The phrase “skinny little shit” comes to mind when I think of my elementary and secondary school years. That was the insult I dreaded most. No other phrase made me feel more exposed, vulnerable and helpless. It was a cutting reminder that not only was I not able to defend myself against senseless physical attacks from cruel, freewheeling bullies; but I that didn’t have the body-type that girls were attracted to either. I felt trapped in what I thought were completely bullshit and unfair circumstances. What good was I?

Imagine it.

Every morning I’d hope to wake up, look in the mirror, and discover that I’d miraculously filled out. And every morning would be the same: disappointment. Still skinny. Still a skinny little shit. Then I’d endure a surge of spine-tingling terror upon boarding the school bus. As it rode towards my daily 8-3 internment facility, I’d wonder:

Was this gonna be another day of being body-slammed into the pavement by some asshole prowling for an easy target? Was this gonna be another day of being giggled-at by some heartless chicks who think I have chicken arms?

Science tells us we learn through repetition.

Having these fears and many, many more like them on a near-constant repeat in my mind, they became my world. That’s when a dark and deep depression set in. One that lasted throughout my entire 20’s.

The thought that I was never going to be desirable or seen “as a man”, trivial it might seem, had much to do with that. Much descended from that. Reams and reams of various performance anxieties, chronic troubles keeping relationships together, falling grades in university, inability to keep a job, and an acute fear of being out in public (at the height of which I sequestered myself in a room for the better part of a year). I was having a hard time building a stable and healthy identity because I felt like a deeply abject, thin bag of flesh.

Body-shaming is a gender-universal experience. It affects BOTH men and women, neither more so or deeper so than the other. It’s gravely important to keep an open, inclusive dialogue about it’s causes.

My image of myself was shaped, in a large degree, by the humiliating words directed to it, and by the unfavourable comparisons I made to it (that I felt pressured into making). The shame of being a slender, “unmanly” figure developed into a dirty secret. I was always painfully self-conscious going to the beach, at pool parties, in change rooms, in intimate situations – even in public places wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Though I’d try to act like I wasn’t bothered by my shape, I was.

But here’s something I learned: admitting the truth is not only freeing, it’s empowering. When I admitted to myself that I was deeply embarrassed of my body weight, I realized I didn’t have to feel that way. My reasons for feeling that way weren’t in accord with how I pictured a thoughtful, intelligent, and fundamentally empathic person would think. And that’s the person I aim to be.

These shaming-thoughts turned out to be, in essence, incredibly useless. Cruel takedowns that accomplished nothing other than to induce social withdrawal and self-loathing in me.

What the hell is the point of that?

And that’s when I realized that I could be doing much better things with my heart and mind. Things that induce joy or happiness in me, as well as in others. Those formative forces that filled me with shame were, to put it bluntly, full of shit. They spoke nothing of worth or value. Suddenly there was no reason to listen to them. They were laughable noise.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with body-shaming issues. I do. But I know now how to listen, and what to listen to.

That’s autonomy.