Self-image, 1994 and 2008

Blog-pal Beej posted a blog last night comparing her body in 1994 to her body today. Considering I just finally got my butt back into the pool yesterday, it ran right in the same direction some of my thoughts have been going lately.

It’s funny that Beej chose 1994. 1994-95 was probably when I was in peak physical condition, actually. January ’94 is when I started my crazed weight-lifting diet and routine and put on some good pounds of muscle. July of ’94 is when I cut off all my long hair down to a buzzcut (and I haven’t combed my hair since).

Fall of ’94 began my senior year in college. For the year, I was spending 4-6 hours a week in karate class and practice. I played intramural basketball and volleyball and I lifted weights with my buddy FellowNerd for an hour or an hour and a half three days a week. If I had karate class that night, we ran half a mile afterwards; if not, we ran a mile.

I was trying and trying to fight my way to what I considered my “fighting weight” of 175 pounds. After all that work, I could never break 170. I graduated at 5’9″ and 167, 30 pounds heavier than I graduated high school. Well, five years later I had a wife, an infant son, and another 40-50 pounds on me. And like I frequently tell people, I never minded my size at 205-215 or so. Growing up a scrawny smallest-in-your-class kid can kinda make you okay with being bigger than average later in life, maybe. I just never quite liked my shape. All pear-looking and stuff. (Thanks, Dad and Granddaddy.)

But one of the benefits of a University job (and yes, Allison and Laura, I’ll get to that work/coworkers blog sometime soon!) is free access to gyms. (Although you have to pay for pool membership…oh well.) So I got my ass back into the gym and, with several lapses usually connected to injuries, I’ve been successful at staying at it. One of the first surprising things I learned is that while I was not necessarily happy about being 30 pounds heavier than I was as an undergraduate, thanks largely to that extra weight I was actually significantly stronger on Day 1 back in the gym. I could (and did) push a lot more weight than I ever could at my “peak.”

Two years ago, lots of stuff was going on in my life. Lots of bad, some good as well. I largely quit going to the gym at the time to let a wrist injury heal. That’s when I started swimming. A combination of dietary change, lots of lap swimming, and just generally eating less because I was sometimes depressed helped me get down around 180 or so. And I liked having my pants fit better, my shirts looked better when they were tucked in, and so forth. I was pretty happy with my body.

After a few months, I got out of the habit of swimming after a vacation, an illness, etc. and never really got back into it. I did get back into the gym, though, and went on a heavy weightlifting diet and routine again last winter. I quickly put on 10 pounds without changing my waist size too much at all, which made me very happy. What I quickly decided was that, however much I liked my waistline at 180 pounds, I liked the look of my body overall (especially my upper body) at a higher body weight…and my wife definitely agrees.

This was definitely underscored when I was home over Christmas, and my parents presented me with a photograph. It was one of a group of photos that my old college-summer-job boss had taken of all of us employees back in ’93 or ’94, ostensibly for newspaper ads. This was a photo of me, probably at 155 pounds, long hair flying and goofy grin plastered on my face. My wife said, “Yeah, you were cute then, but you’ve definitely improved with age.” And you know what? I immediately agreed. This extra weight I’m carrying does look better on me. So while for years I held that picture in my mind of me in ’94 as what I’d like to look like…not anymore.

Now I’m a little heavier still (198 as of Tuesday), and my pants fit a little more snugly than I’d like. So, back in the pool I go. But this time, I’m going to keep lifting weights while I swim, and hopefully retain some muscle mass. But if not, I don’t mind so much. I don’t have the time for 14 hours a week of exercise anymore – that’s time better spent with my family. And even beyond that, it’s not 165 or 175 or even necessarily 185 that I’m going for. It’s reaching a place where I’m happy with how I look and feel. Frankly, I don’t think that goal is too far away.

Body image, male and female, is actually a topic of keen interest to me. In the days when I did my radio show I always contemplated having a show on the topic but never pulled it together and got it done. I am still interested in a dialogue on the subject, though. So if anybody would like to comment, ask questions, etc. please feel free.

(And speaking of the radio show, I do still have every intention of trying it out again, right now the biggest holdup is all the craziness in my professional life and the fact that my wife’s laptop that I’d use to do the show is in the shop. I do plan to update everybody on that in a month or so.)

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8 Responses

  1. Way to go with getting back into the pool and exercising more.

    For me now it’s not about my weight. Yes, I do like looking good in a bikini, and I do like showing off my shape in a wetsuit. But I like to brag more about the miles I rack up than anything else.

    Six miles with Griffen this morning, 4 on my own this afternoon. Rackin’ em up, brag brag brag!

  2. The difference between my body in 94 and now? Boobs.

  3. Holy crap! I love that you wrote this and I wrote my post about my boob-image issues!! LOL…your words carried a lot of wisdom here, so I feel like I should of learned a lesson of some kind, but still I look down my shirt at this very moment, and shake my head in dis-satisfaction…hahaha…well what are you gonna do right? 😉

    But I AM proud of you! 🙂

  4. Beej – I looked better in a swimsuit at 180, I’ll say that. But I look a hell of a lot better in a tank top, shorts, and weight lifting belt at 190.

    And I sure as hell will be bragging about how many meters I can swim in a session. My goal for the first day back was 400m, and I actually made 500m. Not bad! I actually worked up to 700m over the summer two years ago. Which is impressive, until you realize that that’s over a 30-minute session, and world-class swimmers do 400m in, oh, 4 minutes.

    Becca – Me too! 😉

    Romi – Thanks. I don’t think I’ll ever be totally happy with my body, frankly, for many reasons. But I do think I can get to a point that I don’t feel like I have to shake my head when I buckle my belt or look at myself in profile.

  5. Satisfaction with one’s body…argh, a lifelong battle for me.

    Without opening a whole can of worms, I just want to say that one of my major goals in life is going to help my daughter to be happy with her appearance no matter how society defines beauty. In keeping with that goal, I try to never criticize my body or anybody else’s in front of her. Now I just need to quit doing the former in my head.

  6. Yep, see, the more I talk to people about it the more I think that body image really is something we all struggle with. I’m not smart enough to know why, particularly, but we do…even though we know what a crock it really is.

    Definitely fodder for a rich discussion sometime.

  7. I don’t even want to think about body image at the moment. I’m sitting here with my grotesque right leg that’s twice the size of my left. I wish it were from muscle! Great blog idea.

  8. […] Swimming is going well.  In 3 days I’ve gotten up to where I left off two summers ago – making about 700m in 30 minutes.  That’s still pretty shitty, especially when you consider that while I’m there gasping for breath between laps there are guys 20 years older than me going back and forth and back and forth without pausing…but it’s a step in the right direction. […]

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