I’m going to start this by acknowledging a few things: Firstly, I am a photographer, you can see my work on this site, it is often hot young men wearing little in the way of clothing. I am an older gay man, who likes younger gay men, usually defined as ‘twinks’. I go to the gym 5 days a week, and I enjoy it.
You might think: Who am I to write an article about being fashionably fit? Of course I like that. Of course I think a toned body is better than a not-toned body. I photograph them every month and then put them up for display on this website. But I also believe that looks, at least in terms of muscles and toned abs etc – aren’t everything.
A quick look around your local bookstore, or a browse on the internet will find you a plethora of how-to guides on getting thin, loosing weight, bulking up, getting in shape, or any number of other catchy ways to tell you that you’re too fat, and here’s how to fix it. Primarily I want to address some of these messages, their anti-messages, and the misconceptions that go along with them all.
Firstly: Body image is an important factor in one’s self-esteem. I think we can all remember that moment, for me it was in high-school when you realised that not being picked for the sport team, wasn’t just because you were uncool, it was also because you weren’t fit, or you were too fat to be considered sporty. I think most people, myself included would put how we consider the way we look to be a, if not the, major factor in whether we feel good about ourselves. There are two conflicting messages being sent about how we should look, and I think they are both as dangerous as each other. The first, we have been hearing for years and that is that thin is beautiful. If you’re thin, you’re hot. Magazines and catwalks have been toting it forever. If you’re a bit overweight, you’re somehow lesser than others. On the flip side, is a newer message, that big is beautiful. Being larger doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful or worthwhile – it’s just as beautiful as skinny! It’s a lifesaver – no matter where you find yourself, you’re beautiful – win! In my opinion (not a medical one – just my own experience) neither of these messages are healthy. First of all, the body size you have now, isn’t really related to your overall fitness. Just because someone is thin, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are fit and healthy, it just means they are thin. On the other hand, if you are more than a few kilos overweight, it’s very likely that you’re not fit and healthy – but you can be. What is more important than how big your body is, is if your body is healthy.
Secondly: Being fit is easier than you think. You don’t have to strap on the figure-hugging lycra and step into a room of sweaty strangers in order to be fit. All it takes is a little perseverance and time. Mostly, it takes changing a few things that you do, in order to have the greatest effect. For many people, going to the gym can be intimidating. When I lived in Australia, I went to a small suburban gym and being in a room filled with housewives trying to burn off the baby fat wasn’t all that bad. I went 5 days a week and I lifted weights, ran, stretched etc. I spent about an hour each time, and while I never got ripped or incredibly muscular, I felt good that I was doing something more than spend all day in front of a computer screen or behind the wheel of my car. Since I moved to Germany, the gym I go to is mostly frequented by large muscular men able to easily lift my body weight without blinking. They’re also much taller than me. Intimidation level = high. For a while, it put me off, so I stuck to doing a workout at home. Run around the block for 5kms, come home do a few situps and pushups and leave it at that. I have since returned to the gym, and I am now seeing some actual results. Results I am really excited about, and that help me want to go next time. Here’s a few things I have learned or realised since moving to Germany, and getting a body I can be really proud of.
Eat less, move more, isn’t entirely accurate. Sure if you’re eating the equivalent of a family of two’s intake for each meal, then perhaps cutting back is a good idea. But generally speaking, you’re not eating enough food now, and cutting back is probably a bad idea. You’ll never lose weight by eating less food. Your body needs energy to run itself, even if that is just sitting in front of a computer at work or uni. Breathing uses carbs. You need to eat them first. Having said that, you probably need to cut back on the crap food you’re eating and put better food into your mouths. If your idea of doing the dishes is throwing away the McDonald’s wrapper, I’m looking at you. Simply trading crappy take-out food for a healthier home-made alternative will make a massive difference in your weight-loss and fitness goals. In fact, what you eat accounts for up to 80% of the results you see when you work out. Yes, I know you’re busy, and perhaps don’t have time to cook every night, or maybe you’re not that good with a hob. Grab a basic cook book from your local store and start practicing. It’s fun and easy once you get into it, and you’ll start making the time to cook yourself a decent dinner each night. There’s also plenty of you-tube channels that can help you get started. Eating better doesn’t mean starving yourself, or not having the fun things – I can often be found enjoying a spoon-full (or seven) of Nutella, and I am quite partial to a snickers bar every few days. I admit, I don’t eat much fast food – more because it’s not available here – there’s only 4 McDonald’s stores in my town, and they’re the biggest chain. But I have found myself not wanting it because frankly, better things are available.
If you want to start working out to either bulk up or help lose weight (and no one is saying you need to) then before you simply sign up for a gym and pay for an expensive membership so that you can go along once a week and fool around a bit on the machines, go along for a trial session – most gyms and all the good ones should allow you at least one free workout before you sign up, and most of them have qualified personal trainers on staff that you can ask if you’re not sure how to use a machine. Doing an exercise wrong is worse than not doing it at all. Especially when you’re starting out – you can cause serious damage lifting something incorrectly. I highly recommend speaking with a personal trainer about what your goals are, and what to do to best achieve them. They should be able to give you a basic program to get you started that you should follow.
Determination is the next biggest thing you will need. Whether you’re bulking up, losing weight or just want to be fit, results take time. You’re not going to walk out the first day looking like the guys in the weights section who are nothing but muscle. They’ve been there since they could walk – it all takes time. It might be obvious, but the biggest thing that stops people is not getting results. I know, it has stopped me more than once. You’ll need to work out a system that suits you and your goals – it might be being able to run faster on the treadmill each week, maybe lifting an extra few kilos each month, perhaps losing a certain number of kilos or pant sizes each month. Whatever your goals, make sure they are realistic and trackable. My goals include losing the fat around my middle and increasing my muscles. I don’t have a goal concerning my weight because as I lose fat, I gain muscle which is heavier. Since starting my program 8 months ago I have lost 4 inches off my waist, but only 2 kilos off my overall weight. I decided that the best way to track my progress was to use progress photos. Personally, when I look into the mirror, I don’t see much difference from when I started. I still don’t. Even though I know that I have made major advances. I know that I have because I have photos from each week, and I can compare how I looked months ago, to how I look now. This works for me. It might for you, perhaps not – it is a personal thing. What I do know, is that tracking your progress needs to be done regularly, but not too frequently – especially at the start. Weekly is plenty, but perhaps fortnightly or monthly is best. The results you see will be more obvious over time than day to day.
Consider changing a few small habits for the better. When I moved to Germany, I moved to a town that was small enough to not need a car, so I bought a bike. I now ride to work each day, and if it’s snowing or particularly warm, I might walk instead. I spend very little time on public transport or driving. In fact, I rarely even get a ride with a friend unless it’s absolutely necessary. Changing a habit of driving everywhere, to walking when I could (there is an excellent transport system here – I don’t have to walk, I choose to) means that I am generally fitter, I get more fresh air and sunlight than I did in Australia tucked safely in my car (who’d have thought) and I spend much less time on Facebook because I need to give myself more time to get places.
There’s no ‘perfect’ body – just the body that’s perfect for you. While fashion magazines and fitness magazines tell you that thin is best, or having bulking muscles is better, it’s not always true. Love what you have and others will love you too. Whether you’re a skinny adorable twink or a cuddly muscle-daddy (or anything in between), love the skin you’re in. Life is long, and it’s more fun spent doing interesting things than cooped up inside a hospital room because you’re too unhealthy to do anything else. Look after your body, it’ll love you for it.