Featured Writer: Marc Ridgell
Near the end of my senior year, I downloaded dating apps (sadly), and was amazed at the digital sexual cruising space that existed. As I went to an all-boys Catholic high school, I was not really exposed to this outside world, even though I knew that I would experience it sooner or later. Surfing these apps, anonymously, for fun in high school, I was elated to see that, when I finally entered college, I would have a romantic queer space to explore.
About two weeks before I moved into WashU, I went to my doctor for a physical, and he told me that I was borderline obese and that I needed to lose weight immediately (it would be a danger for my health if I did not make lifestyle changes). After that day, I started going to the gym eating more and eating nutrient-dense foods. I had zero idea what I was doing at first, but I knew that I felt a bit healthier. And if you feel healthy, that is all that should matter. But it was not that simple.
When I arrived at Washington University in St. Louis, I rejoined these dating apps. I knew that Grindr, particularly, was a toxic place, but I also knew that it would be more fun in college. At that point of joining Grindr again, I had lost about 10 pounds. Sadly, I received no attention on the app, and I received very minimal attention and matches on Tinder. I felt so upset and insecure, especially looking at the other gays on campus who I was in “competition” with. I wanted to look like them: I wanted to have minimal flaws about me, so that I could receive the amount of attention, respect, and desirability that I felt I deserved.
All throughout high school, I was secure in my Blackness, even though I knew that my Black and queer identities were marginalized by social and institutional structures. I used resilience to persist through the marginalization I dealt with in childhood. When I got to college, I never knew how much my Blackness accounted for my desirability status. My (darker-skinned) Blackness and overweight appearance positioned me at the bottom of the dating totem pole, and this positionality manifested in both my digital and real-life romantic experiences. After about a month of enjoying classes, participating in extracurriculars, and making new friends, I still felt somewhat alone. I knew that my romantic queer experiences were isolating and that many other college gay men had better encounters.
Before I went home for Thanksgiving, I had been eating healthier and going to the gym: I lost 25 pounds! Although I had made more progress, my other doctor was still not pleased. She notified me that I needed to lose more weight, as I was still in an unhealthy range. It was in that moment where I really started comparing myself to others, feeling self-conscious, and thinking that there was something truly wrong with me. During the period of late November to early January, I tried different dieting techniques and unhealthy eating habits, trying to lose as much weight as possible. Right before Christmas break ended, I took new photos and re-downloaded dating apps in my home city. It was crazy to see how much more attention I received from a 40-pound weight-loss. Men started to give me so much more attention and I thought, “why stop there?”
When second semester started, people truly started to notice my weight loss, and I was able to fit “cuter” clothes to show off my new body. With this newer appearance came newer attention. I also took conditioning this semester, so I was required to workout, and I started to enjoy the power that came with lifting weights. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic came mid-semester. By the time I went home for immediate quarantine, I had lost 50 pounds overall. During quarantine, I stayed pretty consistent with working out and eating healthier. I had yearned to lose a few more pounds before I moved back to St. Louis in September for school, and I achieved it. I had lost a grand total of 70 pounds!
As someone who was proud of this accomplishment and had finally achieved a very healthy body fat percentage, I did what annoying Gen Zers do: show off their accomplishments on social media. When I clicked “send” on my weightloss transformation tweet, I had no idea how much notice it would actually receive considering that I only had 250 followers at the time (it got over 10k impressions!) This tweet made weightloss seem like it was a piece of cake: that I had no struggles during the journey and that I would not have any insecurities after the journey.
Dissecting each part of my weightloss journey is significant because my confidence in myself shifted over time. While I do appreciate the body that I am in and I think that I am beautiful, hot, melanated, adorable, and everything in-between, there was (and still is quite frankly) a part of me that wanted to change something else. Regardless of how many Tinder matches or Grindr notifications that I received, I still felt empty. Although my weightloss journey was ultimately for me, part of motivation stemmed from gaining attention from men. I knew that as a (darker-skinned) Black gay male, my dating pool was limited. At times during my weightloss journey, I thought that if I presented the least amount of “undesirable” characteristics, I would receive more respect and attention. My bodily appearance, a part of my personhood and humanity, was something wrong that needed fixing. Instead of prioritizing my personal weightloss journey and happiness, I prioritized external validation instead.
While I can admit that I had periods of insecurity throughout my weightloss journey, I do not blame myself. Racism, fatphobia, and femmephobia run rampant in the gay community. As someone who has been subjected to all those forms of discrimination, I, a 19-year-old, have had to learn how to manage my emotions and feelings of isolation from an early age. My Black and queer existence does not permeate the imaginaries of other gays in the predominantly-white spaces that I am in.
To achieve ultimate desirability as a Black man, I would have to act more masculine and be a stereotypical “top.” My weightloss did not fix these issues. I sometimes feel like I have not lost enough weight. Between the lack of attention and the absurd fetishization that I received, I don’t really know how it feels to be desired by my character.
While the eurocentric and fatphobic society that I live in unfortunately subjects me to these experiences, I fortunately have built internal confidence, independent of male validation (with my friends’ support). I now take photos of myself and think “Damn! Why did the Lord make you so fine?” My friends comment on my Instagram pics and ask those same questions. I have grown to believe that I am actually beautiful. My past reliance on validation from men on the internet was toxic and codependent. Confidence building is a lifelong process, and I would rather be constantly in that process than relying on temporary validation to fill that gap.
While my weightloss journey was emotionally difficult, I realize that I will forever be on a fitness journey. Nourishing your body with delicious food, running your anger out on the treadmill, and lifting heavier weights are beautiful lifestyle habits. While my doctors’ initial concerns were valid, I wish they were more sensitive to my vulnerable status as a young person: contextualizing my social identities, mental health status, and well-being. I have had to remove myself from the pathologizing, fatphobic culture in the fitness/medical arenas. This toxic culture can trigger issues like eating disorders and depression (during my weightloss journey, I nearly hit those points).
I deserve the space to grow crazily, angstily, and confusingly into my young adulthood. My Blackness, queerness, femininity, and literal body will coalesce to transform a future me: a person I cannot necessarily see yet. I will still feel isolated and angry at my struggles with dating, but I have learned how to be ok with that. My job is not to fix the discrimination that permeates queer communities. All I can do is lean on my close friends who understand, prioritize my physical and mental health, focus on my goals, and firmly believe that the attention I do receive is well-deserved because I am that bitch.