It's a funny thing really, the concept of self-image. It’s an even stranger thing to consider how many men struggle with positive self-image. Due in large part to the cultural stoicism that is encouraged and expected of us dudes, it is assumed that we just don’t battle with image issues. This same stoicism leaves little room for us to voice our insecurities, out of fear that someone may speak them into existence and further cement them in our minds as truth.
While I fully acknowledge self-image struggles are not an issue exclusive to men, I do believe we are more susceptible to words spoken by the opposite sex, especially if they’re spoken by women we’re attracted to. Speaking from my own experience, a slew of aggressive insults from women in my past have pushed me into a multi-month emotional state of discouragement and near-depression. Regardless of how tough or manly a dude is, being told he’s not attractive enough, not fit enough, or even not ‘man’ enough, is enough to crush his spirit. Even if these words are never spoken outright, one’s actions and the resulting implications are overwhelming.
After my wife left me, I proceed to lose 32 lbs in 60 days in a feeble attempt to convince myself I was ‘in shape’ enough for someone to love. Fitness had always been a topic of discussion in our relationship, and something I blatantly disregarded for a couple years with the excuse of working 70+ hours a week. In reality, I knew I would never compare with the personal trainers, and ’insta-models’ that liter our social media feeds. Guess what - that didn’t work. The feeling of still being ‘less than’ was still in the pit of my stomach (regardless of whether my stomach was flat or not).
When I was a child, I was always told, “Everything else will let you down, so find your identity in Christ”. I’ll admit, it’s a catchy saying, but from a practical mindset, it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense to me. Sure, the concept is beautiful: base your self-image on a book and some feelings you had in association with that book, and simply ignore what loud people are saying to the contrary about your self-worth. To be honest, I struggle with the daily application of finding my identity in Christ - what of our emotions that are powerful enough to control our every action and thought? I always chalked that saying up to one of those things our pastors say because it sounds good, but no one (including the pastor) really know what it means.
Why do we let others affect how we view ourselves so much? How do we find our identity in Christ? These have been some of the central questions consuming my thoughts over this road trip across the country. The perspective gained from hours behind a windshield never ceases to amaze me. While traveling down Highway 395 just outside the Alabama Hills, the answers suddenly hit me. The ways in which we find and experience Christ are different for all of us. For some, it might be through beautiful music; for others, through the love of a family member. For me, it's by getting lost in creation and finding the silence and comfort of a wilderness rarely touched by man. That's what makes me feel alive, that's what gives me the confidence and courage to forget past remarks spoken from hate, and love the person staring back in my reflection.
I hardly ever post photos of myself, claiming the photographer's dilemma of always being behind the camera never in front. While that is part of it, there is also a fear, insecurity, and ego which convince me not even to make an effort to take self-portraits.
It's time to put that shit to bed.
Today is my tenth day on the road without a traditional shower. Ten days of hiking and sweating. Ten days of freezing while I search for a place to lay my head. Ten days of sitting next to fires, running through pines, and sleeping with smelly dogs. Though counterintuitive, I can honestly say I’ve never felt more beautiful and more alive.
The wrinkles are merely a result of laughing too much. The wind burnt cheeks are from venturing to places few have seen. The sunburnt skin in from spending countless hours walking in silence. The overgrown hair from caring more about whats around the next turn then the reflection in a mirror and tired eyes are the result of a day well spent.