As long as I have memory of my body awareness, I remember having a critical relation with my physicality. I am sure it is a widely shared experience, as I grew up as a chubby kid throughout secondary and high school. I remember perfectly just hiding myself into over-sized tees and never taking off my t-shirt at the beach. I actually do not recall any single occasion in which I took a swim in public beaches/pools. Hindsight, I think my body was the perfect evidence of a much more psychological issue: of course I was avoiding my sexuality and my sexual orientation. It is not a coincidence that only at a later stage of my life, around 21, I started working out, losing alot of weight, changing slightly the way I was approaching myself and mostly others. I was gradually able to look at myself and not be ashamed of taking my clothes off. I perfectly remember the first time I was able to take my tee off at the beach and actually take a swim. I remember the feeling of freedom and at the same time, in my head, I was thinking that everyone there was judging me for who knows what. It felt so so weird.
I recall gaining a lot of confidence just before moving to London. I was actually quite sure that I would have been “successful” with gays once joining the London “gay community”. I sadly found out that even in one of the most populated gay capitals, body standards were quite high: not only gays were to be lean, but most importantly muscly, masculine and the “straight-out-of-a-porn-set” kind of type. I perfectly remember scrolling Grindr profiles and all those captions saying how many times a gay should go to the gym, how many packs your abdomen should have, how smooth and delicate your skin should be, and most importantly how masculine you should be. I guess that in those years, where my confidence was still pretty trembling and shaking, those captions really stuck to my mind. The consequence? Me hitting the gym every day, not eating, spending money (which I actually didn't have) on protein shakes, protein bars and a personal trainer. In my head, only with that “physique pictorial” I would have been considered a “good gay”. Social media, porn and gay press did not help much in realizing there are endless ways to be homosexual. I remember scrolling Grindr, Instagram and all the hook-up apps known to human kind, and I couldn't help but think “you are awful; you will never be like them; you will never be a good gay”. That’s when I actually starting having panic attacks at the gym. I started isolating myself from the gay environment as I just could not help but try to delete all the visual inputs that made me feel horrible. After a while I decided to meet-up with a stranger and that day really triggered what later would become a serious psychological issue: I went to his place, we started making out, he took off my tee and said “I think you should go home. I am not comfortable in having sex with fat people”. I basically froze: I was half naked in a stranger’s flat, a stranger who seemed to perfectly know what not to tell me, but he did. That weekend I closed myself in my room and called in sick at work for at least a couple of days. I remember my hunky flatmate laughing at that episode when I told him what happened, and that obviously made me feel like it could happen only to me, because those "perfect gays" would never experience something like that. I think it might be very hard for some people to understand my point of view, but for someone who grew up with zero self-confidence, and who connected physicality with self-worth, that was just a destroying situation. I entered probably the darkest moment of my life so far, in which I was simply convinced that I was never to find love and/or simply acceptance from my peers. I felt extremely lonely and extremely depressed.
It was only when my dearest friend decided to metaphorically slap me in the face that I decided to seek professional help. I started to see a therapist who explained to me what body dysmorphia is and how to tackle it. As we all know, therapy is not a quick fix and it takes an awful amount of time and effort to be able to even simply recognize those cyclic thoughts in your head. I am aware that, even after a year, these patterns of self-sabotage are not gone at all and they are there ready to submerge. I think it is just like the gym: it is not an immediate result, it is a matter of training and patience. Only in this way I was able to at least contain my negative thoughts. I am now at a stage in which I do not fully love and accept my body and I am still trying to shape it and change it, pushed by the mainstream gay physiques that we see every moment on Instagram. We criticize them, yet we all want to be them. I am also aware that my body is the result of my personal experience, therefore it will never be identical to someone else’s. It is, indeed, just a matter of acceptance, which is - of course - easier said than done.
Sexuality is a primordial impulse. There is no way of denying or repressing it without paying a physical/psychological toll. I realized soon enough that by not expressing my sexuality and my sexual needs, I suffer. Not only on a very biological point of view, but also on a psychological level, feeling attractive and sexy/sexual gives me pleasure. I discovered that by pleasing my sexual partners I grew more confident and more aware of my body and also my sexual likes/dislikes. I wouldn't say that expressing my sexuality is important, I’d say that it is vital in my case: it is a fundamental process for me to feel confident.
I feel very aggressive with the way I express my nudity in the sense that I have to push myself to post a “nude” or a sexy picture on Instagram. For instance, It took me quite a while to send my nudes to Risk when I saw they were accepting submissions. That’s why I say I have an aggressive approach to my nudity: I have to really convince myself to get out of my confront zone.
Being a very visual person, I really wish gay medias and gay social channels were more inclusive of different body shapes. Gay brands and gays magazines should be more “realistic” that the “porn-star body” is only a very small percentage of the reality. I understand perfectly that sex sells and gay models are indeed selling a fantasy, but for younger generations which are continuously bombarded with pictures on social media it might be hard to distinguish in between fantasy and reality - at least it was very hard for me. I hope that more and more “gay media” realize the responsibility we all have in portraying a realistic situation, in which six packs are ok, but not compulsory to be accepted as a gay male - within the “gay community”. I think it is extremely important to show that we are different and that is a strength rather than an handicap.
In the past I was terrified to be seen as “feminine”. Gays are ashamed enough not only to be gay, but also doing their best not to be seen as feminine, as this could “stain” their social credibility. I am now the opposite. I love to “shock” and show myself wearing female lingerie in order to make a point. Contrast to me is extremely beautiful and sexy. What I still hide to this day is my belly, because I still think that people do not care about a normal body. Let’s say that for me it is easier to shock than to try and conform, because I am terrified that who I am now, and how I look are not accepted at all by gays.
I grew very confident of two parts of myself: shoulders and body hair. I figured out that those were the two features of my body that actually attracted guys and turned them on. Therefore I started to appreciate them more to the point that now I simply love them. Mentally, I love the capacity I have to make people at ease. I realized how much of a pleaser in bed, and funny in public I am. I always say “I might not be sexy, but I am funny”. And that has become my mantra to try and really exploit my qualities.
There is nothing more exciting to me than contrast: I like my hairy wide shoulders in fishnets and thongs, for example. I like to be submissive and pleasing even though my appearance might suggest the contrary. I am also a HUGE fan of foreplay and teasing, much more than the actual climax of the sexual act. I like sweaty bodies rubbing against each other, sloppy and intense making out, smelling my sexual partner’s body and rimming - because rimming is that? Fundamental.
In A Risk Self Examination, Enrico Zanon talks with Risk Restricted. Photographed by @manelortega.
Model/Subject Enrico Zanon