So Why Not Share A Picture Of My New, More-Muscled Body?

“When I get to a year in the gym, I’m gonna take a picture of me shirtless and post it for the world,” I said.

That thought kept me going some days. Because if you’re a fat kid, particularly a guy, you understand the shame of going shirtless – days at the pool where you wore a shirt “because you didn’t want to get sunburned,” summer nights out where you sweated your pits through because revealing those man-tits could expose you to ridicule.

Some day, I thought when I was bulling my way through just one more set of weights, I’ll post a picture of me and my abs.

Yet as the day got closer, the urge faded.

Part of it was because, as I described yesterday, all the photos I was taking of myself felt like vanity. If I compared the shirtless photo I took today to the one I took a month ago, was there really a difference? Was I just endlessly focusing on a body that was mostly the same, requiring my lovers to stroke my ego?

(Judging from the way some of my flirtations stopped responding to the photos, I’m pretty sure I was. Or maybe they just got busy. We read our own stories into the gaps, and not all of them are accurate.)

Then there was the impact, man. I only got to reveal my New Shirtless Self once, after which it became, you know, just who Ferrett is. (Kind of like a debut novel gets all the PR, after which it’s a struggle to get the same heat on for, say, a follow-up novel.)

And when I took pictures of me, I didn’t really feel my bathroom selfies reflected the changes. The strong ripples of my lats looked like smudges; the framing of my abdomen could have been a stray shadow. And as usual, the man-tits consumed all.

The improvements were there, but I wasn’t capturing them, and while I love my wife you don’t want her to take pictures.

Maybe I should hire a professional to take shots of me?

Wait, isn’t that more ego?

And if I was going to hire a pro, shouldn’t I wait until I had, you know, the body I was aiming for instead of chronicling this soft waypoint?

Which was weird, because I’ll tell women, “Hey, you’re attractive, just own it.” And I know damn well there’s plenty of women who actually want dudes with a bit of belly to them, that the dad-bod fetish is very real. It’s not like who I am is entirely unattractive, and if someone finds my meat-sack repulsive, well, fuck ’em, I worked hard to get here.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I spiraled into this weird cycle where it felt too egotistic to get the photo I wanted, yet if I was going to be that egotistic then I should represent more fitness than I was, and what the hell was I doing?

But the truth is, if I’m gonna eventually show some skin, I do want it to be more than “Ferrett snapping shots in the bathroom.” I want someone good with photos to take a picture that kind of shows who I am, as opposed to me dorking around. Because if I’m going to expose myself to ridicule – because I know dragging my mild audience around, I’ll get a few folks sneering that yeah, this isn’t anything to brag about – then I at least want it to be for the proper reasons.

And it’s weird, because honestly, I promote body positivity. But I think one of the things that confuses the Internet is that everyone falls short of the ideals they promote from time to time. You have good intentions, but that assumption that good intentions invariably get spun into good outcomes is, well, a little simplistic.

If I was as good as I claimed, I’d probably have posted a shot already, wouldn’t need the rigamarole to get this party started. But I do. And if that’s what I need, well, eventually I’ll find someone I trust to take the kinds of photos that showcase me in the way I want to be showcased.

So I’m skinnier. I’m healthier. I have baby abs, and baby lats. And eventually I’ll show you, but I wanna show it to you in a way that feels like it looks normally, not the imperfect chemistry of squirming around trying to selfie a torso.

The process is imperfect. Like me, physically and mentally. But that’s okay. Like everything else, I’ll get there. Eventually.

A Year And A Week Of Personal Training

About a year ago, our daughter revealed she was having nightmares about our funerals.  We were out of shape, and didn’t seem to be doing much to fix that; we’d both had heart problems.  She was panicking, because she was going to lose her beloved Mom and stepdad, and they were old and set in their ways.

“I mean, I’d go to the gym, except I don’t know what I’m doing.  And your Mom needs a cheerleading section, and I’m not that.” 

“So get a personal trainer?” she suggested. 

“We’re not rich, sweetie,” I told her.  “I can’t afford a personal trainer.” 

“I did.” 


“I got one.  To help me out during a rough patch.”  

I pondered.  When I was growing up, hiring a personal trainer was something only the richest of the rich did.  But apparently, according to my daughter, personal trainers were kind of ubiquitous now, like Uber drivers.  You could get them at affordable rates.  

“Lemme look into it,” I said. 


“Hi,” I said.  “I need a personal trainer who can train both my wife and I simultaneously.” 

“We do separate appointments,” they told me.

“No, that won’t work, because then we’ll skip out.  Gini and I have to do it together, so we’ll guilt each other into going.” 

“Well… maybe we could accommodate that, for a fee – ”

“Oh, and we’re both heart patients.” 


But we finally did find one place – Fitness Evolution – that agreed to take us on.  It was not a comfortable place – it had that gym atmosphere, people in shorts who were way more muscular than I was, people discussing supplements, folks who moved with a practiced grace between complex pieces of equipment. 

I remember saying to Gini, “I know you wanted to sign up for a month, but we have to do three months.  That’s long enough to make a life change.”

“It’s expensive.” 

“And if it saves our lives?”  

She sighed.  “…okay.”

But signing up for three months felt like joining the army – a stint that would last forever.


The first day, my trainer called the other trainer over for a consultation. 

“Look how he stands,” she whispered in horror.  I didn’t understand what she meant, but now I do – my feet were splayed out, my spine hunched, my knees locked.  “We have to work on that.”  

Instead of working out on my first day, she rushed me in back like I was a cardiac patient and began squeezing me into position, a painful process I was then aware was called “body work.”  

I failed standing, I thought.  On my first day.  But at least this can’t get any worse. 

After the body work was over, she had me do some stretches.  Then she called the other trainer over again. 

“Look at how he breathes,” she whispered, and I realize that yes, things could get worse. 


The trainers were cruel in odd ways. I thought they’d push me until I either wept, or threw up, or both.  But they told me to work until I was unable to maintain the proper positioning, then stop – which was useful, as before I’d work out until my muscles absolutely failed.  

They were cruel because they never hit me where I expected it. 

I had good biceps, and great quads, so of course they avoided those.  Instead, they focused on tiny muscles I never knew I had – the muscles between my shoulderblades.  The muscles anchoring my hips to my legs.  The muscles in the arches of my feet.  

It wasn’t strength training, it was rehabilitative training.  “You can’t lift weights yet,” they said.  “You’d hurt yourself.  We gotta get your core up.”  

I wanted Wolverine-buff abs, and here they were working on the range of motion of my shoulders.  Parts of me ached that I didn’t know could ache.  “I didn’t have these muscles before you got here!” I cried, complaining about these mysterious “lats” they’d discovered.  “And I’m never gonna use ’em!”  

“We’ll see,” they said.


“You’re taller,” people said, repeatedly.  Which was true.  After a few months, all those tiny exercises had pulled me into position, hoisted my spine tighter, got my legs aligned.  I’d gained two inches.  

But I had to keep shuffling my feet to do it.  It wasn’t natural.  I’d stand slumped, then remember to put weight on my heels.  I’d breathe in to the bottom of my lungs.  

Everything was in flux.  

But the compliments got us to sign up for another three months.  


“You must feel great,” people told me, and no, I didn’t.  Despite my daughter’s fears, I was healthy enough for my previous lifestyle – I could walk the dog around the block twice a day, lift furniture when I had to.  My cardiologist thought I was in fine shape.  

Now I ached all the time, because I was forever recovering from yesterday.  My body was nothing but twinges.  

For some reason, I thought if you worked out, you’d get to a plateau where you’d just coast on your old fitness – where it didn’t burn or hurt.  But no.  They just make it harder, all the time, so you’re always a little sore the next day.  

The trick, I learned, was just getting used to being forever uncomfortable.  


Going to the gym three times a week was weird, because I’d never been a gym guy.  I crept around the space like a spy, never sure what to do with these barbells, keeping a wary distance from these healthy folks with their bulging muscles.  

I looked as gangly as I felt.  

I made Rachel, my trainer, get all the equipment for me, because I was afraid to touch it.  Not that I’d break it, but… I wasn’t qualified to work gym equipment. I’d probably screw something up.

But going three times a week became a rhythm to my life.  I got to know the regulars – not like buddies, but in that sense that I knew the other dog-owners in their neighborhoods.  I have no idea whether the guy who owns the white Samoyed votes Republican or is married, but I do know he walks that beautiful dog twice a day because she needs a lot of activity. 

Likewise, I came to know the diets and weak spots of the folks around me, learned which ones bore down and which ones whined (I was a whiner), which ones liked the band exercises and which ones wanted stretches.

(Not squats.  Everybody hates squats.)  

Eventually, I felt the anxiety dissipate as this became part of my routine.  I knew how to set the machinery to work for me, fathomed which exercises activated which muscles.  

And one day, Gini called in sick.  “Go without me,” she said.  And so, solo, I went to train with Rachel. 

“I’m surprised you made it,” she said pleasantly.  “I thought if Gini took a day off, you’d take the excuse.” 

And I thought of my social anxiety, how I’d hate sweating in front of strangers. All my former terror.  Then I pondered thought of how I’d gained a foothold here – yes, there were still people I didn’t know showing up, but this was in part my space and I didn’t feel nearly as foolish clomping about.

“I would have a few months ago,” I admitted.  “But now things are different.”  

“Attaboy.  Let’s get to work.”  


My lovers noted my body’s changing.  I didn’t quite have a six-pack, but I’d acquired enough definition that I looked like a guy working towards a six-pack.  Sometimes, in bed, they’d frown and ponder the difference. 

I even got the “You’re still gonna love me, even though I’m the same, right?” a few times.  

I became more willing to send out photos of my body, and then less.  Because eventually, it felt vain, continually sending variants on the same shirtless pose, the one that kinda-showed off my lats.  And I wondered if my sweeties were thinking, “Oh, God, it looks the same as the last one.”  

Because this had never been about quick change.  This is stop-motion change, little alterations that pile up over time, so incremental you question their existence until you run into someone you hadn’t seen in a while.  “Your arms,” a friend stammered.  “They’re really… yeah.” 

They weren’t really yeah, but they were definitely more yeah than they’d been when I’d last shaken hands with him a year ago.

This was a slow journey to yeah.  


It’s a year now, and I look back at old photographs of me, slumping forward.  I literally don’t know how I stood like that.  

Because in the last few months, it’s not only my spine that holds me up, but my belly.  If I relax, I can feel my lats and obliques tugging me into place.  I joked with Rachel that those muscles hadn’t existed before she made me work them, but the truth is they’d been dormant – now they’re awake, and actively participating in my body, which is a bit unsettling at times.

Because that means I didn’t know my body at all before.  Which I should have; I lived in that fucker for forty-eight years.  But now I’m being shown new things that it can do, baseline functions I’d somehow functioned without, and if that’s the case then what do I really know?  

Rachel smirks sometimes.  I think she knows.  But she can’t tell me until my body knows first.  


Last thing:  “Let’s do the inverted pull-up,” she said. 

The inverted pull-up consisted of stepping on a bench, grabbing the bar, and seeing how slowly I could lower myself to the ground.  

The answer: I plunged straight down.  My arms sucked.  

But after a bit, I began to lower myself slowly – all my muscles working in conjunction.  This was a combo platter of lats and biceps and triceps and stomach muscles.  

And I realized: After a year, we were working up to pull-ups.  We were finally getting around to actual weightlifting, because I’d gotten there.  

It had been a year, and I had become somewhat of a gym rat.  I can’t say that I’d crave this if we couldn’t afford it any more.  But I can say that I don’t mind it any more, which is a huge change in and of itself.  

We signed up for another year – a whole year’s commitment at once, which helped lower the price.  And frankly, if that lets us live another couple of years, well, think of it as paying rent on our bodies.  

I’m more fit than I need to be, probably.  I am way overqualified to walk the dog.  And truth is, outside the gym, I don’t have much need for pull-ups or bench-press strength.

But my daughter doesn’t have nightmares any more.  More important, I think she feels that we’ll listen to her if it’s important enough.

Old dog, new tricks.  

Let’s see what the next year brings. 

It’s Not My Job To Fix Your Insecurity.

At this point, I can tell whether it’s going to work out with a new lover based on how they phrase their concerns. If it’s “That made me feel insecure,” well, we’ve got a good foundation to work on.

If it’s “You made me feel insecure,” we’re probably doomed.

Because polyamory is filled with so many kinds of insecurities, it’s hard to avoid them unless you’re either preternaturally self-confident or so detached from your partners that you’re stepping into psychopath town – and that’s not most folks. Most polyamorous relationships have that little sting of concern to them: that fear whether you’ll still be desired in the same way when they come back from a new date. That discomfort when you discover that thing you thought was Your Ritual turns out to be something they do with everybody. That hesitation as you wonder whether that’s harmless flirting or something deeper forming, and should they have told you if it’s getting serious?

But let’s be honest here: As much as I’d like to be Fix-It Felix, darting around with my golden hammer to whack away your insecurities, I’ve discovered that doesn’t work.

You gotta own your own insecurities for polyamory to work.

Because there’s a subtle difference between “That made me feel insecure” and “You made me feel insecure.” “You made me feel insecure” implies that:

a) I did something wrong, and;
b) If I just fine-tuned my behavior properly, you wouldn’t feel insecure.

But the truth is, in polyamory, quite often someone did nothing wrong to trigger someone’s insecurity! Sometimes what I perceived as heavy flirting was just, you know, how they talk to people at parties. (I’ve got a couple of Italian friends who touch my knee and lean in close all the damn time, and I have to remind myself, “Nope, that’s just how Angela is.”) Sometimes that emotional valence you’ve attached to “Watching The Crown together” is so internalized that you’d never bothered to discuss it, and so your partner had no way of knowing that introducing Ian to this show you love felt like a betrayal.

And sometimes, insecurities trigger even when people are acting within the proper boundaries. Like I said, I’ve told my partners “Absolutely, go on dates!” But they go, and I feel like a forlorn dog looking out the window as their owner leaves for work, convinced ZOMG THEY’RE NEVER COMING BACK.

In that case, the person didn’t make me feel insecure. The situation did. Saying “You” made me feel insecure is an avalanche of tiny assumptions that usually add up to “If you just acted better, I wouldn’t feel this way.”

And I’m sorry. That’s not true. Because as someone who’s struggled with lifelong anxiety, I can tell you that my wife and my lovers have often been beautifully supportive to me, and I still questioned my own worth. Implying, even with the subtleness of a single word, that somehow they inflicted this upon me consciously, would be doing a great disservice to the immense love they felt for me.

Sometimes, I have to look around and ask, “So is this something I should fix, or is this a discomfort I should learn to accept as a part of this relationship?” And more often than not – for me, as someone prone to depression and anxiety – I discover that a lot of what’s making me uncomfortable is, well, me. Specifically, the fact that I can’t ever really believe that anyone would voluntarily stay with a mess like me.

They didn’t make me feel insecure. I had insecurities, and a situation jabbed into those insecurities.

I was a participant in my own hurt, whether I intended to be or not – and if I can hurt myself without meaning to, isn’t it possible that they can hurt me without meaning to either?

But even more:

I’ve found that the people who say “You made me feel insecure” are, more often than not, the last ones to break up.

Now, this isn’t as guaranteed a bond, but… when people say “You made me feel insecure,” that puts the onus on me to get better so the insecurity goes away. If I tell them I mean well, then they’ll stay no matter how mismatched we are, because to them, if I made them feel insecure, and I didn’t mean to, then clearly it’s a question of refining my behavior.

And in my experience, that means they’ll continually hammer away on me, enduring all the hurt that they believe I do to them, and because it’s entirely about fixing me, they never ask about themselves.

Whereas the people who’ve said, “That made me feel insecure” distance their discomfort from my intentions. It doesn’t matter whether I meant to make them insecure by not texting them “Goodnight” before I went to bed – it’s something they need to function in a long-distance relationship, and I’m not providing it. And what ultimately matters for them is not my intent – because maybe I’m forgetful, or maybe I just fall asleep without warning – but, rather, that my actions are insufficient for what they require to maintain happiness.

You might think it’d be easier to break up if you believe someone made you insecure – but then you get their actions entangled with their intent, which usually leads to an endless series of second chances and resentment.

Whereas what I’ve found is that people who separate those issues are more clinical. Maybe I didn’t intend to trigger someone’s insecurity by continuing to search for new partners after I started dating them – but they realize that I’m not making them insecure, it’s that for them, they need a polyamorous partner who’s not quite so tomcatty. And they’ll decide that regardless of how I intended to make them feel, the relationship we can actually have will make them miserable, and so…


This is generalized, of course. There are always exceptions. But looking back, for me, the exes I tend to be on the best terms with, and the relationships that turned out to be the most fulfilling even if they didn’t last, were the ones where people didn’t link their own discomfort exclusively with my actions. I certainly did things that made them uncomfortable – just as they did with me.

But in the end, it wasn’t up to me to make them feel secure. It was up to them to communicate their intentions clearly with me, to tell me what would or would not work with their own personal fears, and to decide whether I was someone who was ultimately good for them.

Because in my experience, when someone says “You made me feel insecure,” that all too often means that I’m at fault if the relationship doesn’t make them happy. And sometimes, broken relationships aren’t anyone’s fault. Human beings are complex, and sometimes you wind up in a situation where the only way you can stay together is for you both to lop off enough parts of your personality until you’re squatting in a narrow, bloodied circle of pure Lowest Common Denominator.

I’ve got some stellar exes. The way we interacted made me feel really insecure, and I couldn’t handle that. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people; just bad for me in a romantic relationship.

They couldn’t fix me. But I mean, hell, I’ve been trying to fix myself for almost forty-plus years now and still haven’t managed it, so how unfair would it be to think they could do it, y’know?