Self-Image, Part 2
A lengthy personal anecdote
Considering content I’ve stated about self-image thus far, and presuming the reader has the patience to have reached this point, I imagine opposition to my stance based on an appeal to emotion. “Deric, you must not critique fatness, because psychotherapists are supposed to care about other people,” someone may claim.
Unlike a number of the mental health practitioners with whom I share a field of practice, I don’t value helping people feel better. As an REBT practitioner, I aim to help people get better.
Per this perspective, my approach involves the is-ought problem associated with self-image. In this way, I focus on describing what is rather than prescribing what ought to be.
When it comes to perception of one’s body, I use an emic perspective—an insider’s viewpoint. Still, it is important to note that one person’s experience with being fat doesn’t embody the process of life another fat person may undergo.
All the same, if the reader will forgive a lifelong anecdote, I think there’s value in detailing my background relating to personal self-image. As I discuss the following information, I will retrospectively employ the use of the REBT method.
Introduced to this world via natural childbirth, I weighed 10 lbs., 10 ounces (oz.)—said to have broken my clavicles during the birthing process. My mother used to boast about how she passed out while pushing me through her birthing canal, as she was apparently proud of not having opted for a caesarean delivery.
My dad nicknamed me “Coaky,” because I was said to have had “a head the size of a coconut.” Though the memory is reconstructive, throughout childhood, I seem to recall frequent calls to attention regarding the size of my head.
Looking at a baby picture of me, I don’t think my head was particularly large. Still, I was frequently teased about the appearance of my head. Although my head was the object of affectionate ridicule, I first carried shame about my appearance in relation to this part of my body.
As I grew through my toddler years, I began to display belly protrusion. I remember that despite not residing in the home beyond the age of three, when visiting my dad I was served adult-sized plates of food.
Children within my home were required not to waste food, so I ate large portions to avoid the consequences of not finishing a meal—spankings. Imagine the dilemma: Eat a huge portion of food or face corporal punishment. Choose the fork or choose the belt.
Residing with my now late mom for the majority of childhood, I grew up poor. Nutritious food availability was scarce. In our home, we ate a lot of white rice with sugar and condensed milk, white potatoes, and white bread.
If it came in a cardboard box, plastic package, or was heavily processed, we had it in our home. Fresh food was as foreign to me as the children in Africa who were often used as a reminder of why I had to eat—because they were apparently the unfortunate ones while we had roaches and mice crawling through our cupboards.
Boxed macaroni and cheese, inexpensive spaghetti noodles, canned chili, and cheap fast food were all mainstays. When living with my mother, I don’t recall learning about a balanced diet and as I aged, I was surprised to learn that not all vegetables came from a can.
Potted meat, TV dinners, processed foods, and sugary snacks were paid for by food stamps. My family also received government assistance in the form of powdered milk, cheese, and free school lunches, as well as access to food pantries.
I was self-conscious about my family’s receipt of government assistance, as I was acutely aware of our impoverished socioeconomic status. My sisters and I wore second-hand clothing, and children at school were unkind to “poor” kids.
A food desert is an area that has limited access to adorable and nutritious food, as this term is sometimes applied to excuse the nutritional behavior of people from a lower socioeconomic class. Still, one imagines that it was simply easier for my mom to feed me processed food than to undergo the rigors of balanced meal preparation.
At one point, I was so overweight that my older sister used to mimic the behavior we observed on a commercial featuring the Pillsbury Doughboy. She’d poke my protruding belly and I’d let out an exaggerated, “Hee hee,” similar to the animated character.
My sisters and I also played a game whereby child X would say, “Hey, fatty,” and to the sibling who happened to glance in the direction of the greeting, child X would state, “Ooo, you know yo’ name!” We knew we were fat and we participated in self-ridicule of our bodies.
Additionally, when I was born, the little toe and fore toe on my left foot were completely webbed, as the middle and index toes were partially webbed. One of my siblings had a similar condition on her hand.
Regarding my anatomy, my foot abnormality serves as the most protected secret of my life—until now. As a child, I hid from other children at swimming pools and in other social settings during which shoes and socks were removed.
Adding to hyper-consciousness related to my self-image, I wore t-shirts when swimming in order to cover layers of fat. However, wet clothing clung to my body and accentuated by obesity while I desperately focused on concealing my feet from public view.
With the advent of water socks, I gained the liberty to no longer show concern for finding the nearest towel, bench, or other concealment source when in these settings. However, footwear did little more than shield the underlying issue.
Had I known of USA, I could have freed myself from the rigid Belief (i.e., I must not be grotesque) that produced unhelpful Consequences (e.g., shame and hiding behavior). Though it’s tempting to cover external flaws, unconditionally accepting imperfection requires fewer steps.
Also, as a boy, I was self-conscious about my freckles. My face and arms were covered with them. Though camera technology of old didn’t quite capture my freckles in elementary school, this middle school photo sufficiently reveals them:
In childhood, I began biting my fingernails. In social settings, I was so anxious as a result of my beliefs that I’d become nauseous and bite my fingernails to self-soothe—regulate an emotional state.
As my level of impairment was substantial, I’d chew through the hyponychium (“quick”) and this often resulted in bleeding nails. Doing this, I developed a self-image issue in regards to people seeing the damage I inadvertently inflicted upon myself.
Though I didn’t deliberately self-harm, when my fingers did hurt I reasoned that temporary pain in the nail plate was far less impactful than the seemingly permanent psychological suffering I endured. I knew nothing about my beliefs causing agony at the time.
As well, when my mom would hunch over and mock my poor posture, saying, “Do you want to be hunchback?” it wasn’t her behavior that led to my poor self-image. My Belief about her Actions is what caused a Consequence.
Also, in a blogpost entitled Unconditional Self-Acceptance, I stated, “I was diagnosed with ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder] and an unspecified ‘mathematics disorder.” Prior to receiving a formal diagnosis in adulthood, I thought I was “retarded,” as my mom used to call me.
This was a familiar insult when I was younger, as kids also called me “retard.” Bullying from other children wasn’t solely verbal. On occasion, other kids in my school and within the neighborhoods I lived would start physical fights with me.
This rarely occurred one-on-one. My size alone could’ve caused significant injury and it wasn’t uncommon for me to apply this knowledge when sticking up for other children who were bullied.
Educators weren’t immune from harassing behavior, as I recall being required to undergo a mile run for the Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school. My female coach told me I was “too fat” to complete a chin-up, which apparently reflected negatively on her as an instructor.
Though I remember her being supportive through encouragement when yelling at me from across the field as I ran, “Don’t give up,” I also recall her expressing disappointment in me. Despite other children opting to show support by running with me after they completed their test, I still failed to finish in time.
That’s when I first developed a body image issue concerning my weight, as it related to others. My size was no longer something that affected only me, it caused my classmates to miss out on a pizza party, because I couldn’t move my body fast enough for a national standard. I experienced shame.
One would imagine a fat child being motivated to run faster for the promise of pizza. However, ability-wise, I simply couldn’t move my body in space fast enough to reach the potential reward.
Hearing from my mother, “You’re fat and ugly, and no one will ever love you,” as I was pummeled to the floor during sporadic beatings, served as a method of conditioning me to believe what I was told. I truly believed I was unlovable.
As a kid, what I understood about myself was that the size of my head was comical, I was overweight and unattractive, and these along with other attributes granted the premise that I was unworthy of love. As much as a child can use logic, the script in my mind was something like:
Premise 1: Fat, ugly, big-headed people are unworthy of love.
Premise 2: Both my dad and mom confirm that I am fat, ugly, and have a big head.
Conclusion: Therefore, I am unworthy of love.
The logic followed, though the premise was incredibly unhealthy and factually incorrect. I didn’t know about USA at the time and what I believed about what was told to me caused self-disturbance:
(A) – My parents made fun of my appearance. (B) – I believed, “Parents should love their children, though mine are mean to me, so they must know something I don’t know. I must be unlovable, because they would otherwise treat me better.” (C) – Because of my unhelpful belief, I experienced sorrow.
Contributing to the Action in my case was confirmation from other children, educators, and adults who also echoed sentiment I heard within my home. Growing up in the ‘80s was a different experience than what I understand children go through today.
One imagines turning off an electronic device to escape harassment is fairly straightforward. However, in the ‘80s, in-person bullying was essentially all we had.
Back then, teachers outright called children “fat” and “ugly.” From the time I went to school in the morning, throughout my daytime education, on the way home from school, and within my home I could experience reinforcement of the Action, which influenced a new Belief:
(A) – Adults and other children made fun of my appearance. (B) – I believed, “The world shouldn’t be so cruel and because it is, I can’t stand it!” (C) – Because of my self-disturbing belief, I experienced depression.
I want to emphasize two crucial components in relation to what I’m stating about the aforementioned Consequence. First, there is a difference between sorrow and depression.
Everyone I’ve ever known has experienced sorrow to some degree, though some people deny ever having experienced depressive symptoms—persistent sadness, loss of interest, loss of pleasure, sleep and appetite disturbance, decreased energy, poor concentration, and in my case, suicidal ideation.
The first time I recall truly considering suicide was at around nine-years-old, in third grade. My mother, a nursing school dropout, learned effective methods of self-termination when undergoing training to become a nurse.
I won’t discuss specifics herein, as this is not intended to be a how-to post about suicide. What is of note is that my mom used to verbally lament her decision for not having aborted me and she taught me how to end my life in a relatively quick way—effectively provocation for a self-initiated post-birth termination.
Second, it wasn’t the Action of being shamed for my body image that led to the Consequence of depression. It was what I Believed about the Action that caused the Consequence.
I genuinely believed that I was fat, ugly, and unworthy of love. As a result of regarding an unhelpful narrative as that which was true, I sincerely contemplated a swift withdrawal from this life.
Perhaps a specific example will enhance the reader’s understanding about the ABC formula that almost led to my demise. Instead of providing an abstract Action, I’ll use the critical (A)—a concise Action with which I used a Belief to disturb myself.
My best friend in fourth and half of fifth grade, before moving from Amarillo, Texas to Aurora, Colorado, was the late “Tomasz.” Prior to the start of our fifth grade educational year, Tomasz told me he intended on trying out for a nonprofit organizational football team.
We were both overweight, though I was fatter than Tomasz. His parents, who immigrated to the U.S., were straightforward with their criticism and they used to tell Tomasz and me that we were “fat.”
Tomasz and I spent most of our time together and he invited me to football tryouts with him. At that point in history, heavier children could be assigned brightly-colored special markings on their uniforms which indicated to other kids that caution needed to be taken with larger children.
It was a legitimate concern, because a 70-lb. kid could suffer an injury from a 100-lb. child due to the size difference. Tomasz made the team and would be assigned the special markings.
However, the coach informed me that because of my size, I couldn’t qualify. I was heavier than the maximum-allowed weight standard.
Even though a number of the soon-to-be fifth grade boys donned large garbage bags and were tasked with running around the building in which weigh-ins were conducted, as a means of shedding water weight, I was said to be too “fat” than to qualify. I was invited to tryout next year, on the condition that I lost weight.
The critical (A): I was so fat that I didn’t qualify for the football team. It would be logical, though incorrect, to consider that an Action-Consequence (A-C) connection existed.
Simple cause-and-effect rationale would lead one to conclude that beCAUSE I was rejected (A), the EFFECT was that I was miserable (C). However, if you’ve been paying attention all along you know this wasn’t the case.
REBT maintains that rather than an A-C connection, we disturb ourselves using a Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection. What I didn’t know at that point in time was that I upset myself thusly:
(A) – The coach rejected me, because I was too fat to play football. (B) – I believed, “This is awful! I should be allowed to join Tomasz and because I can’t, I’m worthless!” (C) – Because of my severe belief, I was miserable.
Dear reader, it may be tempting to retrospectively criticize the coach and the nonprofit organization for standards and behavior which contributed to the Action. You may even use a should, must, or ought belief of your own.
“No child should ever experience rejection on the basis of weight,” you may believe. Allow me to grant your premise as being morally and ethically appropriate.
You and I may ally together in our likeminded values and seek to change society through activism. In spite of our allyship, how does our behavior change the past?
ULA relates to our inability to alter time. We can unconditionally accept that what was done was done and—even though we don’t approve of what occurred—we are powerless at changing historical events.
This acknowledged powerlessness can create a whole other Action whereby I become angered (C) by the Belief that I’ve been wronged and there’s no way I can stop it, because…dammit, I should be able to control this situation!
Putting an illustrative point on the B-C connection, suppose someone in Aurora sits in a room alone and says of person X, who is currently in Amarillo, “That fat fuck is disgusting!” There is no relaying of the message, as only the Aurora resident is privy to the expressed opinion.
Is person X affected by the utterance? Some may claim that spiritual vibration, collective consciousness, resonating energy that reverberates throughout the universe, or other questionable possibilities may mysteriously communicate the message to person X.
Therefore, even though no one other than the Aurora citizen is aware of the opinion, it somehow impacts person X. I reject such frivolity.
Christopher Hitchens is credited with having stated “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” As well, Carl Sagan is understood to have expressed that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
I concur with both of these proposals. To date, I see no credible evidence for supernatural rhetoric one may use to claim that the person in Aurora actually affects the person in Amarillo, given the framing of my scenario.
As such, it isn’t the Action—an individual in Aurora who calls person X a “fat fuck”—that produces a Consequence. The Aurora resident simply isn’t as powerful as one may imagine.
Now, suppose the Aurora resident travels to Amarillo and stands before person X, stating, “You’re disgusting, you fat fuck!” Does this Action generate a Consequence?
After all, person X is in the immediate presence of the expressed opinion and one may use the A-C connection to conclude that the Action produces a reaction (C), right? Wrong!
What person X Believes about the Action is what causes the Consequence. It doesn’t matter whether or not an opinion is heard by person X, or whether or not it is stated in person X’s presence, because it is the belief about the expressed sentiment that leads to suffering.
Therefore, it was never the case that a coach rejected me for being fat. What mattered was that I believed he shouldn’t have and thus, I disturbed myself.
In this way, how does my Belief about the Action back then help me today? Honestly, it doesn’t. Accordingly, I can use ULA to accept what is and not disturb myself about what I think ought to have been.
Unfortunately, I didn’t learn REBT techniques as a child. Instead, and what kept me from ending it all at around age nine, I found escapism—psychological diversion from unpleasant occurrences—in overeating.
How paradoxical is it that I was too fat than to escape bullying from peers and adults, and too fat than to qualify for a sports team, though the very mouth pleasure which contributed to my size was the same behavior I used to seek comfort—only leading to more fat?
Still, that’s precisely what occurred. Rather than blaming anyone for how large I became, I intend to explain contributing factors regarding my body size. All the same, my self-image is mine and mine alone.
This concept of self also includes my attitude related to insulting names my mom used in reference to my perceived sexual orientation. Other than Tomasz, the majority of my social interactions were with females.
At the time, my “big brother”—a designee from a nonprofit organization that helps mentor children, was a gay man and my mother frequently criticized my plutonic relationship with him. She would call me a “sissy” and say I’d grow up to be a “faggot,” like my mentor.
I adored spending time with the man who introduced me to the orchestra, ballet, theater, and other performing arts. However, my mom derided my adoration for such activities.
Additionally, I used to sit down when peeing, mainly because I’d endured so many beatings from my mom for accidentally peeing on the toilet seat and floor surrounding the toilet that it was simpler to sit when urinating. For this, my mom mocked me.
Standing up to pee and missing the mark, I was beaten. Sitting down to urinate and preventing messes, I was ridiculed. This was a no-win situation.
In my life currently, I have a female friend who has a 13-year-old daughter. We all lightheartedly tease one another about a number of topics.
Though I can’t recall exactly why, my friend began telling her daughter, “Deric sits down when he pees.” Subsequently, her daughter now refers to me as “gay.”
Because I practice unconditional acceptance, I’m unbothered by references which relate to my childhood misery. I understand that the Action of my friend and her daughter’s mockery do not cause a Consequence within me, as I use a flexible Belief system and experience no suffering during those moments as a result.
At any rate, I recall my mother clipping from magazines the figures of women she admired and posting the images on the refrigerator and walls around our home, as I was attracted to the female form. My mom expressed that the pictures were to help her remember not to overeat.
Learning through observation, I admired professional wrestlers, film and television actors, and sports figures which portrayed hyper-masculinized male constructs. The ideal body—what a male was capable of achieving—didn’t seem to cause shame for me as much as it provided hope in the form of possibility.
Still, ridicule for being perceived as a feminized boy contributed to the self-disturbing beliefs I had about myself. I could aspire to look like “tough guys,” as I thought of them, though I doubted I’d ever achieve their status.
I had no idea as to how I could achieve their aesthetics. I didn’t know that facing discomfort as a means to grow was what I needed. Instead, I sought comfort through eating and I eventually gave up on the idea that my situation would ever improve.
My step-grandmother was by most reports what people considered to be an amazing cook. She claimed to be of Italian ancestry, though her maiden name suggested Norwegian roots.
Nevertheless, and though other family members were said not to have shared similar memories, grandma’s house was from where my happiest childhood memories originate. No matter what abuse I experienced outside of her home, grandma was my oasis from misery.
She would cook grand feasts with an assortment of desserts for holidays and birthdays of which my Jehovah’s Witness-affiliated dad wouldn’t have approved. I’d eat so much food and drink all manner of sugary beverages until I literally passed out on her couch as she rubbed my hair.
Waking from my food coma, I’d again eat until I became physically ill. All the while, grandma would encourage, “Go on, honey, eat more. Granny doesn’t have room for leftovers in the fridge.”
There is no projection of a shameful transgression intended herein, as grandma’s home is where I learned binge-eating. In all honestly, I was ecstatic about consuming large portions of food, as though it made me high.
Characteristics of binge-eating disorder include—though aren’t limited to—eating until physically uncomfortable; hiding one’s overeating behavior; lack of control; guilt or disgust about the behavior; and consuming large amounts of food in a relatively short amount of time.
Reportedly overwhelmed with the notion that her “sissy” boy would likely end up being a “faggot,” my mom contacted my dad and told him I needed a straight male influence in my life. Though I moved to different homes in Amarillo on a nearly annual basis, I’d now move out of state.
When time came for me to move from Amarillo—where I lived with my white mom—to Aurora—where I’d join my black dad—I was quite heavy for my age and height. Kids called me “Deric Hoggings,” and though I was sad to leave behind my older sister, I looked forward to starting anew.
What I didn’t expect was that transferring to a new school in a different state didn’t change much more than my location. Apparently, children still behaved immaturely in other states and adults weren’t handing out sympathy passes back then.
I had a poor self-image. Once in Aurora, I learned that I also had a “Texas accent,” my skin wasn’t dark enough for automatic acceptance in the diverse school to which I was transferred, and some group calling themselves the “Crips” frequently beat the brakes off me after school.
Participating in the school lunch program, once all children had an opportunity to receive food, an announcement in the lunchroom was issued in regards to free second portions. Eating provided comfort for me and I wanted as much self-soothing as I could get.
Once the food supply was exhausted, a female lunch worker with a peculiar accent would loudly yell, “Noooo mooooree seeeeccooonnddss!!” On a number of occasions, her pronouncement was made as I was scrambling to the line for additional servings.
I quickly became the object of ridicule for one child in specific, as he’d see me in and outside of school and loudly imitate the lunch lady. He’d used to laugh and call me “fat ass,” as well as physically assaulting me.
The summer between my fifth and sixth grade years, at around age 11—and though I can’t recall from where I learned the behavior, I began exhibiting symptoms consistent with anorexia nervosa. I had no control over trauma within my home, bullying at school, or having moved to a new location.
The one thing I could control was what I put into my mouth. Even at threat of physical punishment from my overbearing dad, I forewent eating. It didn’t matter how much pain was associated with spankings. I was going to make a change in my life one way or another.
Traits associated with anorexia include—thought aren’t limited to—an unrealistic perception of body weight, a strong fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, severe restriction of caloric intake, and excess exercising as a means of losing weight.
My dad had a multi-exercise piece of rowing equipment that allowed the user to perform squatting, rowing, curling, and pressing exercises. It came with a brief how-to sheet and I spent hours putting the resistance shocks to the test while drastically limiting my daily calories.
Eventually, I became ill and found it difficult to get out of my bed. Being the summer and disallowed from leaving my home, because my dad feared that I’d be kidnapped, I had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.
I thought my behavior was going unrecognized until my now late stepmom sat with me and provided an ultimatum. Because spankings from my dad weren’t enough to motivate me to eat, she told me the next step was inpatient care.
My stepmom urged me to eat, because she and my dad didn’t have money to afford proper treatment for my condition. I’d lost enough weight and began slowly increasing my food intake, having negotiated smaller serving portions.
Upon my entering middle school, I was significantly thinner and children from my former elementary school expressed amazement with my transformation. I was accepted by gang members and honor roll students alike.
Their inclusion had the effect of reinforcing the anorexic behavior I’d used to address my self-image. I mistakenly concluded that beCAUSE I lost weight (A), the EFFECT was acceptance by others (C).
It is a risky endeavor to outsource one’s perception of self to a fickle audience. Better understanding this lesson at present, I could have instead considered that being overweight (A) led to an unhelpful self-image (B), which resulted in unhealthy behaviors that could have seriously harmed me (C).
Still, weight wasn’t my sole concern. I recall my mom being placed on speakerphone when threatening my dad with law enforcement intervention if he didn’t return me to live with her.
Apparently, there was a limited date regarding expiration of male influence for which I was initially sent to Aurora. Not long before leaving, my dad threatened to disown me if ever I became gay.
His warning then elevated to a death threat, as he used biblical teaching to convey that “homosexuality” was an “abomination”—using Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac as an example of noble killing.
Midway through my seventh grade year, having cheated my way to a 4.0 grade point average and made friends by having used anorexia as a strategy, I was required to return to Amarillo. Shortly thereafter, I was sent to live in a children’s home.
There, other kids didn’t want to share a room with me, because I apparently snored too loud. This was another belief-driven source of anguish, as I internalized the narrative, “I’m not even good enough to be accepted when I’m asleep.”
Searching for a female perspective of masculinity, I read copies of Cosmopolitan and Vogue magazines shared with me by girls within a coed cottage. In retrospect, female-centric sources opining on masculinity weren’t helpful for my self-image.
Similar to other children in the home, I didn’t want to be considered a “reject” or “outcast” with identification as a resident of the home. I carefully avoided revealing where I lived when at school—out of shame associated with my belief about not fitting in.
It was in the children’s home that I began what I now consider to be the practice of life coaching. I used the pain with which I was familiar to give advice to other kids and eventually in counsel with some adults. One child who lived in my cottage thanked me in a yearbook entry:
At the time, I was unaware of how unhelpful advice giving can be. As well, I didn’t know about compensation—overachievement in one area to mask challenges in another area.
By coaching others, I was able to justify to myself that I wasn’t as bad of a person as I truly believed I was. However, it was a gnawing Belief that caused the Consequence of depression.
In actuality, I was merely fooling myself by maintaining that I could counterbalance internal discomfort with relief from helping others. As well, not everyone in my life at that time was so easily fooled, as one girl with whom I attended school wrote in my yearbook, “Please don’t look so depressed”:
Entering eighth grade, I was angry at myself for regaining weight, angry at others for presumably being the cause of my condition, and angry at the world for my existence. One of my house parents told me she thought participation in football may help to relieve some of my anger.
Applying an extrinsic remedy to an intrinsic injury only complicated matters for me. Not having been able to play the sport when Tomasz was accepted to the team, and otherwise knowing nothing about gameplay, I wasn’t a proper fit for football.
The head coach couldn’t remember my name and so he began calling me “No Name,” which was preferable to the generic call of “pussy!” The moniker caught on and an otherwise invisible person was strikingly identifiable within the halls, upon the field, and at the bus area of my middle school.
“Hey, No Name,” I’d hear, as other children mocked my lack of football skills and appearance. One male student, who I’ll refer to as “Jo-Jo,” etched his mockery in my middle school yearbook so that I could remember how insignificant I was, though he was apparently “just kidding”:
Understanding REBT, I now realize that it wasn’t being called “No Name” or even having my appearance ridiculed by others (A) which caused an unhealthy self-image and the sorrow I experienced (C). All along, it was what I believed about the mockery that led to self-disturbance.
However, at the time, I didn’t know of REBT. I thought in A-C connection terms. As such, I led a miserable existence and wanted little more than an escape from the agonizing experience I endured. I wanted to self-terminate.
An activist could make an argument that my environment was toxic and had I not been made to suffer through jeers of bullies, I could’ve led a happier life. This sort of simplistic reasoning may serve as a temporary fix for one’s immediate surroundings, though it’s a broken intervention on a global scale.
The children with whom I attended middle school could have undergone anti-bullying indoctrination and that may have had some effect, though to what end? Is it wise to assume a paternalistic role and infantilize others in the name of safety, nicety, or self-esteem?
Once I exited that setting and engaged in local, state, national, or even worldwide interaction with others—and people who were not subject to the rigid measures of control to which I was accustomed—I would be ill-prepared for the bitter treatment of reality.
One who uses the logical fallacy of an appeal to emotion may counter my assessment by stating, “Oh, so you must want innocent children to needlessly suffer the wrath of bullies!” On the contrary; I would like for people to prepare for what is rather than forcing upon others what one thinks ought to be.
Moving forward, similar to the “big brother” I had in elementary; I was assigned a mentoring couple when in the children’s home. I thought they were a kind husband and wife who fostered and eventually adopted a boy and a girl.
All their family members participated in cycling and the couple purchased a 10 speed road bike for me. The husband said of my large thighs, “Them’s hill-climbin’ legs, there!”
Rather than being self-conscious from a self-disturbing belief, my modified perspective about the comment resulted in pride. I briefly attended a number of cycling events with the family and I consider that experience to have been a net positive in my youth.
Experiencing the effects of puberty when at the children’s home, my voice began to change. I grew insecure about being classified as a tenor rather than a bass when divided into singing sections at a religious camp.
In my mind, masculinity was represented by having a deeper voice. Many girls who attended the camp expressed interest in the boys who were placed in the bass section, as I believed, “I’m not good enough,” because I didn’t receive similar attention.
What I didn’t understand at the time were four precepts. One, I wasn’t entitled to the affection of others. Two, one’s vocal tone is only an aspect of a range of masculine elements related to manhood.
Three, a person who would reject me on account of my voice likely wouldn’t remain with me if ever I suffered an injury to my vocal cords—which wasn’t an individual with whom I’d want to associate. Finally, being “good enough” requires practice of USA—meaning no unhelpful conditions being placed on myself.
By the time I became a freshman in high school, I developed cystic acne that began in my chin area and eventually engulfed my face, neck, chest, and back. At around the same time, I experienced many ingrown hairs in the similar region.
Many of my peers held little back when pointing out my eyesores, pardon the pun. Continuing my misplaced position within football, I dreaded showering with others.
Jo-Jo and his friends would tease me about my acne, how unmanaged my hair would be after taking off a helmet, my lack of muscularity, and of course the inevitable locker room teasing about penis size. Remarkably, I wasn’t ridiculed for my weight.
At 195 lbs., I was of average team weight, as some other players were in the 230-lb. range. Still, I had no business playing the role of a B-team linebacker whose main purpose for others related to “picking” and taunting, as memorialized by Jo-Jo’s freshman yearbook inscription:
I’m aware that many males use insults as a show of affection, as I’ve since adapted this practice in adulthood. Nevertheless, in my youth, I believed what others stated about me when they highlighted my observable flaws.
Once again, I began use of unhealthy anorexic behavior to take control of the sole element of a chaotic world over which I had any influence—myself. I’d perform manual labor with other children from an all-boys children’s home cottage while drastically restricting calories.
One day, the house mother of my cottage pulled me aside as I was about to engage in the afternoon feeding of livestock. Similar to the candid discussion I’d once had with my stepmother, I was informed about what the houseparent observed.
“Deric, I’ve been watching you and I see that you’ve lost a lot of weight,” she stated, “Don’t you think it’s enough?” I perceived that she was genuinely concerned, because she shared a self-image story of her own—which I’ve no right to discuss herein.
During our talk, I stood in a country-style kitchen that had counters covered in pans of freshly baked cookies. To this day, I can’t recall why the houseparent had baked what in memory seems like easily over a hundred cookies.
“Here,” the house mother stated as she placed several cookies in each of my hands, “Take these and let’s get you to eating again.” I remember experiencing a high when heading to feed the pigs that day, as I became lightheaded and it seemed as though I was floating rather than walking.
At any rate, when in Aurora, I chipped two of my front teeth during a skateboarding accident. Prior to that, people often complimented me on the straightness of my teeth. I may’ve been fat, though I was said to have had a “nice smile.”
Did you notice the chipped teeth in an earlier photo of my childhood freckles? Years later, I had the chips repaired. Still, for a relatively lengthy portion of my life until then, I maintained a poor self-image concerning the belief about my teeth.
A family with whom I attended church services eventually took me into their home under legal guardianship during the summer between my ninth and tenth grade years. At the time, I dreaded photos capturing the appearance of my acne-riddled face.
I began wearing glasses at around that time, though stopped when a friend said they magnified my acne. I’d rather not see than have to look into myself and resolve the true issue—my beliefs about acne were what caused psychological suffering.
I was fortunate enough to receive dermatological services when living with the family. Regrettably, I wasn’t prepared for the side effects I experienced when being treated with a prescription oral medication used to address severe acne.
My lips became so dry that the entire outer layer would peel off. I also experienced nosebleeds, because my nasal cavity was often dry. I couldn’t be exposed to the sunlight for more than moments at a time, as it felt as though I was on fire and the pain was excruciating.
There were times when scratching my face that patches of skin would peel off in my hand and it seemed as though my skin was always irritated. As well, I experienced such hyper-focus on my facial appearance that I carried a folding compact mirror everywhere I went.
I even wore acne concealer, which I carried with me in my backpack and applied throughout the day. To be clear, I’m talking about wearing makeup.
An extrinsic issue (acne), paired with an external intervention (concealer), wasn’t a reasonable solution to the actual problem. It was my internal narrative (Belief) that caused intrinsic agony (Consequence).
I bore shame relating to my belief about having worn spot-correcting makeup when in high school. Using the no true Scotsman fallacy, I reasoned that no true masculine man would ever wear makeup.
Though anorexia achieved desired results by allowing me to reduce and then maintain my weight, I had no idea how to permanently offset the effects of the acne medical intervention. I feared traversing the halls of my high school, because I believed everyone could see how ugly I was.
The phenomenon of an imaginary audience refers to a psychological state, usually beginning in adolescence, during which people believe others are eagerly listening to or watching them. For instance, person X may believe everyone is acutely aware of the individual’s weight.
Considering this concept, I truly believed my repulsive self-image was not only observable by others though it offended them. I was convinced that people must not be afflicted by the sight of me.
Here’s how the logic played out:
Premise 1: Given that all people with cystic acne are ugly,
Premise 2: and given that I have cystic acne,
Conclusion: I am therefore ugly.
Based on that false premise, here’s how my reasoning then unfolded:
Because I am ugly and can’t stand my self-image, and given that I imagine others think as I do, others must not be able to stand my self-image.
This is the value of REBT—to unravel irrational Beliefs so that the Consequences stemming from these unhelpful attitudes can change. Note, this practice relates to changing oneself and not altering society as a whole.
For a long time, I bore the burden of my beliefs. During that period of my life, I built up resilience—the capacity to withstand or to recover relatively quickly from difficulties.
Remarkably, the severe acne treatment intervention worked. I wasn’t fat, I didn’t have acne, and for once in my life I was actually pleased with my appearance.
In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes—especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change—and I experienced discomfort when shown attention for my looks. It was a new experience for me.
Though I liked hearing alternatives to the harmful beliefs I maintained, my distressed self-image was fueled by these unhelpful beliefs and this resulted in mental, emotional, and physical discomfort when receiving compliments. I then began avoiding people who admired me.
For instance, a high school friend I’ll call “Spice” used to aggressively compliment my legs and buttocks while also making it a point to pinch the latter whenever the opportunity arose. I would nervously laugh off her advances and even began altering my route to class so I could avoid her.
You may think that I’d be bothered more by behavior which constitutes sexual assault than by cognitive dissonance, though you’d be wrong in your assumption. It was my belief relating to not being worthy of attention that caused a greater issue for me.
For a couple years, Spice actively pursued me and I was discomforted with the thought of a girl chasing after me. At the same time, and confusingly, I thought I was fit and decent looking enough to be admired.
I recall in high school health class, an obese male teacher sat in front of students and read statistics related to how out of shape Generation X was said to be. He asked, “Who in here thinks their level of fitness is adequate?”
I was the only one to raise my hand. The educator scoffed and asked me to defend my answer. I explained that I ate three meals per day, had a gym membership I used a few times per week, and that my brother-in-law got me interested in bodybuilding.
I appreciated the extreme limits which bodybuilders endured, though I didn’t participate in the sport. Hearing my response, the instructor shrugged and that was the first time I recall being identified as the “fit” kid in any of my classes.
Similar to a lesson learned in sixth grade, the extreme and potentially dangerous means to an end were reinforced when a desired effect was achieved. I misguidedly concluded that extraordinary measures were necessary to attain a state of sustained happiness.
Ignorant about how to properly train, I overworked muscles at the gym. Honestly, I stuck more to machine training than free weights. Mostly, I relied on caloric restriction to achieve desired results.
I think it’s important to state herein that I’ve never been categorized as an involuntarily celibate (incel) individual. Even at times when I thought I was most repulsive, females apparently didn’t share my sentiment.
Girls began paying attention to me and my dating prospects weren’t automatically impaired due to my physical appearance—when wearing clothes. As I became sexually active, I learned of a whole other level of self-image anguish.
**References located on Self-Image, Part 4