When we think about societal pressures of beauty, we often only think about women. And when there is mention that men struggle with their body image, too, many dismiss the subject entirely or turn the discussion into a battle of the sexes, debating about who has it harder. But ignoring the pain of our men as they suffer in silence thinking that no one else could possibly be going through what they go through is dangerous. And whether we want to believe it or not, Keon reveals a startling truth: men–yes, men of color, too!–suffer with eating disorders. And assuming that it is only a young, white girl problem is a grave mistake that can have fatal consequences.
Growing up, I was a very skinny kid until the age of 13. From then until 20, I was really hefty–around 223 pounds. I didn’t know I was that big until I saw people around me and I realized I didn’t look like anyone in the magazine or TV. I didn’t see myself as fat. I just realized that I couldn’t fit certain garments. So, I started working out and lost the weight. I went from 223 to 165 pounds.
When I lost the weight, I saw more acceptance from people I went to school with, even family members. People would compliment me, which made me more focused on what I looked like. I became obsessive about trying to stay a size 28, throwing up nearly two to three times a day. That’s when I realized I had an eating disorder.
During that time, I always felt like I was in a really dark place because it was my secret. And in order to keep it, I began to distance myself from everyone. I knew it was hurting me yet it was still something I struggled with it. For a long time, I just remember not being happy around people but didn’t know how to express it or what to say. And the fact that I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it made me even more upset and distant.
I became obsessive about trying to stay a size 28, throwing up nearly two to three times a day. That’s when I realized I had an eating disorder… I knew I needed help but didn’t know how to get it or who to go to.
I didn’t know anyone going through what I was, especially being a young black kid in Jamaica, Queens, so I struggled with it secretly, thinking I was the only one. I did know that eating disorders were real, but because the only shows on TV I saw that talked about it focused on young white women, it made me feel even more alienated. I knew I needed help but didn’t know how to get it or who to go to.
Eventually, my health declined when I really began to lost my battle with bulimia: my hair started thinning, I always felt faint, my skin was dry, and I began to look older and tired because I wasn’t getting the nutrients I needed. And then the unexpected happen.
One day, I was getting dressed in my walk-in closet when I suddenly blacked out. I didn’t wake up until several minutes later, covered in clothes and without a clue of where I was. As I passed out, I remember being afraid to die. At that point, the fear of no longer about being too skinny or gaining too much weight wasn’t my priority. After experiencing that, I focused on one thing and one thing only: being healthy.
It wasn’t easy. But I first started with changing my thinking and mentality about weight–and trying to discover what healthy meant to me. Instead of stopping myself from eating everything, I focused on eating in moderation. I also focused on understanding and changing my own perception of beauty and where I fit in it. I began to expand that to be more than just one type of physique that was really skinny.
Now, I consider myself to be beautiful…. I appreciate everything about myself: my skin, my personality, my sexuality. The things I once didn’t like about myself I’ve grown to see as unique features that make me special.
As I slowly made that transition, I was able to get out of that dark place as my ability to communicate with others improved. I found myself being more willing to be open with others and give in that way, which forced me to learn to appreciate myself and talk, instead of keeping everything buried within.
Now, at 30, I can’t say everything is perfect. I still have moments where I don’t like how I feel or my body might look. I still have those moments where I don’t like how I look or feel like I am bigger. But it isn’t something that I obsess over. No, I’m not super thin, but I am more comfortable in my skin and feel healthier than I’ve ever been, which is what really matters to me.
I didn’t feel this way for a long time, but now I would even consider myself to be beautiful. I feel I know myself a lot more than I did 2 to 5 years ago, and I’ve realized I’m a very happy person, which is major component of what I would consider to be beautiful.
I appreciate everything about myself: my skin, my personality, my sexuality. The things I once didn’t like about myself I’ve grown to see them as unique features that make me special, from the way my body moves to the facial expressions to the thickness of my nose. I’m still working on myself, but I like what I see. And it can only get better.