How I Overcame My Skinny Body-Image Issues and How You Can Too

Written by Bony to Beastly on March 15, 2017

We’ve got a new guest post for you guys. This one from a naturally skinny science communicator who reads a lot. You might think some of his points are controversial, and we’d love to hear what you think. We think his perspective on dealing with body image issues as a skinny guy is incredibly thought provoking in the best way. Without further ado, Will Chou:

Recently, I met with some old friends for a reunion lunch. As we walked out of the restaurant, the conversation turned to what I looked like when I was young. Two of the guys mentioned that I was not just skinny: I was bony and scrawny. One of them even emphasized it with his tone like it was a huge deal.

They weren’t being mean; they were just giving me some constructive honesty. Having said that, I was still very surprised because I didn’t think I was that weak. But it turns out, that’s how they viewed me.

For 80% of my life, I have found myself in frequent situations where I was left out. I had focused on school and struggled with any weight training programs, so I was as skinny as they get.

The worst parts of my day was lunch. My school had a huge, noisy cafeteria with hundreds of people in it. And as you got to higher grade levels, you got to sit in more exclusive areas. The seniors had their own VIP area with its own curtain. But when I was a senior, I still sat alone in the freshmen section.

Sitting there alone for half an hour while everyone around you chatted away creates a constant reminder of isolation. I felt horrible because every few seconds, I was reminded that I was left out. You can’t help but wonder why. Was it because I was Asian? Socially unskilled? Skinny?

If you have ever felt insecure or excluded, you are not alone. Body image is a constant problem in modern society.

But my story doesn’t end there. Your past doesn’t have to destroy your future. Nowadays, I am healthier physically and mentally than I have ever been. You can become secure with yourself no matter where you are in your progression. You can and should change your self-esteem so that you stay resilient no matter how you look. You can and must change your perceptions about the world so that you develop good mental health for your own success in life.

I’m going to share with you some cool science-backed advice on how to have badass self-esteem. First, let’s tackle a big myth about “looks being superficial”…

Why Body Image is Not Superficial and Shallow… Coming From A Former Doubter

I am going to tell you something controversial and probably not widely accepted. How your body looks is not superficial. And this is coming from a former believer that it was.

For most of my life, people told me it’s what’s on the inside that counts. I believed this and took it too far. I used it as an excuse to have the most horrendous physical presentation of myself and do nothing about it.

My hair was slimy and uncombed. My clothes were wrinkled and unfashionable. My posture was poor and my body was bony. But I didn’t think I was that unattractive because I convinced myself that my personality alone would make up for everything.

But thanks to some helpful mentors online, my perspective on everything changed. I realized that how you present yourself outwardly is an extension of your inward self. If you show up to a job interview or business meeting looking like garbage, you are either:

  1. Signaling that you are too socially unintelligent to look presentable or…
  2. That you are intentionally being impolite by being too lazy to dress up.

Then, I learned about it from an evolutionary biology perspective. Studies show women are genetically wired to like more muscular men without even consciously thinking about it. This is because it signals fitness, health, ability to protect, and fertility. You shouldn’t be mad about it. It’s just a response that helped their ancestors protect their offspring and survive. (More on that here.)

And when I combine that with the fact that we all have the potential to be muscular and healthy, I realized that it was my choice and responsibility to shape how I looked.

Your body is a logical area that women look for and assess. The lesson is to remove any toxic mindsets hidden in your psychology about physique. They hold you back from a positive view of others and yourself.

This will help you think of exercise and grooming as less of a chore and more as an avenue for self-improvement. Countless studies have shown that exercise improves your focus, lifespan, energy levels, attractiveness, happiness, emotional resilience, and many other success factors.

Why Science Says I Sat Alone At Lunch and Why Fitter People Are More Accepted

You may be wondering what science has to say about why I was an outcast and why people prefer hanging out with fitter men. I am not an all-knowing expert, but I did some research into evolutionary biology to answer this question for you.

Some of this may seem like common sense when you hear it, but usually, our failure to succeed comes from cliche advice we never listen to, like, “work out more, eat less junk food.”

First, people are genetically drawn to social status because it conveys power and resources. High schools usually have a smaller population, which causes tribe-like tendencies to be even more pronounced. So don’t get down on yourself too much. Just because you don’t fit in with a small group of people doesn’t mean you won’t find awesome people in the much larger real world later on.

In a high school setting, status may be represented by fewer signals, such as being a member of an exclusive sports team, social skills, charisma, fashion, or physique. The high status kids may not actually have money or a job (resources) yet but people are still genetically wired to look for social signs regardless.

At the time, I did not have any of that. The book smarts I had were not genetically valued because of the Savanna Principle. This principle means that we are still wired like the humans of hunter-gatherer era thousands of years ago. Humans evolve very slowly because of our long life spans.

Our society has changed quicker than our bodies can keep up with in the last few hundred years. That’s why, on an unconscious level, we don’t correlate book smarts with resource potential or social status as much (it didn’t help as much to our ancestors). And that’s also why we eat much more sugary foods that we should (our ancestors didn’t have as much access to sugars).

Not all of it is related to physique, as you can tell. I probably wouldn’t have been able to become a rock star if I could relive that time, but I could have done better by developing my social skills, and fashion.

So what’s the point of this section? Develop a growth mindset towards social skills and status. Believe that you can improve in areas like social skills, wealth, and status. Take on a healthy mindset of enjoying the process of improvement more than the results.

The renowned professor Carol Dweck popularized this concept through her studies. She found through her studies that unsuccessful people have the opposite of this mindset. They have a fixed mindset, which believes that you cannot change your skills and success in life.

Now, that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are three actionable tips to dominate your body image and self-perception…

1. Build Friendships. Realize They Are Not So Different From You.

A study by Pittman and Richmond found that by improving your sense of belonging in school, you can remove problem behaviors that destroy your self-worth. So start making some friends. And to do so, it’s important to realize that people are not as scary as you think.

Of course, there are some jerks and bullies out there. Let’s not get naive here.

But there are also friendly, muscular guys. A lot of skinny people naturally adopt a mentality of “us versus them.” We grow up to stereotype anyone who is muscular or popular to be evil, different, or rude. But this stereotype is not only false but also limiting.

When you believe this, you are subconsciously stopping yourself from becoming muscular because you don’t want to become the person you hate. This same self-limiting theme can play out in many areas of your life. For example, some people hate rich people because their parents told them a false belief that “all rich people are greedy and evil.” But that stops them from becoming rich because their subconsciously refuse to make more money because they don’t want to become “greedy or evil.”

One time, I had this crazy idea. I wanted to try out for my school’s lacrosse team without knowing a thing about lacrosse. After training for hours after school every day for two months, I showed up to tryouts. Everyone was twice my size. They had been lifting weights for years and it clearly showed. I stood out in the worst possible way.

But I was surprised when some of the big guys there went out of their way to support and encourage me. It was quite refreshing to see these people come out and help me when they could have ignored me. Instead, they respected my courage and work ethic.

As I got older, I started interacting with a lot more muscular “jocks” to stretch my social skills and test my stereotypes. Many of them shocked me. I learned that some of them used to be skinny, shy, ignored, or insecure. Others revealed that they were into nerdy hobbies once I got to know them.

Nowadays (maybe thanks to the Internet), I’ve found that most people are more of a mixture. I’ve met massive black guys into anime and rugby-playing jocks into history books and strategy games. You may not be able to relate to 80% of how they live and act, but give them a chance and you’ll uncover that amazing 20%.

Rather than feel like they’re a different species, open up to them. Even some of the muscular jocks who have been big their whole lives could be friendly if you gave them a chance. Some of them are excited to see that you want to improve. Changing how you view others helps create healthier mental health and smoother social interactions.

This doesn’t mean you should start off by trying to make friends with the most muscular, high-status guy. It’s often easier and better to make friends with people who are like you first. There are plenty of awesome people that would love to be your friend that just happen to be lower status. That’s fine! It still progresses you in a healthy direction and they are more likely to be friends with you since they are similar to you.

If you want to make higher-status friends once you are more capable, go ahead. But higher status doesn’t always mean better.

2. Develop Resilient Self-Worth No Matter What Life Throws At You

Life can be chaotic. One moment, you’re rich and the next moment, you’re bankrupt. One moment, you are beastly and the next, you’ve suffered a car accident, paralyzing you from the neck down and atrophying your muscles. One moment, you’re dating a beautiful woman and the next moment, she dumps you for another man.

That’s why it’s better to have a sense of self-worth that stays consistent in a changing world rather than one that’s dependent on external measures. You protect yourself being at the whim of events out of your control. And honestly, there is some truth to the idea that you are awesome how you are (though don’t take it too far. Some people really could be better by fixing their creepy body language they’re unaware of, for instance.)

The billionaire Warren Buffett calls this idea “your inner scorecard.” Most people have an external scorecard, which means they measure their worth by what others think of them. But Warren has a scorecard that measures his success by his own standards, regardless of what other people think.

A thought exercise he uses to teach this goes like this:

Would you rather be the world’s worst lover and have everyone think you’re the best or be the world’s best lover and have everyone think you’re the worst?

What matters most is knowing that you did the right thing, regardless of what other people think.

When I am at the gym and see that I am lifting less weight than everyone else, I am not ashamed because I know that I am pushing myself to my limit and it’s the effort that counts, not the absolute weight. I carry this to other areas of my life. If other people are praised or admired more than I am, I do not get jealous or angry because I am proud of what I have accomplished and content with my own measures of success.

If you really struggle with shame and self-identity, I suggest watching Brené Brown’s TED talk. She spent years researching shame and discovered that it’s no longer that helpful for us in the modern world, though it served its purpose in the past:

This type of thinking also helps you progress. I am committed to a level of excellence even if others praise me inaccurately. If I slack off and everyone is congratulating me, I know I did not meet my own standards and will keep pushing rather than sit there and accept their praise.

I highly encourage you to take some time to define your own values and measures of success. For me, these include having a consistent work ethic, developing good relationships, being a kind, ethical, and warm person, always improving, and pushing my comfort zone. Whenever someone measures me by their own set of values, I remain undisturbed because I know what truly matters to me.

If you think you can only feel fulfilled, happy, or confident when you are ripped, you’re doing it wrong. During the progression, you should be energized and content with who you are and your effort. Getting big will definitely help you feel more confident, but keep in mind that an internal form of wealth, success, and abundance is more important than an external form. You have to start inside and work outward.

As long as I am proud of my accomplishments, character, drive, and relationships, my inner scorecard keeps me from relying on others for validation. This has helped me create an internal motivation that does not deplete as easily because it does not rely on others.

3. Celebrate Who You Are And What You Have Done

The billionaire Charlie Munger has an unconventional view of ignorance. He thinks it’s a blessing. He believes we are blessed to be born into the world so dumb because it gives us the opportunity to improve and enjoy improving.

That’s a profound lesson and we can learn a lot from that. You have probably heard the cheesy saying that “the journey matters more than the destination.” But there’s a lot of truth to it. There’s a reason why talk show hosts and CEOs continue to work even though they have enough could retire for the rest of their lives. They love growing and doing what they do.

According to the book Hardwiring Happiness by Dr. Rick Hanson, comparison is a huge reason why we feel unhappy about ourselves. We are naturally wired to compare ourselves to others, which may have helped our ancestors survive, but hurt us in the modern world. It’s not healthy to check social media constantly and always be let down because you see people have a better body and more money than you.

In addition to limiting your social media use, celebrate your achievements no matter how small. The book reveals that we have a “negativity bias.” It takes up to ten compliments, for example, to negate one insult.

Therefore, I celebrate the effort I put into my workouts and the moments when I remember to eat healthy. I learned about this concept, called the Jar of Awesome, from top entrepreneurs, like Tim Ferriss. You document all your achievements and review them at least once a week to celebrate and savor them.

Ever since I started doing this, I realized how often I forget about all the small (and sometimes big) positive things that happened to me and dwell on the one or two negative events (usually for way too long).

If you’ve ever been to a gym for a while, you know that 95% of the people there fail to come back consistently. Celebrate any consistency you have.

Also, try finding a community where people will celebrate you. In most places, people are nicer than you think. But definitely, test out a few different areas to find a place with people that compound your growth with their warmth.

Celebrations are not limited to your body or what you did in the gym. They could be anything that happened that day.

Sometimes, your horrible past can leave you with the Ugly Duckling Syndrome. This is when you behave in a certain way because your identity is still tied to your past — even if it’s no longer true. For example, you could believe you are skinny and unpopular even though you are now muscular because you were left out as a child.

Don’t let your past limit you because it prevents you from unleashing your full potential. What if you could be loved, admired, and respected? What if you could become more massive than you ever thought? What if you could be more confident than you ever imagined?

One way of solving the Ugly Duckling Syndrome is to overcompensate by becoming extremely muscular until you are content. You can do that, but it’s not mentally healthy. Another is to use affirmations in front of a mirror daily to remind yourself of your new self.

If you start your internal growth only after you get ripped, you might be in for a surprise. You may discover that confidence doesn’t just flood in automatically. Get a head start now so you can feel better and so you don’t feel frustrated to the point of giving up when the gains are coming as quickly as you hoped.

How to Turn Your Weakness Into A Non-Issue Quickly

I want to end with an incredible bonus tip from Shane himself.

He told me that if you want to turn your weakness (a skinny physique) into a strength (strong and ripped), it can take a long time. Not as long as you might think, but a fair amount of time nonetheless:

But there are many milestones along the way. Most beginners can gain 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in less than half a year by capitalizing on the extreme response that our bodies have to new stressors. (The science of newbie gains explained here.) This allows a skinny guy to very quickly move into the “fit” category—often in a matter of weeks—which is more than enough for others to no longer see you as skinny anymore.

You may not be the strongest guy around, but you’ll be seen as fit. At worst, you’ve eliminated your weakness. And more often than not, given how many people are out of shape nowadays, you’ve turned your weakness into a positive.

I believe you can apply this to other areas of attraction. For example, it is a lot easier to go from poorly dressed to neutral fashion than to amazing fashion. You can perform better in record time at job interviews, public speaking, sales, and dating by just removing the traits that repel others, like ill-fitting clothes, wild colors, or unwashed clothes. Later on, you can improve it further and turn the non-issue into something that makes you truly stand out in a positive way.

Conclusion

There were many moments of my life where I felt left out and lesser than other people. Maybe you have too. Our skinny physique definitely plays a role in our body image and self-esteem. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

You can learn to develop a resilient self-esteem right now so that you can be confident even while you’re still skinny. Remember to:

  1. Realize muscular people aren’t as different as you think and start forming a tribe of friends.
  2. Practice and adopt the self-esteem building techniques and mindsets mentioned.
  3. Celebrate your wins and who you are right now consistently.

And by the time you get those gains, you will be even more confident and happy with yourself. But you’ll also be resilient enough to bounce back even if life throws unexpected surprises.

There’s always room for improvement and growth no matter where you are. I am definitely not as secure, confident, or beastly as I want to be one day. But that hasn’t held me back from improving my self-esteem as I progress.

Now, it’s your turn. I challenge you to take the #1 lesson you learned here and commit to trying it out by the end of today.

Will Chou uses science and curated study of the world’s best to help Millenials perform better, feel happier, achieve their goals, and earn more. He blogs and podcasts at willyoulaugh.com. He has a special vault of freebies for Bony to Beastly readers at willyoulaugh.com/bonytobeastly. You will learn what science has discovered about what brings happiness, how to improve your performance, and key factors the best in the world leverage that you may be missing out on.

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So, what'd you think? 9 responses below.

Dave

Great article, but nothing too controversial IMO. The only thing I’d slightly question is the talk of making friends with “high status” people. What constitutes a high status person? Surely if you’re making friends with plenty of those not considered high status, you become that by virtue of how many people have time for you?

Certainly though, appearance is huge. Regardless of physique, I feel we can dress well and an instant boost of confidence happens.

Shane

Ahaha that’s exactly why I noted it as controversial at the last moment and asked about it just now 😛

Also, although it may not be common for our readers, what Will is saying about having a growth mindset is surprisingly controversial. Damn, can it ever get blowback. He did a good job of explaining it, so he may have dodged that bullet, but you’ll often hear:

“With dating, all you need to do is be yourself. Trying to change (aka improve) as a person is inauthentic.”
“I’m bad at math. It’s just my genetics”
“This is the body I have. I should just accept it.”

WIll

Hi Dave,

Thanks for writing in.

I wouldn’t focus too much on befriending high status people just for the sake of it. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) make friends with anyone you don’t like, especially if it’s just for the status.

I would focus more on giving great value to your local community, and by doing that, you will develop prestige and local status. A few ways this can do this will include teaching others, volunteering, being a connector among new people, and making sure your tribe is constantly happy.

What I mean about befriending high status people is that if you can hang around and model those who are already having success and have built prestige, you can learn how they did it better. Also, if you like them as people, why not befriend them?

Hope this helps.

Shane

Hey, Will. As unorthodox as this may be, given I’m the one who posted this article for you, I’ve got a question.

You use the word “status” a lot. I read it to mean that people are subconsciously judging our ability to do x. On a date? Our date will be looking to see how good of a father we might be. At a job interview? The employer will be looking to see how good we are at the job. Then you say it’s important that we have a growth mindset. To know that we can learn and improve. I love this outlook: to make the most of ourselves.

Jared pointed out that the word status has historical context, though, and that I might be bringing my own biases to this. He was saying that status was also historically used to indicate our value or worth as a person. That someone with noble blood was historically regarded as more valuable as a person regardless of what they do with their lives, for example.

I think you were pretty clear on this, but what exactly do you define social status as?

And let’s take a hypothetical, where a guy gets into an accident and becomes paralyzed. He may be unable to change his physique. Would this affect his “value” as a person. And what mindset should he have moving forward?

Will Chou

Hi Shane,

Thanks for asking these questions. It’s clear you’re looking to improve, which is awesome. I’m excited to answer this.

Status has deep biological roots, and thus, a huge historical context. Since the early days of humankind, males have evolved ways to prove to females that they were better able to survive and reproduce. One of the earliest and most enduring ways was to prove they had more resources and/or valuable networks with valuable people. This began to become more pronounced when farming was invented and one man could have 10 times the resources of another.

Modern social status is essentially the reputation of total value you can bring to others in your society.

This can be on a small scale: like the community in your local town and gym. Or it can be on a larger scale (thanks to the amplification of our reach with technology).

To address your concerns about a man losing his physique, that would only be a small part of what makes up modern social status. Many of us know people who are ripped but aren’t popular, rich, successful, or high status.

There are many different ways a human can develop social status in the modern world. They all mainly revolve around giving value and the ability to give value to others. Building that up over time builds your reputation and prestige, which increase social status.

For example, Helen Keller and Stephen Hawking were physically impaired in numerous ways. But they developed more social status than most average folk by delivering value in the form of inspiration, education, and scientific knowledge. This wasn’t possible before because Braille wasn’t invented and technology wasn’t advanced enough to allow them to communicate.

Status alone isn’t the end-all-be-all in attracting women. Nor is physique. They are just positive influencing factors.

You can brute force status financially by being rich but if you’re an asshole to everyone, no one will want to hang around you. If you’re friendly, warm, or kind, you can repel people. Personally, I think the difference between pure status and social status is this distinction.

Let me know if that makes sense and I’m happy to answer any further questions.

Stu

Will,

I’ve been struggling lately and this article really hit the nail on the head. You’ve reduced me to a crying mess. But in a good way. There were so many nuggets of truth in this article that I just couldn’t handle it. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Be blessed.

-Stu

Shane Duquette

So glad that it resonated with you, man. Best of luck with everything 🙂

Galev

Wow. This is a very uncomfortable truth kind of article. I’m grateful for it. Not quite sure how to move on, but at least I am reminded that I should move on and that it is possible.

Shane Duquette

That’s a good way of putting it. It’s definitely possible, and we’re always here to help you move on when you’re ready.

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