Temporarily Beardless: “We practice self-love in this house.”

Beardless.

Partner: I want to cry.
Me: I want to cry too!
Partner: Wait, what? Why?

Me: Because I look like a troll! Why do you want to cry?
Partner: Because I love you even more. 

“It’s like your armor is gone, super vulnerable,” he says. 

Before I dive deeper into my new (and temporary) beardless state of being, I should admit something quite significant: I gained 30 lbs in 2015.

Yes, you read that right. Thirty.

I have since lost 5 of those lbs in the new year, however the truth remains – since moving back from China on December 2, 2014, I gained 30 full lbs. Needless to say, I was not kind to my body this past year. I’m now working on it.

Unrelated to the great weight gain of 2015, when I turned thirty back in September, I made a list of 30 goals, one of which was, “Shave my beard.” Not for any great cause necessarily – I mostly thought it would be a fun goal, one that would allow my face to breathe for a few days before going back to my beard-filled life.

Fast-forward to this weekend: I’m in the bathroom, post-haircut, using my new beard trimmer. I cut a chunk of hair out of my beard – an unfixable chunk. In a quick judgement call, I decided it would be the day to knock off, “Shave my beard,” from my list of goals. And so, I shaved.

As soon as the clean shave was complete, my eyes welled up and I looked into the mirror with angst and fear. I felt completely undesirable. I felt incredibly naked.

Cue the aforementioned conversation with my partner.

Partner: I want to cry.
Me: I want to cry too!
Partner: Wait, what? Why?

Me: Because I look like a troll! Why do you want to cry?
Partner: Because I love you even more. 

In a moment of, “I’m not worthy,” I realized so much of my pro-beard advocacy had come from 50% enjoying the beard and 50% enjoying the opportunity to hide any double chin(s) that existed under the surface.

I hadn’t seen a clean shave since March 2013.

An hour after the trimming of the beard, my partner and I walked to the grocery store, and over and over in my head, all I could do was repeat something he often says to me when I criticize myself or wade in a space of personal dissonance.

“We practice self-love in this house,” he says.

We practice self-love.

Self-love.

Last year, I wrote a post about my life of weight gain and loss, and reflected on the struggle I have consistently battled with food and self-worth. Here’s a snippet:

“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? [Was I working out?] 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.

(June 16, 2015)

Whichever house you reside (figuratively and literally), I implore you to practice love. And to practice self-care. Rereading the piece above was particularly important for me last night. With my beardlessness comes great vulnerability.

Here’s to growing my beard back over the next few weeks, and not because I’m hiding behind it or need it to calm my nerves. Here’s to growing my beard back over the next few weeks, and constantly reminding myself that my beauty and worth are truly up to me. Here’s to growing my confidence, and marching onward toward a place of love and self-truth. Ultimately, here’s to resolve, and resolving beautifully.

Learning to love yourself in all forms, shapes, and sizes is one of the toughest and most rewarding fetes one can endure. I’m certainly well on my way.

So fresh and so clean-clean,

Michael

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“YOU ARE MORE THAN BEAUTIFUL”

I started off my day yesterday by weighing myself.

If you know anything about me, you know that years of body image issues lead to an understanding that this was not much of a good idea. Needless to say, I weighed myself, I gasped, and I immediately texted my partner to fill up our message box with self-hate and other personal attacks.

I hopped on the elevator to head up to my office, and while waiting for a response to my inappropriate texts, I pulled up Instagram as I usually do.

When my app refreshed, I discovered the first post sitting in my feed:

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I laughed. Hard, actually.

The timing. The humbling attitude check. The universe.

Just as I was fully entrenched in the art of self-loathe, the universe tapped me on the shoulder (#IAmMoreThanMyGREScore, and all of that), and said, “Michael, stop.”

Snap out of it. You are more than beautiful.

While the signs are not always directly in front of us, sometimes it’s really just this simple. Let this post be your tap on the shoulder.

Snap out of it.

You are more than beautiful.

Pausing, beautifully,

Michael

Ain’t no party like a doughnut party, cause a doughnut party don’t (but probably should) stop.

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Let it be known, this post was almost titled, “When the doctor tells you you’re obese…”

Of course, coming off my, “Yes ogre,” post, I felt like it might be a bit aggressive to continue harassing myself with such strong speak (“Celebrate Every Body,” and all of that). But, yes. My doctor did tell me I was obese. Or, am obese, for that matter. And immediately after, all I could think was, Good thing he doesn’t know about all the doughnuts I consume on a weekly…er, daily, basis. Needless to say, I was instantly defensive following this exchange.

“But, I’m big-boned,” I argued.

He wasn’t having it.

“I have strong thighs and calves.”

“I hold a lot of water-weight.”

“Did I tell you I’m big-boned?”

“But food gets the most likes on my Instagram!”

“The doughnuts aren’t going to eat themselves!”

As a general FYI, “A doughnut a day keeps the doctor away,” is not actually a real thing.

Let’s pause here for a moment.

You should know, doughnuts are much more than just a sweet treat I like to parade on my Instagram. I grew up on doughnuts. I love doughnuts. I am one with doughnuts.

Aside from the step team I was on in my youth group, one of my more profound memories from the church where I grew up is what we called, “Fellowship Sunday.” On the third Sunday of every month, my church would turn our Fellowship Hall into a doughnut-smorgasbord. It was magical, and there were 5-10 tables covered in various kinds of doughnuts every single month. And the best part: I had no limit. I could eat as many doughnuts as I wanted on Fellowship Sunday.

And I usually did.

Long after my Fellowship Sunday sugar-highs, doughnuts have remained a big part of my life. I should also add, nowadays, not a week goes by without someone sending me some type of doughnut correspondence (found in the form of screen shots, doughnut shop highlights, doughnut paraphernalia, and the list goes on and on). I even had a friend pick me up from the airport once, and greeted me with a sign that, at first glance, appeared to read, “HEY MICHAEL, I HAVE DONUTS” (the word, “DON’T” was placed in tiny font between “I” and “HAVE” – she had jokes, apparently)!

This is not uncommon. And aside from my own doughnut-shenanigans, I kind of love the adventures I get to go on via social media and text (mine, and others’).

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When not my own doughnuts, I can always respect the doughnuts of others. And if Instagram tells you anything, it’s that my timeline will become immediately less appealing if doughnuts are no longer part of my weekly (daily) repertoire (or any kind of food, for that matter).

Let’s go back a few weeks to when my doctor called me, “obese.” Honoring my mother’s advice to a weight-struggling teenager (me), you can’t completely eliminate treats and sweets from your diet and remain happy. “Moderation,” she’d argue. And she was (is) right. Let’s be honest, there is a big difference between one doughnut per week and three doughnuts per day (I warned you, I’m a monster).

And my doctor is right, too. 

According to the Body Mass Index (BMI), I am actually around 50 lbs overweight.

Pause.

I know what you’re going to say – please save the, “But Michael, I’m a doctor [or medical student or nurse or someone who actively trolls WebMD].” The BMI is a product of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (or, “CDC,” as we call it on the street). These folks set the standard for nutrition, physical activity, and obesity. I understand your nutrition professor or life coach may have told you otherwise, but until this changes, doctors across America and insurance companies examining folks for the 40-year old price-break will continue to use this as a benchmark.

And, I’ll even half agree with you regarding the BMI BS – I really am big-boned.

Even while navigating my own issues with food, I was still very much like, eat whatever you want, live in whatever body you want, do you, be you, blah blah blah. But the truth is, you can’t actually eat whatever you want – without repercussions, of course. And through all my big-bone’edness, I, too, can’t eat whatever I want – and this goes well-beyond body image. I’m talking about health.

There are many truths in a commitment to living a bit more cautious with food. I love my daily doughnut(s), however as I am getting older, my body is starting to remind me that those little nuggets of joy aren’t what they use to be for me. I’m no nutritionist or life coach, but I know enough to understand that several doughnuts per day (even if they are my favorite food) is not the wisest decision – and on top of already living with a pretty unbalanced meal plan.

“Live your own life.”

“Celebrate every body.”

“Every body is different.”

“Let Michael have the doughnuts!”

“Go nuts for doughnuts!”

“Doughnut power!”

I appreciate your concern, but I’m cutting back. I have to be more responsible. And if I want to live a healthy and active (and long) life, I need to make some cuts as I draw closer to the one-month window of my 30th Birthday. This means no more calling myself, “Shrek.” And it means continuing to understand myself and my inner-workings (specifically, how to be more in-sync with a healthy body and healthy mind). We all have to be a bit more responsible.

And as one really important person in my life says, we have be kind to ourselves.

And this includes being kind to your body.

Doughnut-dreaming,

Michael

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Yes, ogre.

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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.

Yes, forcing.

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.

Yes, ogre.

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.

Dissonance.

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.

Forward,

Michael

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*Huge thank you to a dear friend, Jenny Hainline, who inspired me to write this piece, and who constantly inspires me via her blog, “Ramblings on Recovery.”

**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: 

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