Guys get body-conscious too: learn to love who you are

Guys get body-conscious too: learn to love who you are

Body issues affect everyone, even people who are in great shape. Four fitness professionals talk about their struggle with body insecurities and learning to be comfortable in your own skin

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They're picture perfect now, but trainers (from left) Ed Haynes, Andy Bratsanos, Billy Tam and Ant Haynes all faced body image issues as teens.

"I don't think anyone is truly ever satisfied"

When it comes to our bodies, we are our own harshest critics. We see our flaws magnified, and if we let it get into our heads, that's what we believe others see, too. It's something professionals in the fitness industry see all the time - not just with clients, but in how they view their own bodies.

"I don't think anyone is truly ever satisfied with where they're at," says Ed Haynes, 27, founder of Coastal Fitness Performance Training (CFPT). "Because if you were ever satisfied with what we've accomplished, then I think that would stop us striving towards something."

But when you let your insecurities get the best of you, it can hold you back instead of push you forward.


"I was always the smallest guy in the year"

Body image issues come in as many shapes and forms as our bodies do. For many boys in Hong Kong, having a smaller frame can feel like a heavy burden.

Andy Bratsanos of CFPT
Photo: Bruce Yan/SCMP

"When I was younger, I was always a smaller kid," says Andy Bratsanos, 31, and head of health and performance at CFPT. "When I hit 14, everybody started hitting puberty and growing, but I was lagging behind." A sudden illness and long recovery left Andy even thinner than before, and made him feel even more "inferior" to other boys his age. 


"I remember vividly that my confidence was shattered," he says. And that lack of confidence held him back from other activities, making insecurities worse. He felt uncomfortable being shirtless for swimming classes at school, and was even reluctant to strip off around friends. 

"If anyone invited me on a junk, I didn't want to go because I didn't want to take my shirt off."

It's easy to let body image issues spiral into other areas of your life. "I found it really hard to kind of fit in or even feel confident enough to hang out with the kids in my year group," Andy says.

Billy Tam, 32, and owner of Warrior Muay Thai, knows the feeling. "I was always a small kid," he says. "Being one of the few Asians in an English boarding school, I was always picked on for being the small kid, the short kid, the skinny kid."

A Hong Kong native, Billy went to boarding school in Britain and played rugby, where he felt he stood out from the others around him. 

"I was surrounded by bigger guys," he says. "I was always the smallest guy in the year."

And boys who are self-conscious about being smaller sometimes feel left out when it comes to finding support. 

"It was a weird time," says Andy, adding that there was plenty of encouragement for boys struggling with being overweight. "But I remember thinking, well, I'm pretty sure I'm feeling exactly the same way as someone who's overweight. "Skinny people definitely suffer from similar sorts of issues and bullying," says Andy.


"I felt like people were looking at me"

Ant Haynes of CFPT
Photo: Bruce Yan/SCMP

Being bigger wasn't always better, as Ant Haynes knows. The 26-year-old trainer and coach at CFPT is tall and bulky, and that was hard to deal with while growing up.

"During swimming lessons at school, I remember I used to sit with my arms folded so I could cover as much of my body as possible," he says. 

And while Ant says he never faced any direct bullying at school, the insecurities still managed to creep in. "I would look at my friends and be like, they're skinnier than me, they look better than me."

But Ant says that looking back on it, a lot of the body images he had were more imagined than real. "I just felt kind of insecure, I felt like people were looking at me," he says. "And I'm sure they weren't at all, but it's just how you feel. Someone makes a slightly different glance at you and suddenly you're like, 'Oh my god, they're looking at what I'm trying to hide' or whatever it might be."

While Ant has come to accept his size, he says he can see other people now facing the same issues as he did - even though it might not be obvious to everyone else. 

 


"I was way, way behind the alpha males."

Judgment about your own body often comes from comparing yourself to your peers. While the four trainers all played sports while growing up, they felt the pressure to compare themselves to others on their teams or in friendship groups who they saw as fitter or better. 

"There were a few guys I looked up to, a couple of years above me," remembers Billy. "They were larger for Asians and they were quite strong and ripped." 

Andy had a similar experience. "There was a bunch of guys in my year group who played rugby. They were the ones who always had girlfriends," he says. "They were kind of the alpha males and I was way, way, way behind that." 

And wanting to look good for girls also played a role. 

"I think really I first started becoming body-conscious, or at least first started becoming aware of it, when I was about 14 or 15," says Ed. "At that point it was important to me that I looked good with my shirt off."

And the comparisons weren't restricted to peer groups, either. "I was looking at guys in magazines and guys on television," says Ed. "That was really where I wanted to be and what I wanted to look like."


Stronger than you look: 4 trainers talk about overcoming their body issues 


"Magazines say there's an 'ideal' type of body"

 

The concept of the "perfect" body is a pressure all boys face. It's everywhere - on TV, in advertising and in magazines. And you can't escape it.


"Whether you look at it by choice or whether it's just out of the corner of your eye, it's going to be in your head somewhere," says Ant. 

As Andy explains, "Magazines like Men's Health say there's an 'ideal' type of body. Boys can lie and say they're not like girls, but I know a lot of guys who are as self-conscious, if not more so, than women."

"You always felt pressure, you know," says Billy of growing up. "To impress the girls you got to have a certain body image. And if you didn't have a certain body image, the girls wouldn't look at you."

And that pressure can have a negative impact on the direction boys take with their fitness goals.

Ed says he first started working out to be better at sports, "but I definitely think there was a period from age 16 to 18 where performance became less important and looking good became more important," he says. 

Andy says that as trainers they often see the same body issues in their male clients. "They all want abs," he says. "That's the first thing they ask for." 

But Andy says that while media pressures say a man needs abs to be in shape, the reality is much more complicated. "Magazines suggest that having visible abdominal muscles is a sign that you're in good shape and healthy. That isn't true." 


"I'm very comfortable with my body now. I love my body" 

None of these four trainers learned to love their bodies overnight, but with age came acceptance. 

"Now I'm much more confident than I used to be," says Andy. "Even when you get fitter and healthier, you can always think of different things to improve. But overall, I'm much more confident."

Billy Tam of Warrior Muay Thai
Photo: Bruce Yan/SCMP

Billy agrees. "Over the years I'd say it's gotten better and better," he says. He adds that his confidence grew from placing his sense of self-worth into his skills and his character, rather than on physical appearance.


For Billy, that came from his skill on the sports field. As he learned the skills, he gained confidence in his abilities which other people started to recognise. "And that recognition allowed me to kind of slowly start forgetting about my body," he says. "You get recognised for something that's less to do with your image and more to do with who you are as a person - your passions, your personality and your character. All of those became more important to me, and then the body image thing just slowly faded away into the background."

Ed says that confidence comes with acceptance. "I'm very comfortable with my body now. I love my body. I love working towards improving my body," he says. 

Ultimately, Ed says, you have one body and it's important to embrace it. "This is the body I've been given, and I'm going to work really hard to get everything I can out of it, and that's got to be OK with me," says Ed. "I'm really comfortable in my skin now."


Be confident in yourself 

Ed Haynes of CFPT
Photo: Bruce Yan/SCMP

Ed: Living a healthy, active lifestyle, consistently and over the long-term, is always going to yield a lot of body composition changes anyway. So if you're looking after your body the way you should do, you will look like a healthy individual. And how that manifests itself in you as an individual - you should always be comfortable and happy with that.


Andy: If you're self-conscious about your body type, don't worry. Even the people that are in good shape probably still have concerns about how they look and how they feel. And there's nothing wrong with speaking to someone about your worries. 


Billy: Don't worry about your body image, because who you are as a person is more important. Your character, your personality, just focus on your passions. If you don't focus on your passions and you're not happy, it doesn't matter how nice your body looks, it's not going to come through and people are not going to see the beauty of you. Focus on being a good person.


Ant: You've just got to learn to be comfortable with the skin that you're born into. And a lot of that will come with who you surround yourself with. That's what friends are for; making you feel comfortable about yourself. My advice would be to surround yourself with people that you like, and people who make you feel good about yourself.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Learn to love who you are

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