’s gaze is always cruising for his contemporary incarnation.  Absent Adonis, Narcissus comes knocking. Though legend says he drowned reaching for his own reflection, gay culture has resurrected his vanity. For many gay and bisexual men, each gaze into the mirror is a summons for his spirit. We all want to fall in love with the reflection staring back at us. It’s at the intersection of pursuit and desire that Adonis and Narcissus come back to tango…and we’re in search of the dance club!

There’s a certain mythology to our own lives.  What starts out as fantasy quickly collides with reality. I survived the ordeal of being at war with my own body. I count myself as a wounded soldier in the body wars. I had an intimate encounter with anorexia nervosa. I’m lucky to have survived its abusively fanatical embrace. In searching for Adonis, I became Narcissus. Ultimately, that ordeal lead me to question why so many gay men have a kamikaze obsession with being thin. At the time, though, my fixation was on being noticed by men—and my 22 year old, 6 feet tall, 240 pound self just wasn’t getting the glances I desired!

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Too many gay and bisexual men are staring into pools of their own demise right now.

In the next few posts, I am going to tell a very difficult story from my past. I’m also going to relate it into larger issues about the present health crisis in the gay community. Eating disorders an an epidemic and we need to start talking about them. I hope these posts start a conversation.

Gay Church

Every group of people has shadows that need to be shaken. For gay men, we’re often a bunch notoriously obsessed with our looks. Centuries of social isolation have given rise to plastic airs even our own kind have difficulties keeping up with. Human behavior can only be understood when the complexities of the layers beneath the surface are examined.  Identity is a myriad of personal circumstances. The gay experience is best viewed through a rainbow lens.

There’s an old adage in homo-culture that states “the gym is gay church”. While it’s a tongue-in-cheek statement, it’s also darkly ironic. There’s an expectation in gay male culture that bodies be slim, trim, and spryly sculpted. I know many who spend hours a day working out to obtain an Adonis-like physique. Eating disorders are rather normalized among many same-sex peer groups. When my chunky 15 year-old self came out of the closet in high school, I was quickly informed by a classmate that I couldn’t really be a homosexual. The reason? Well, you have to be hot to be gay! Thankfully, human sexuality is much more nimble than tepid social illusions!

That remark haunted me for years, though, and the allure of Adonis remains a dank cloud over the gay community. To get to the core of this complex, we have to dig beneath its plastic exterior.  It’s easy to make our bodies a sanctuary when we’ve been driven from our own houses of worship. Churches, mosques, and synagogues are where many find comfort, but many times it’s religion that begins the self-loathing process. When you “love the sinner, but hate the sin”, there’s a transfer of negative energy that can have dire consequences.  Hate becomes the operative word, and often we go to war with our bodies as a result of other people’s uncomfortability with our presence. We can’t make people change, but we can change ourselves. Let’s face it; it’s a lot easier to lose weight than it is to work through deep-seeded emotional pain!

Rejection isn’t always synonymous with religion, though. Many times it’s just plain ignorance that drives a wedge between gays and their friends and family. Sure, we’re making progress. With alarming stories of gay kids offing themselves, though, we obviously aren’t close to the end of this journey to acceptance. It’s easy to outcast people who aren’t like us. It’s also easy to forget how truly isolating it can feel at times to be gay. Well-meaning hetero-pals usually aren’t aware how lonely it can feel to only have a highly reduced chance of meeting someone who shares your sexual orientation.  In the Midwest, where urban migration moves many gays away and the closet locks many more inside, that feeling is intensified. When we spend too much of our time building lean muscle mass, we aren’t spending enough of our time bridging gaps in understanding. We let ourselves believe that a svet physique is the only ticket to companionship. We pursue perfection to escape isolation.

It’s a problem when developing your personality takes a back seat to mounting a six-pack. It’s your aura that draws people in, not the size of your waist. That famous gay rainbow is supposed to symbolize the diversity within our community, and we have a menagerie of body types. Body image issues plague people of all sexual orientations. Let’s melt the plastic and get to the point!