Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: Rob Alvarez

BodyImage4Justice is pleased to begin our Allies Week with this story of change and empowerment from Rob Alvarez.


About a year ago I was getting terrible headaches. So, naturally I went to my doctor.  When I got on the scale I realized how heavy I was. It was not good feeling to watch the larger weight move over another notch. It took my doctor about five seconds to figure out what was causing my headaches. My blood pressure! I mean, my blood pressure was off the charts. It was scary high. He said to me, “You’re too young for medication, you need to correct this with diet and exercise.” Needless to say this only increased my stress. I spoke to a friend, and he and my partner researched what to do. They came through and helped me develop a plan.

For the first time in my life, I started looking at more than just the ingredients but also at the nutritional facts on food labels. My focus was sodium, but I started to understand what I was eating. Wow, we eat crap all the time! But still, I only focused on the sodium. I started exercising daily because it was good for my blood pressure. I started to think about my physical health and state of being. Then one day I looked in the mirror and was shocked by what I saw.

 What I saw made me reflect, and I noticed behaviors that weren’t always there. For example, at the beach (love the beach and go every chance I get), as soon as I got out of the water I wrapped myself in a towel or put on a shirt immediately. My clothes became baggier and baggier. I had lost some confidence, and anyone who knows me could testify to my confidence and my belief in myself.

First I got sad. I fell into a self pity trap. Then I became angry with myself for allowing this to happen. And finally, I had a plan. For years I had thought, “I need to be the man I ought to be instead of the man I am.” My plan had five parts. Lose the weight, get healthy, live true to my principles, be a better role model, and get my confidence back.

I lost over forty pounds. My blood pressure is great. I stand up for what I believe in and do what’s right, even though I know that when you fight injustice you make your life more difficult. I became more firm in my resolve to think of things in terms of social justice. I hope I am a better role model for my boys. They are becoming young men, and I hope I have not missed the mark. I am proud of them. They see me battling to get healthy and they have been wonderful and supportive.

There was a pivotal moment for me. One day during the summer my nephew and his girlfriend came for a visit. We went to the beach and swam, walked the boardwalk and just had an awesome day. When we got back to the house, there was a long line for showers, and me and my two boys threw on dry clothes and sneakers and went for a two mile run. A year ago I couldn’t have done it. It felt so good to know that I was able to do it! (I could never keep up with my son if he didn’t wait for me.) It was great to run together, all three of us. Now I am going to do a 5K run with Jalyn next month. Being a better role model is a constant work in process that requires constant reflection.

My confidence is the part that is the area that I have made the least progress. The doubts are ingrained. I have been programmed with insecurities, as have so many other people. Those have been with me for so long that it may take a lifetime to undo the damage.

I am living so much closer to being the man I ought to be rather than the man I was.

– Rob Alvarez

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BodyImage4Justice Presents Allies Week

For the week of September 30-October 6, the Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies Just As We Are campaign features a series of stories and reflections on body image from our Allies outside of the LGBTQ community. At BodyImage4Justice, we see body image as a connecting issue and concern across communities and identities. Our “Allies Week” series highlights this commonality of experience, as our heterosexual and cisgender friends share their personal stories about body image and its effects on their health and well-being.

Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: Jo Quest-Neubert

Today’s reflection comes to us from Jo Quest-Neubert, a teacher and Literacy Coach in the Cambridge Public Schools.


Like many girls, I learned to hate my body early. When I realized the damage this caused me, I began to resist my own self-hatred by trying to distance myself from my body: my body wasn’t me and didn’t represent me. It took tragedy in my life for me to realize that my body, which I had always positioned as my enemy, was actually a tremendous gift. Reeling from loss, deep in grief, I found myself walking. I needed the sun, the air, the sky. I needed to feel connected to nature, and it was my body that brought me that connection. It was my body–my working, moving body–that helped heal my heart.

Today, my work is loving myself. Reminding myself not to be ashamed: this is the body I have, and what luck! There may be things I wish were different, but this is the body that gave me life, that continues to give me life. My body is not my enemy, and my body is not bad. My body is not me: it does not define me, and may not even accurately represent me. I am not the sum of its parts. But my body is a gift, and my work is to remember that, honoring, nurturing, and loving my body the way I want my whole self to be honored, nurtured, and loved.

– Jo Quest-Neubert, MA

Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: Ava Amariyah Toro

Today’s story comes to us from Ava Amariyah Toro, a 35 year old trans woman who works in the beauty industry. Ava shares her struggles with being criticized for her appearance, and how she has come to love herself and her body.


How body image has affected my life… hmmm. Working in the beauty industry has taken its toll on how I look at myself and how I feel. I run into the issue with African American women predominantly who wish to call someone out who is trans, whether it be using wrong pronouns or asking the most ridiculous of questions. As soon as I hear wrong pronouns, I immediately look into the mirror at work and question what about me is giving you “male?” Then the fact that I don’t have hips, that opens the door for questions. “Well she doesn’t have hips, is that a man?” No one really knows how this affects my self-esteem. (Breaks my spirit, quite honestly.) I do understand that I have to not pay it attention, let the ignorance roll off my back, but it is hard when it happens to you and you hear the things that are said.

I find myself everyday wearing clothes that either accentuate or feminize my body. Sometimes it’s a process of elimination and just making sure I am comfortable in it. I refuse to get my body pumped up full of silicone due to the dangers of it, so I embrace my body with sooooo much love versus beating myself up mentally about not having an hourglass figure like majority of women. See we are taught what a woman is suppose to look like–with all the competition between females it is so stupid. Even with bio males attracted to trans women, it’s like there’s this idea of what a woman is supposed to look like: her body, this “Barbie-like” body or “look like a woman.” Then I realized, all women do not look the same and are shaped sooooo differently. Some women don’t have hips. Some women are hard in the face. Some women have deep voices. I am different. I don’t look like the average woman and its OK. I love myself. Even if I have dysphoria of my body, I am not sitting here beating myself up mentally. It’s just not worth it to me or for any of my trans family.

I find in this world, you have to do what works for you, find that article of clothing that looks good, not making you look masculine. Even when doing your makeup, I find it’s all about feminizing the face… softening your features, blending is everything. Being trans, I am discovering it’s not how you perceive me or what you think is between my legs, what I present to you is FEMALE. I just wish that some of these ignorant mofos would respect me and all of my other trans sisters/brothers as the gender we present. As you can see, it truly bothers me and my self-esteem cuz every day I try my hardest to be “passable” and beat my face like I am going to war… and realize I am only in competition with myself, not with other women cuz quite frankly, this is my journey… my life… and I am learning to demand respect.

Much love to you all,

– Ava Amariyah Toro, 35 yrs old, 4 years in transition

Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: Reese Roe

BodyImage4Justice is pleased to present today’s post from Reese Roe, a 35 year old gay man from Atlantic City, NJ. In his story, Reese talks about body image issues and the effect of body expectations in the gay male community.


Body image has a lot to do with the way we view ourselves, just as much as others perceive us. For many of my younger years I was very overweight. It caused me to be depressed and have very low self esteem. It was hard for me to gain the strength to want to lose the weight, cause the more I became depressed, the more I ate. Food became my comfort and my lover; food was there for me and no judgement was made, meaning that food could not hurt me or make me feel unwanted.

For many years I looked in the mirror and saw someone obese and ugly. This is what I was perceived as, so I stuck with it. As many times as I would try to get a boyfriend, it was always the same comment: “You’re cute, but we are such close friends I don’t want to ruin it”. It became very repetitive. I knew they were being nice and trying to spare my feelings. After losing weight, I still feel the same way even though I am a lot smaller than I was.

You see, in society we put stipulations on what we should look like. We sometime look at ourselves and say, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I find someone to love me or to like me?” See, in society large people are deemed undesirable and unhealthy. But on the contrary, I know some people that go to the gym every day and still have health problems. Yet here I stand: a thick man with no health issues at all. I even have medical problems that run in my family. I get checked out by the doctor monthly, and even now at the age of 35 I have no medical problems.

Even today it is hard to find a lover because in the gay community you have to be slim or muscular to be even looked at. But you see, not everybody’s body frame is the same. Sometimes someone is made to be thick. It is more how you identify the health problems and the way you take care of yourself. I am very happy with who I am, and even though I am a thick man, I have no health issues and I have a good life. We, as gay men, have to stop with the stereotypical view on what we should be, and stop walking past the thick men or the large men. Let’s think about this. Maybe someone who is large or thick could be your perfect match, but because you looked at them and deemed them unworthy of your time, you have just missed out on a relationship that could have been a good one. I truly believe in “opposite attracts”.

– Reese Roe, Atlantic City, NJ

Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: Aiden Quinn

Today’s story comes to us from 28 year old FTM, Aiden Quinn.


Body Image has been an issue for me since I was a kid. Even as a child I remember when strangers were “misgendering” me, I was elated. Then typically whomever I was with would correct them. That is when I started making the connection that I was someone other than what my body was reflecting. This brought a great deal of discomfort when I realized people were treating me differently because of how they saw me. That discomfort has also been echoed with my drive for fitness.

Being a larger guy, I got used to low levels of activity. Whenever I did want to pursue physical activity, I would get really embarrassed by my appearance. Either I was sweating to much or turning red from the effort. I thought people would judge my inexperience. I allowed that fear to stop me from being me for a long time.

Eventually the pain got great enough… the pain of being seen as a woman, the pain of being morbidly obese. It hurt more to be in the wrong body than it did to do anything possible to change it. I’m so grateful for that pain and the place that it brought me to. It allowed me to become who I am today, me.

– Aiden Quinn, Quincy, MA

Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: AJ Boyle

Our Sunday story this week is from AJ Boyle, an FTM teen living in Cincinnati. AJ also has a YouTube channel, where he posts videos about his life growing up trans.


AJBoyle

Hello everyone, I’m AJ. I am a teen. My body image–I don’t like my body image, honestly. I’m pre everything. It’s a struggle with having the wrong body parts. I’m very dysphoric. I love how the very top of my chest is muscle because of working out.

I’ve always felt male, and when puberty hit me it felt like god was punishing me. Seriously. But I know if there is a god, he has trials and battles for his strongest soldiers. I honestly am having a hard time with having the wrong genitalia. Because I want to do things that other males can do, but I can’t. So that sucks for me. I hate being scrawny in some areas of my body, but I know things well get better in time.

In my transition I’m starting T most definitely, and going through surgeries. I can’t wait to feel like I’m in the right body for once. Because when that does happen, I will be a happier person.

– AJ Boyle, Cincinnati, OH