Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

True confession time.  I have a love/hate relationship with my body.

I know that I work pretty hard to stay in shape and eat healthily, but the interesting question is "Why?".  Officially, I lift weights because it is a good healthy practice, and muscle burns more calories at rest.  In truth, weight lifting promotes muscle growth, which can look pretty excellent.  Officially, I perform vigorous cardiovascular exercise because strengthens the heart.  Unofficially, I do it because it helps balance out every (or most every) mindless eating indulgence and thereby keep me thin(ish).  So there you have it.  One of the reasons I try to live on the healthy path is so I can, as they say, look good naked.  If I can simultaneously be super healthy with improved prospects for a long life, it's a definite win-win.  Right?

Sometimes when I see my birthday-suit self in the mirror, I'm pretty OK with what I see. Mostly, that's the case when the light is dim, and I haven't eaten in hours.  I also think I look OK when I'm lying on my back -- gravity is amazing at creating a flat stomach.  However, I would say that most of the time when I look at my body, my reaction is either 1) "My body is weird" or 2) "Criminey, I suck".  I see all of my imperfections on display, and I can tell you where every single pocket of fat is not-so-effectively hiding.  In fact, most of the time when I look at a mirror, I'm pretty much only seeing the imperfections.  Throw some grey hair on top of my head, and the guy who's looking back at me from the mirror is some middle-aged guy.  And I don't think I like looking at him very much.

Fortunately, most of these mirror reactions are fairly split second, and they dissipate pretty rapidly.  Also fortunate is the fact that I intellectually recognize that I'm an idiot.  In a rational and self-reflective moment, I realize that I look comparatively just fine, and the degree of scrutiny that I put on myself is unmatched by any other human being in the known universe put on me.  All of the little imperfections that I see go unnoticed either because a) most people could really care less what I look like and b) I wear clothes.  Yet, like so many others, I choose to subject myself to the bright fluorescent naked torture light of doom.

What to do?  The best place to start is a useful scapegoat -- I blame part of my body image problems on people who illustrate comic books and cartoons.  Most human bodies do not look like the ones found on Aquaman, Batman, Superman or any of those other goons from the Hall of Justice.  Perfectly etched abdominals and excellent muscle separation combined with unnatural chest-to-waist ratios don't really exist without the benefit of an airbrush pen.  They certainly are not found on many mid-40's guys, no matter how well-intentioned they are.  Yet, I am convinced that they have somehow become the subconscious norm that have ultimately found their ways to the covers of upstanding periodicals such as Men's Health.  Just like our female friends, we guys are now subject to ridiculous body image comparisons.

The real one may have a gut, but I wouldn't want to try outrunning him...
In truth, most bodies are kind of funny looking.  We humans are a widely varied bunch, and we come in lots of shapes, sizes and body-types.  To put a finer point on it, I was recently thinking about the most manly of all primates, the gorilla.  I did a Google image search of gorilla photos vs. gorilla cartoons.  the results were pretty telling.  One is a so-called idealized image, fully equipped with finely tuned musculature, and the other is a real, living and breathing animal.  The real one, by the way, is in pretty good shape.  Of course gorillas don't sit around cross-legged and look sadly at their protruding bellies.  They are too much alpha members of the jungle for that kind of nonsense.  This is a human failing -- or at least one of mine.

So what to make of this?

  1. It seems that women no longer have the monopoly on applying a harsh self-critique in front of the mirror.  I suspect that many more men than just me indulge in exactly the same nasty exercise.  
  2. I would guess that my tendency to do this can be traced all the way back to my childhood underneath some nasty rock that should never have been kicked over.  Simply telling myself "just don't beat yourself up every time you look in the mirror" is probably not totally practical advice in that I will inevitably still keep doing it.  
  3. I should periodically remind myself that I am, in fact, an idiot, and that I look just fine.  There are terrible things happening all over our planet.  There must be something more constructive for me to worry about.  
  4. Probably none of the guys who wrote all of those old comic books even vaguely resembled the pictures that they drew -- that's why they drew them that way.  
  5. I should give myself a little bit of a break for being prone to superficial impulses.  
  6. While I should work to aspire to letting go of my body image mishigas, I should also recognize that being less obsessed with it is not a great reason to run out and eat a refrigerator full of Chubby Hubby ice cream.  
The part I struggle with more is this:  my desire to look good "bare" is one of the reasons I stay on plan.  Is indulging my vanity and self-image wants an evil that is useful for keeping me healthy?  When I write it out, the answer is clearly (or should be) "no".  The problem is that it's easy to be self-reflective and thoughtful in a blog.  It's hard to do in real life.    

Then again, maybe I'm over-thinking it all.  I do that.  




  1. As always, this is a great post and I LOVE the new picture. You're doing great! :)

  2. Having lost so much weight, I have so many areas that need repair: the batwing arms, the whole bakery muffin-midriff, the mom-pooch-oh-wait-I've-never-had-kids! look. I want so badly to be rid of them because to me they are reminders of the person I was then....

    I'm torn between that and seeing them as precious battle scars... knowing that I've won the battle and I keep fighting the war.

    Vanity or pride. Not sure if either is a good option.

  3. Trying to combat negativity with.... negativity? Trying to stop yourself from thinking you look "weird" by telling yourself you are an "idiot" may not be the best remedy for self loathing.

    As girlie as it may sound, the road to self acceptance is I believe, being nice to yourself. Those small things, like jokingly calling yourself an idiot, may not be so small in the sum of all of the other little jokey negative things you think about yourself.

    Maybe try for one day only to be positive. For every negative, try and think of a positive of it...long-term, that may give you better health overall!

  4. I'd say you are in a uniquely difficult situation because as the CEO of Weight Watchers, your body is a testament to the value of your company's offering and your ability to lead it properly. It's difficult enough to deal with normal body anxiety without that pressure on top of it.

    While your situation is unique, the issue applies to us all: physical appearance affects everybody's ability to be employed.

    I find going to the gym (the right kind of gym, like the YMCA, not your local weightlifting joint) to help me normalize my body image. I'm in my mid 40s and have lost over a hundred lbs (thanks, Weight Watchers!).

    Like nettiemac, I've got the proof! But when I see all the other people at the gym, in all shapes and sizes, young and old, I realize that there's room in the world for me, too, and I'm just fine. I'd love it if my arms were less droopy when I do kickboxing or my belly didn't hang when I do downdog, but I love even more that I'm doing it.

  5. Mr K, I can't tell you how much I love your blog. I love how you admit how human you are. It's amazing for anyone to do, but the fact that you're the CEO of WW and, well, a man, makes it even more incredible. You made some very good points about the scrutiny we subject ourselves to, and these are all things I've (and probably most of us out here) have done and thought about ourselves at some point. I still work on body image and acceptance. I'm better at it but think it will always be a little challenging considering my history.

    Finally, I have only one thing to dispute, and I'm sure you realize this: You are not an idiot. You're awesome.

  6. As a leader at the Cleveland Clinic I can't tell you how many of my members -Especally the MEN in my groups---LOVED this post!! You are reaching your consumer with your raw -gritty-honesty and your funny too. Oh and the CEO. :) BRAVO!

  7. I love that you as the CEO of WW admits that you have everyday struggles with food/weight/body image.
    I have now have hope that I am not wasting my $18 a month on WW.com (there are a lot of homeless krispy kreme doughnuts out there that I could get with that money)

  8. I love your blog - your sincere honesty and humaness is always awesome. I am right there with you with all the points you made about your body and feel the same way. I am a female lifetime WW member and struggle with all you wrote too. Maybe the positive side is that we will stay on plan and continue to never give up! Keep going, you're doing a great job as always!

  9. Love your blog. WW is really popular here in NZ and as someone who's been on it, I'm passionate about helping people stay fit and healthy. I've sent you an email. I'm in the US next month and would love to share with you a Health Startup I'm involved in.
    Siobhan, New Zealand

  10. Once upon a time, I told my therapist that every time I looked at myself in the mirror, I hated myself. She asked, "Is it necessary to look in the mirror as often as you do? What would happen if you just look in the mirror long enough to make sure your clothes/hair are in order, and stop the analysis there?"

    At first I thought that this was a cop-out, just avoiding the problem. But you know ... when I stopped looking in the mirror with a long, critical eye, hating myself, I found I started to actually feel better about myself -- not because I was losing weight or anything, but simply because I was no longer sending myself constant "I hate you" messages.

    I've lost 90 pounds with WW, and have 40 to go until goal weight. People tell me I look great all the time, but I've found myself sometimes slipping back into old habits and looking the mirror with a critical eye. When I catch myself, I say, "Stop. This is not necessary or productive."

    If you need to look at something, look at your before and now pictures. Even if you are not yet where you want to be, it is important to remember how far you have come. Celebrate the positive, and love yourself.

  11. Dave, I agree with Caron TOTALLY!

  12. I think you look great!

  13. In the words of Jeff Spicoli" "Awesome, totally awesome!!"

  14. How come you never feature men in your Weight Watchers magazine?

  15. We are, as they say, our own worst enemies. I like the idea of countering every negative thought with a positive, but it can be tiring, and feel forced. I think we need to learn to hear ourselves say what we would tell a friend who made such a critical remark about themselves...again, easy to do on a blog, hard to do when it is just you and the mirror. Thanks for keeping it real.

  16. Dave love your new 'after' picture and I can especially relate to number 6.

    Also I find what I see through my eyes and what others see when they look at me usually doesn't match up (I perceive myself as being physically unfit/out of shape while others think otherwise).

    FYI Not that it matters but in case you are wondering I would think most people find you to be a handsome guy :-)

  17. I can relate to everything you said...my leader tries to push that we should be on plan for just the health benefits alone, which I think is unrealistic, and doesn't even coincide with how Weight Watchers really is promoting the program, what with the emphasis on how hot Jennifer Hudson looks. I'm pretty sure the entire room of mostly 30-something women in our At Work group sits there thinking, "I just want to look sexy again." I'm feel this way, too, at 31. I can't help but remember how I felt 10 years ago and how confident and good I felt with myself...if health is a side benefit that's cool, but it's not the reason I am doing this. I can admit it.

    I also just want to say that you shouldn't dismiss yourself as being less good-looking as a middle-aged man. Many people think men get better looking with age, and in your case, I totally agree (not in a creepy way!). :)