Lift Learn Grow

29 years and counting – my body confidence story

Theo Brenner-RoachComment

You might be asking yourself…”what’s the purpose of this” or ”why is he telling me this?”

Truth be told I hesitated to write this, it’s very personal to me and contains things I’ve never really told anyone before; things about how I feel about my body, the internal battle that rages and the struggles I’ve had.

It wasn’t easy to write and when I think back to a few years ago, I know there is no way I would have written this. However, I’ve come a long way since then, mentally and physically and I now realise the importance of sharing this.

This is me saying I want guys to talk more openly about their bodies and the way they feel. To feel unjudged, unashamed and unafraid to speak out about their hopes, dreams and fears.

The knowledge that I could help you by doing this overrides any reservations I had about writing this post and sending it out into the world for you to see.

To start we need to go back but first I want to share with you the struggle.

The Struggle

I would constantly compare myself to other people.

It drove me crazy but I’d be unable to stop. It was like trying to get off a rollercoaster once it’s started, only you’re not sure this rollercoaster will ever stop.

I’d get so swept up in how I stacked up against other people. I judged everyone continuously; are they fitter than me, stronger than me, leaner than me? On and on I’d go with no thought of circumstance or situation.

At times, I felt like I’d spent so long in the pursuit of the ‘ideal’ body, as it’s sold to us, and yet it was still so far away. I went through a continual series of ups and downs, experiencing my share of setbacks and restarts.

All the while desperately pushing to reach this holy grail of physical fitness, you know, big arms, six pack abs, a wide back, round shoulders and a square chest. Oh, and don’t forget the athletic legs.

On almost a daily basis I’d question whether it was worth it, never sure I was doing the right thing or eating the right amount. I felt lost in a sea of information, desperately clinging to the idea of reaching this ‘ideal’ body in my attempts not to drown in it all.

To top it off, being a Personal Trainer and Kickboxing Instructor, I felt like everyone had this expectation of how I should look and when I took my shirt off and they saw me I would fall short. It was as if I was living a lie, caught in between how I actually looked and what people thought I should look like.

So, I hid safely behind my clothes where no one could tell what I looked like for sure.

I lived this life for a long time.

This is the struggle.

The Early Days

I was the weedy kid.

I had my growth spurt early and went through a period of being the tallest in my friendship group. Thanks to puberty this didn’t last too long and my friends eventually caught up with me. However, this meant I went from the weedy kid to the weedy and lanky teenager.

You know, skinny limbs and weak.

My confidence at this time definitely coloured the choices I made and impacted my life.

I loved sports but throughout my school years I was shy and never willing to get involved more than I had to. I’d do the compulsory sports classes and played football for a weekend team but never particularly excelled at anything.

I always felt like I was holding back from who I really was, too shy to be myself. Saying I was self-conscious would be an understatement.

I had very low body confidence. I actively hated changing for P.E. in front of other people and showering in school was enough to send cold shivers down my spine. The thought of Running around topless in the summer was something other people enjoyed doing, not me.

The Teenage Years

Come my mid-teens I began to learn that through training you could make yourself bigger, faster, stronger and naturally I was sold on the idea.

I thought that would be it, I would finally look how I wanted, I would get better at sports and my shyness would melt away. All my problems would disappear and everything would be right with the world, right?

Naive I know but at the time I didn’t know any better.

I remember walking to the bank with my dad and brother to withdraw the money I needed to join the gym. I was full of excitement, not only because I’d never held that much money before but, because now I was joining the gym and the future was bright.

I whole heartedly believed I would be muscular and strong in no time.

I devoured bodybuilding forums and fitness magazines in search of the best workouts to get me the results I craved as quickly as possible.

In the gym, I spent most of my time lifting weights that were far too heavy for me, scared of the free weights room and firmly believing it was only a matter of time until I got the body I wanted. I never truly understood much of what I was doing or why I was doing it.

I continued in this vein for another two years before finding and falling in love with kickboxing. I’d been interested in martial arts for as long as I could remember, inspired by movie stars like Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Over the years, I’d tried numerous martial arts (Karate, Tai Chi, Taekwondo) but nothing stuck. My parents (thanks Mum & Dad) would ferry me around London to attend different classes in my futile attempts to find somewhere I belonged.

That all changed when I found kickboxing, I was hooked from lesson one and threw myself into it. Hoping that, through learning to defend myself and getting fit, my confidence would sky rocket.

Due to the additional expense, I stopped going to the gym opting to create a makeshift home gym away from prying eyes and the perceived judgements of others. Together with my twin brother, we bought a cheap bench, wobbly rack, pull up bar and an assortment of plates and bars.

We trained regularly, taking advice from books, magazines and forums, jumping from one programme to another. I convinced myself I was making progress when in fact I was 100% what’s called skinny-fat, neither lean enough to be considered “ripped” or muscly enough to be considered “built” but instead, living in a no man’s land of unhappiness and body dissatisfaction.

Early 20s & Uni Days

Heading off to University I still had a limited understanding of nutrition and its effect on training. I continued to train aimlessly trying everything from giants sets, tri sets, drop sets and more, to finally pack on some muscle.

It was all in vain.

My lack of nutritional knowledge and tendency to be swayed by everything new led me to some ridiculous places. I went through phases of; no carbs, no fat, Atkins, and more, in my futile attempts to live up to the body ideals that were shoved in my face everywhere I looked.

The more I tried to find out what worked the more overwhelmed I became.

I felt as if the more I tried to immerse myself in the fitness industry, the more my body confidence plummeted. I felt like I could never live up to what was expected of someone who works out and I was constantly reminded of my inadequacies wherever I turned.

Armed with the idea that if I could just get there everything would be alright, I continued with my goal to build the body like the guys in the fitness magazines and continued to jump from one false promise of sure results to another, until I decided enough was enough.

Sick to death of spinning my wheels, finished with university and with a passion for fitness that was only growing, I decide to enrol on a personal training course.

I knew if I could continue to learn about fitness and nutrition then there was a chance for me to, not only find out what really works but, to discover how I could begin to rebuild my body confidence too.

The present day

That was about 5-6 years ago, and in that time I’ve realised the inadequacies I felt were born from my perception of myself being poisoned by my dissatisfaction with my own body.

The reality was I never once lost friends because of the way I looked. In fact, I can’t remember a time I was judged or shamed…in short no one else cared what I looked like.

To them I was just me; their friend, brother, son, boyfriend, it just didn’t matter to them the way I thought it would, the way it does to me.

All of this is not to say I’m at the end of my journey, I’m not. I’ve still got some hurdles to get over and some thought patterns to breakdown but I have learnt a lot.

I‘ve learnt that:

  • I can be happy with how I look; I can accept myself and begin to like what I see in the mirror
  • I don’t have to, or need to care, what other people think…in fact I actively try to avoid it (easier said than done, I know)
  • I don’t need to struggle to live up to the unrealistic ideals sold to us
  • Regardless of how I may feel, all eyes are not one me. Being topless isn’t so nerve racking
  • I am in control of how I look. I have the direct ability to change how I look if I wish too

I feel like I’ve turned a corner, I’m not at the end of my journey yet but I’m drawing closer every day.

I’ve come to accept and love myself as I am (most of the time) and I know, truly know that I don’t need to look like the photos I see in magazines and on social media. The biggest shift is knowing that I don’t want to look like these photos either. I am me and not them, I can only better myself, not become them and this is ok, in fact, this is awesome.

The truth is this…

Do I want to have bigger muscles? Yes.

Do I want to be leaner? Yes.

The difference is, now I am changing my body to fit my ideal not anyone else’s.

The little voice within me is saying that some of you will think that’s because I can’t get there and I’m trying to ignore this.

I now realise that I’m in control of how I look and although I’m not where I want to be, I now know how to get there.

I am on this wonderful journey that is completely unique to me and I’m learning to love each day of it.

Thank you for listening.