I’ve struggled with having a positive body image and self-esteem since I was young. I guess you could say I grew up hating my body. That’s because I was born with pectus excavatum, which is another way of saying my chest is concave. From my understanding, it’s genetic. My grandfather had it. But he died when I was young. The only other men in my life were friends and, as so often happens with kids, you begin to compare yourself to them. Which didn’t go very well for me.
To make matters worse, my birthday is in the middle of summer. The scorching heat, sunscreen filling our nostrils. My Mom always threw a pool party. I didn’t have the courage to tell her I didn’t want one. So, as I slid into the pool, slowly, step by step, I made sure that I was always wearing a shirt to hide behind. I would not be made fun of on my birthday. I would not have my deformity pointed out to me. To this day, I don’t bare my chest to anyone – no matter how many times they say it’s no big deal.
For years, I was a professional fashion photographer. I spent hundreds of hours removing acne and pinching in hips and thighs to conform to what we, as a society, deem “beautiful.” That is, until I read the poem “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy. It was the first time I really began to understand how the media constructs an impossible beauty standard that destructively misrepresents our natural body shapes. When I looked back to the photographs I “photoshopped,” I felt an enormous amount of responsibility. The weight was almost too much to bare. I was part of the problem. I, in some way, was the reason the young girl in Piercy’s poems commits suicide when she fails to look like her barbie doll. In our obsession with our bodies, we have retouched our bodies so heavily that we have quite literally created an impossible standard.
I’m a skinny guy, which makes my pectus excavatum more noticeable. I’ve been told to just work out more. There’s so much wrong with this response. It assumes, for one, that I haven’t tried working. Which I have. I spend 12 straight months working out intensely – protein powder, creatine, everything. It did nothing for my chest. I’m sick of male body shaming. Especially when that shaming comes from me.
“I have to make a place for my body in my body.”
My name is Nate Proctor. I’m skinny. I have a concave chest. And I will no longer hide my beauty behind my body. Which means I’m working on my being having a more positive body image! As the poet Terrance Hayes once said, “I have to make a place for my body in my body.” At the end of the day, we must be healthy physically AND mentally.
After going through my struggles and spending years a fashion photographer, I honestly believe that we’re obsessed with our bodies. I hope that in making and sharing this video that I, and others, create a more positive body image. One that looks for a balance between physical and mental health. After all, it’s one key to learning how to love yourself.
This article first appeared on HuffPost, which can be found here.