I recently bought a hot tea from Starbucks, and mostly because I was embarrassed about the two cake pops my body was forcing me to purchase.
You see, it took me twenty steps from Starbucks to remember that throwing away the hot tea wouldn’t get rid of the cake pops.
Or the cravings.
Or the guilt.
Or the ogre I see in the mirror.
I’ve learned that no amount of therapy or counseling will erase the struggle or pain one goes through after years of hating the way they look. Or looked. Counseling did, however, help. And it does. And it’s ongoing. But moments of weakness happen.
I’m not perfect.
I struggled on my ten block walk home, balancing the hot tea and my beloved cake pops. Starbucks’ cake pops are pretty damn good. As are the doughnuts. And the lemon loaf. And most Frappuccino drink options.
I walked ten blocks back to my apartment, while scorching hot tea burned my fingers as I devoured my cake pop within the first minute of leaving Starbucks. Of course, God forbid I wait until I get home to destroy the evidence. Burning fingers: the universe’s way of saying, “Slow down, you beast!”
Cake Pop One: down.
Cake Pop Two: down.
I could barely contain myself with CP2. And in one bite, I said goodbye to my fix.
You see, if I could make it home without the cake pops, I wouldn’t be reminded that they were ever really a thing to begin with. “If a cake pop falls in the forest, did the cake pop really ever exist at all?” Furthermore, if I fell down in a forest, what was I doing in that forest to begin with? Was I looking for cake pops? I digress. Years ago, I came to terms with the reality that what I saw in the mirror did not necessarily match up to what was actually happening with my body. And, at the center of this lack of congruence, existed a world of issues with control, self-confidence, and self love.
And getting help taught me this. Several years ago, I had a very good coworker who sat down with me and had the, “Michael, the way you talk about yourself is concerning,” and, “I think you might be working out too much,” conversation. This coworker introduced me to a counselor who specialized in men’s body image stuff. I was resistant at first, and mostly because I was a 24-year old know-it-all. And while I’m an almost-thirty-year-old know-it-all these days, it’s not hard to view a cake pop stress-fest as a vehicle for emotional time-travel, back to when food and image were much more obsessive. Back to when I mastered “appearing to be confident.”
And today, reflection is learning. And while processing, I am confident that years of counseling has helped me pause and acknowledge a few key life lessons:
1. It’s okay to admit that, “years of counseling,” is even a thing.
2. I am not defined by the hot, fit, and athletic men who run shirtless through the city.
3. There will be good days, and there will be days when you can barely move after a spin class.
4. People who struggle with food or image are not all experts on food and image.
5. I am so much more than what I see in the mirror. I am so much more than what any scale will assert.
Of course, these takeaways continue to resonate with me (and are often accompanied by the points, “You can only hold your phone up so high to get rid of a double chin,” and, “Take many seats, Michael – you are not a candidate for TLC’s, ‘My 600-lb Life'”). And I am far from a 600-lb life. And I am thankful for that. And I am thankful that the haunting voice, one who frequently interrupts a cake pop rendezvous with hate speech and fat-shaming, is now easily ignored.
It’s a work in progress. I am a work in progress. And, in honoring the work, it is all certainly still progress. And I have such a peace about this (remember, “A work in progress is still progress,” and all of that). And I have such a peace about cake pops. You see, in striving to be more honest, healthy, and happy, I have learned that it actually starts with cake pops. Happiness, that is. Cake pops. Sure, I can scarf down two beautifully painted pops with ease. And yes, I can destroy a large pizza in one setting. But, I can also get to the point where, more times than not, I feel fine after these moments of consumption. And I can look in the mirror, and not feel defined by an extra-slice, or second-serving, or double-patty. I can look in the mirror and not be defined by the cake pops or my, perceived, moment of weakness.
Because, we can all be weak, right?
At the core of any insecurity, I am certainly not alone. None of us are alone. For years, I felt like I was a freak, as both a male and someone who struggled with the way I looked. And the more I talked about it, and the more I opened up to other people, I realized there was a community of love and support right in front of my eyes. And this community of support still remains.
I implore you, when ready and comfortable, feel courageous enough to talk about your struggle. Be brave in a space of love and care. Be open to disclosure. Address your body and image battles outside of the walls of therapy, and outside of the confines of your diary or journal. You are so much more than what you see in the mirror.
And you deserve to use your voice.
Yes, ogre. Yes, you.
In a world where, “Nothing taste as good as skinny feels,” make the conscious decision every single morning to choose to feel good. And to feel free from the chains you place on yourself every time you look in the mirror.
And, of course, to have a love affair with cake pops.
The pain never stops, and the struggle is real. But you are beautiful. And you are right where you are supposed to be. Now go, feel the love, you beautiful, wonderful ogre.
**Photos stolen from somewhere in the interwebs, and after getting sucked into a page after page, “cake pops Shrek ogre,” google search. Oh, and… doughnuts: