It was a brisk Brooklyn night. October had just stumbled into November, and cuddle season sneakily crept up on my ex-boyfriend Brian* and me. We were tucked away under his bedsheets in his bedroom, my safe place. I was in heaven.
What Brian was about to say, though, wouldn't only forever change the way I felt about being in his bed. It'd forever change the way I feel about myself.
“What do we have here?" he said, caressing the backs of my calves with his big, strong hands.
“What do you mean?” I said, wide-eyed as a little girl on Christmas, bracing myself for his hand to make its way up to my lady parts.
"This." He slapped my hamstrings, then gripped them so hard I almost yelped. "You could definitely tighten these up a bit."
My body went from generating heat to growing completely cold. I was flushed.
"I don't know. I think they're fine," I said, sinking deeper and deeper into the covers.
“What kills me is you're so close,” he continued. The man wouldn't stop incriminating himself. “You're nearly there. If you just worked out a little more…spend a day with me. I can transform you."
In an attempt to not succumb to my vulnerability -- and instead fight back with wit -- I grabbed at the thin layer of flesh on his thigh, hoping to make a look-you-have-fat-too!-point. But the truth was, he hardly had any fat on his leg, so I just looked stupid.
Did I forget to mention Brian is a certified personal trainer? Yeah. Hearing put-downs from the perfect piece of man meat lying next to me wasn't exactly how I envisioned that particular night going. Had I missed something? Why did I need to be "transformed?"
Dating Brian was great when it was good. But when it was bad, it was awful. See, as with anything in life, there are pros and cons to dating a personal trainer. Good sex in the bedroom, beautiful man candy on your arm and having a boyfriend who's skilled in manual labor are just some of the pros. He'd assemble pieces of furniture for me, so I'd overlook his general douchebaggery.
But the cons were some of the biggest points of contention in our relationship. He had this insatiable affinity for the gym -- both for feeling his best, but also for looking his best -- while I was never too crazy about it (except to meet dudes).
He was more-or-less obsessed with maintaining his all-around perfect body. No, I don't think you get it. When I say he's perfect everywhere, I mean everywhere -- as in an advertisement agency once wrapped his penis in clay to use as a dildo model.
But I digress. Take a look for yourself.
He'd often send me "inspirational" photos, like ones of this famous Instagram model (whom I still follow religiously). He'd peg me as the laziest, flabbiest, most undetermined human on the planet, and I'd nod in acquiescence, like a bobblehead doll incapable of independent thinking.
I've never been uber confident about my body. Like any girl who's ever existed, I have insecurities. One day in the life of Sheena could mean feeling fantabulous in my A-line mini, but another day could mean a refusal to leave my apartment because the pair of jeans I'm wearing make me feel too fat to be seen by the world. I am what they in the body biz call "skinny fat."
Once upon a time, though, I was satisfied with my body. That was a time before Brian. It's true, I'm a size small in nearly every clothing store, and by numerical standards, I am not actually fat. But these days, I'm unhappy with my body. And I'm unhappy because I met Brian.
I used to look at this picture and think, "that's a nice-looking girl." When I look at it now, I see the six-pack I don't have. I see a nonexistent thigh gap. And I don't see the sculpted-to-a-T arms I worship on Women's Health magazine covers. I see small tits and tree-trunk thighs, which I voluntarily opted out of showing you because, according to good ol' Brian's standards, them thighs aren't as toned as they "should" be.
At the time we were dating, I didn't take his remarks to be demeaning. I took them as constructive criticism. I wanted them to uplift me, make me want to strive to be better, not just when it came to looks, but also when it came to other facets of life. I figured that maybe, if I had a gym regimen to stick to, I wouldn't be haphazard in things of great significance, like starting work projects and balancing my friendships.
Bettering myself meant going to the gym. And so I went, creating a sort of obsession of my own out of it. I wasn't going to feel good or look good for myself; I was going to look good for him.
In order to build muscle, though, I needed to lose fat. So in conjunction with working out, I started eating less and less. This is what I looked like when I started dating Brian:
And this is what I looked like after our relationship ran its course:
My arms got skinnier, my tree-trunk thighs got smaller, and I lost 15 pounds.
Brian's unwillingness to take me as I was -- the jiggly butt, thick-thighed, trim-but-not-toned me -- broke me.
There's something about a man telling you you aren't good enough that sticks with you long after the man is gone (as if there weren't enough pressure on women, from women, to look a certain way). Being with him roused something in me, something I wish had stayed sound asleep: my insecurities. It confirmed that those trivial imperfections on my body weren't trivial at all. They were worth changing. He made me feel like I wasn't good enough, and that I'd never be good enough. I still don't feel like I'm good enough.
I used to consider myself a solid eight. Now, I need a bottle of wine in me and a barrage of compliments just to feel like a 6.5. And the funny part is, I don't even know what my definition of "good enough" is.
Dating a personal trainer changed my life. It completely f*cked me up. It separated me from my body, and it turned me into sort of a dating recluse. I struggle with trusting men, and I struggle with accepting I can't fight the natural development of my figure. I'm still trying to get back on track.
These days, I “take care” of myself (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean) as best I can. I eat healthily. I exercise regularly. I move forward from my verbally destructive relationship with each passing day, as much as I still carry around my personal piece of hell.
But I also try to remember that no one is "perfect": not even my chiseled, Ken doll ex, because what he possessed in body confidence, he severely lacked in character.
Oh, and incase you were wondering, I make it a point not to date personal trainers anymore. Or assh*les.
*Name has been changed.