Men and Body Image Revisited

In this episode of This Fat Girl Life, I am joined by Taj Stokes to discuss men and body image. This conversation was a little different, however, because we looked at a cultural aspect as well. This was a really great conversation to have.

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Intro: Hi and welcome to this fat girl life a podcast about self-worth, loving yourself and body image.

My name is Kimberlee and I am your host. We are here tonight with my very special friend Taj stokes. Taj thank you so much for joining me, I’m so happy to have you on this show.

Thank you for having me and you are one of the few people that I would do this on a Sunday evening for. You are that special. You really are

Aw thank you.

I love what you’re doing so I want to support you however.

Thank you I appreciate that. Well, we are going to be discussing something a little bit more controversial, you know normally you know, we discuss body image we are going to be discussing body image tonight but we’re going to take it more from just one person’s perspective and we’re going to kind of look at more of a multicultural perspective. Now I know that you do not speak for the all of the black community I know this your personal perspective on this.


But I am very glad to have it. So, before we jump in though, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about yourself?

So, my background, I was born in Joliet Illinois which is about 30 miles of the south side of Chicago and when I was a kid it was more violent than the south of side of Chicago. So that’s kind of it gives you a little bit of context to how I grew up you’re going to get it from a conversation with me tonight especially about things like body image and the way we see ourselves and love ourselves and accept ourselves you’re going to get some real talks. You’re going to get that Chicago level talk through me. If you have dainty ears, you probably want to cover them

So, let’s say this right now there may be language in tonight’s episode we will make that very clear if you are offended by language, please

At least for this client or at least for this podcast. So no, I had a troubled youth but I was one of the few kids who was fortunate enough to make it to college and I actually came to college in Colorado Springs which is why I came how I know about it and why I came back. Many years in corporate sales and having my own businesses successfully started and sold and so I but also very much so into community development and wanting to build community got that from my grandma and that all kind of intersected with my faith and so it became a space where my faith became a manifestation of giving back to the community with love, helping build the community so I started the thrive network and thrive Colorado springs which helps people in low income communities start their own small businesses to revitalize neighborhoods from the inside out. And I’ve been on a bunch of boards I’ve won a bunch of awards, like there’s a lot of I think I’m not going to go through all that stuff. The big stuff that I’ve done is, I’ve started some businesses I’ve been a pastor and run a church, I was up in them streets before that and after that. And I started a non-profit and I’ve worked with a lot of people from many different walks of life so that’s a little bit about me from the professional side, from the personal side I try to be a stand-up dude. I try to leave the world better than I found it. I don’t start any fights but I do give myself permission to finish them. What else. I love what I do. I love helping people in building community and making things better and getting paid to do that. That was that’s just that’s brilliant to me.

Well and you as a pastor is actually how you and I met

Yes, which is going to be so weird to have a conference I like this kind of conversation because body image talk speaks very much so to identity and sexuality and how we see ourselves and wanting to be loved and accepted so yeah, it’s going to touch a bunch of controversial topics but we’ll get we’ll get into tonight.

So, let’s start with you personally, has body image ever been something that you have dealt with?

So yes, but not in the like culturally body image and let me go back to what you were saying earlier, no one is monolithic we’re going to talk in generalizations tonight and in large groups from my personal experience but you can’t say all black people are one way or all white people are one way or this culture is one way throughout this people group, nothings monolithic, monolithic and generalizations are just that they’re general. So that said I will speak from my experience, I was always a little bit more accepted in terms of weight, it was, I’m close to 6’2″ so the weight was worn fairly well but I also and in well, it was worn in a way where I didn’t look overweight and so I it was I seriously it was I’ve noticed that the concept of body image and weight has started to shift but really kind of growing up in those formative years they’re like yeah you want to have a nice body but it wasn’t like a prerequisite to being accepted or loved or having sex. The weight issue was not a not a thing and I think its I’m just going to jump in and say some controversial s***.

Please-no hold barred-do it.

Alright where I noticed it was, where I noticed my body image and identify of getting attacked was fetishization and everybody gets better aside if you’ve got big breasts they’re going, you’re going to get fetishized for that. Got a big butt you’re going to get fetishized for that. There’s that and I don’t want to say misconception because I don’t know, I can only read my personal experience but that like every black man has this 12-inch penis that was like one of the big things that because I remember being 13 years old. I will never forget this; I was 13 years old my cousin snuck me in to an R-rated film because she was older. She snuck me into it with her it was called the long kiss goodnight with Gina Davis and Samuel Jackson and love that film and anyway so I was part way through the film I go to go to the bathroom and then I’m like man I want to re-up and get more popcorn so I go back out and refilled the popcorn and these two women who were not of my racial persuasion or ethnicity, came up to me and asked if it was true what they say about black men? And I mean as a 13-year-old boy I was like I’ve been like i had known, I had heard it but you weren’t ready for that conversation.


And then and God I’m like the way that we put such a societal pressure on black men to be this sort of for lack of a better word donkey d***, professional level bad***** in bed, it was like it was a lot of pressure as a kid to sort of say okay we’ll who am I in this and what’s my body like and what you know because you only got what you got. And how do I accept myself and bring myself and my body and my image and my sex and sexuality to, well really, to be shared and feel confident in that. I think I grew up in a family, I’m just going again, we’re getting real tonight. So, I grew up in a very well-endowed men so I did not know what the world was like when I left when I went like left home. I grew up in the 80’s and the 90’s the internet was just becoming a thing we weren’t getting our education on the internet about sex and identity yet. You were finding that wherever you could. Back in those days and so it wasn’t until I was older, I was in college where I started to kind of really get that confidence and go oh wow, I’m attractive oh wow I am desirable or oh wow I’m confident in all these different things and to really work my way through the stereotypes so that whether or not it is I fit that stereotype or not I don’t feel bound by it. And I will be honest and say there’s, there was an era of my life where I kind of gave into the stereotype because that’s what drew women to me or that’s what was really the thing that you know she might have been curious about. I led with it you know so I’m not going to lie, I’ve done some of the really embarrassing stuff that guys have done. Trying to

Oh, come on Taj we’re keeping it real. Both of us had h** phases. We’ve been h***

Yeah, we’ve been H*** and my d*** has been all over the internet. You know and again your kind of you and for me embracing the trope and embracing the stereotype was sort of my way of gaining power over it. But I think one I’ve never heard anybody talk about that not in the black community not black men I’ve never ever heard anybody say hey this is actually like because if you are an average or below average guy and you’re black that’s got to be pressure on pressure on pressure on pressure feeling insufficient and then capable and not enough. And ultimately where I think everyone struggles in the body image because I didn’t struggle with weight, I struggle with fitting people with people wanting me to fit their stereotypes. Which I was the needy black kid I could, I could get in the street fight and hold my own but I love to read books and so I was always this contradiction. I fit the stereotype but just barely and I didn’t want to be stereotyped and so this was something that was always sort of a chasing, frustrating process for me. It took a long time for me to pull myself away from the worlds concept of what am I supposed to be as a black man, what am I supposed to look like, how am I supposed to dress, how am I supposed to talk, you know, there are all these conceptions and misconceptions and stereotypes of what’s that supposed to look like. And how you’re supposed to be, another thing it’s not necessarily body image but we don’t teach emotional intelligence and processing. It’s okay to cry, that kind of thing. I grew up with the exact opposite you better not cry, you better not crash. And so, like all these sorts of societal pressures and stereotypes and constrictions they create this, this standard which even if you meet the standard even if you meet the standard, you don’t feel secure, you don’t feel good you don’t feel safe or confident who you are because it’s a performance. Yes, yeah very much I would say I didn’t deal with a lot of body weight issues but I dealt with a ton of fetishization. Let me see your d***, let me or in the moment that if you are well in doubt let me sexualize that now and then tell you all these glorious sexual fantasies and all these things that I want you to do and you’re like well I didn’t come on the tinder for that tonight. They’re like okay I wasn’t what I was looking for I thought you were sweet we were outside we might be able to go to date like your Instagram have all these cute coffee photos that you like a reader too, but you didn’t even talk to me about books you went straight to my d***. Which if I’m horny or drunk or whatever I might just roll with it because again, stereotype. I’ll use it to my advantage if I feel like it but I do understand that well, and I know what it’s like to be bound up in that stereotype to be bound up in that. Another person’s fantasy so they’re not really seeing you but they’re seeing what they want to see in you. So, I would say yeah and then I would also say I’m starting to see you’re starting to see it shift in the black community starting to more reflect the Midwestern standard Caucasian suburban ideals of hourglass figure tiny waist, waist trainer big butt big breasts. So, you know barbie shape, barbie shape. Thats that there you’re starting to see this huge sway from natural shape, natural hair, natural beauty to okay let me get that cardi b look let me get that

I was going to say, we’re seeing that a lot in like Nicki Minaj


You know Megan stallion, cardi b all those.

I love Megan I love Megan I love cardi I love Nicki I love got all of them in my Playlist but they created this sort of idealized version of what a woman is

Unattainable standards

Well and also a guy who actually loves women and let me be clear there are a lot of men who sleep with women and don’t love them. There’s a lot of men that have no appreciation for the female sex but still are would classify themselves as heterosexuals.  The men who really love women they are going to be accepting, more accepting of your body, they’re going to love the curves they’re going to love the creases they’re going to love the wrinkles they’re going to love all of it. Even the fatty cellulite parts that you don’t feel so comfortable about.

Those jiggle bits

Some guys love to grab them is this one of those things okay go ahead

Well, we’re pushing boundaries here so I’m going to push a little bit now, and we’ve done we’ve discussed kind of body image I kind of want to go more onto a self-worth


Because you know, we’re talking about like media perceptions, stereotypes, from what I see, the media has given a very either victimized or militarized those are your end zones. As a black man those are end zones. Where do you find a middle ground in that and how does that perception that the media portrays affect your self-worth as a black man?

So, you do you’re, we’re kind of going back to it instead of just fetishization we’re kind of going back to stereotyping and so yeah being 6’2″ everybody assumes I play basketball and I can but it’s not like I did competitively in high school or anything like that. Yoh get certain options, if you’re musically talented you got to be a rapper or a singer, if you’re athletically gifted you must be an athlete. They really don’t there is no expectation for black people to be academically excellent so that that does really just leave victim or militarize and so and I’m not talking option for us but the way that the world the way that the world perceives and portrays us. And so, you really kind of get very good you can at code switching. Which is I can be very professional; I get lit and talk like this I could also you know be very polite and put on what we call our white people voice. And all of it you know, like you learn to kind of code switch and you move through people’s perceptions the hardest part is figuring out what’s authentically you and what isn’t. So, like okay. I do like basketball some of the time but I don’t like it when I meet make a friend and we go. I do like I do one pickup game with them one weekend and now they think that’s what we do every weekend now that’s our thing. Nah man I was bored I had some free time on Saturday it’s been an awhile since I had a game and there’s a good spot for pickup games that I know about, that’s all it was and you know so but it’s kind of like that they’re like oh well that’s your thing. No, it’s not, I can dance, I love to go out and go clubbing and dancing and hang with friends and I have a sort of sensualized form of dancing. I don’t think its sensualized very much so I like outside of suburban culture it you know if I went to either codes they wouldn’t call that you know kind of you know turnt up dancing, but here in Colorado  it’s considered its considered sensual because you moving your pelvis you’re moving your hips, you’re moving your butt and your shoulders and your knees and your feet and somehow that means sex here and so I want to go out and dance we I go out with friends we’re like yeah we just want to go like seriously I am I’m unusual that way I I’m like let’s just go, let’s have a couple drinks let’s go dance, let’s go turn up especially if it’s like the kind of music I grew up loving like 90s rnb that style like oh my gosh this 90s rnbd tapes let’s go there let’s turn up tonight. And I’m going to have three or four women who’ve been drinking a little bit because I’ve been dancing for a while kind of roll up on me like that it doesn’t mean I font have somebody at home it doesn’t mean that you know just because I dance with you that I’m feeling you and that means that we’re going to do something sexual in the bathroom or that I’m going to get your info or take it like there’s a lot where I have where I just learned to say no this isn’t really where I’m at this isn’t where I’m at and I’m okay if you’ve made an assumption based off of your stereotypes but that is officially your problem and that’s a lot that actually took therapy for me to get to a point where I could say now I’m going to do me I know the world expects me to be a certain way I know they want me to conduct myself a certain way I’m going to be keep going up and blowing up and growing up and touching and getting mine living my best life being my best self and bringing people around me that support that. That was really sort of the kicker to helping me solidify that identity and get that self-confidence that it’s not about that you think of me as a black person or as a black man or about the size of my d***, or the shape of my body or how I use it in bed I am all around a phenomenal person just because I exist and I’m trying to provide, bring value to the world and then deciding what matters to me out of that and defining identity from it. But that took a minute that took a minute and I mean like that was introspective work. That was like soul work and again that’s not something that you get taught. I had to go and talk to a shrink and kind of get some work through that

Well, I actually love that you brought that up because I was going to ask, you know, I know that you have helped raise your nieces and nephews how do you teach that to children so that they don’t go through some of the struggles that you have gone through or that you’ve seen other people go through with figuring that out, how do you help them and guide them down that direction?

So, the best thing I can say and I haven’t completely figured this out because you know my kids are now at the teen phase and so they’re showing their butts and we’ll see what’s stuck, we’ll see

They do it as adults too

But what I’ll say is what I’ve seen so far is when you model it, when you’re modeling vulnerability and that’s something that you have to learn as a man. How to model vulnerability that’s not something we get taught. How to model humility I was wrong, I messed up. I am sorry and how to recover from failure these are things that they need to see as demonstrating but as adults if you haven’t done that work you don’t, you’re not you can’t, you can’t do what you haven’t learned. You can’t give what you haven’t grown yourself and so I think that a lot of it is doing the work so that you can help your kids and those behind you. I knew I was jacked up just from how I grew up in Chicago like nah I got to, I don’t want to bring I got a lot of great stuff out of that upbringing I got a lot of baggage and I didn’t want to bring kids into that and so I was like I got to work through this stuff. And that you learn it when you deal with you with your mind you literally advance in your life. so, after a while you start investing in mental health or at least I did as a form of self-care and growth like it helped me kind of learn how to I grew up where you answered first with the belt where it now, I’m more like I’ll ask questions, I’m going to have conversation corporal punishment isn’t off the table but it’s the last thing I do I think I’ve maybe watched my kid a handful of times over five or five years I mean all of the three of them a handful of times. Because mostly I was able to create reward and consequence and conversation and positive reinforcement but I had to go learn that stuff. That was not taught. I grew up in something very different and so I was like okay I want to keep what works for me from growing up like my independence my ability me ambition my drive my seeking spirit that part of me that loves to ask questions but I wanted to give them what I didn’t get which were emotional tools to help me figure out how to use my words instead of my fists. How to focus my pain and those negative emotions I didn’t want to experience and use them instead of avoid them. That was just stuff that I mean, again, that was therapy and I can’t say it enough I’m like I say to anybody who’s willing to listen but especially to people in a minority group or if you are dealing with like negative self-image therapeutic get the find good therapy and it’s not all creates equal you got garbage therapists out there like you know

That is true.

Garbage mechanics and garbage lawyers and garbage pastors and any other profession. There’s garbage, so you got to keep looking till you find something that works but you find some stuff that’s helping you move and grow and build the life you want you start to you start to realize that the complex the thing you were trying to reach this physical societal ideal you’ll never get it don’t, learn to love yourself learn to love the awesome parts that are you and learn to accept the parts that are a struggle inside of you. And you’re going to be better in the world. You’re going to be better you’re going to think better you’re going to love better and you I mean you really can’t love anybody else until you learn to love yourself and so


So yeah, I think that therapy is a huge tool to do that I think a lot of, a lot of us I wouldn’t say just dudes I’m going to say pretty much all I would recommend therapy for everyone if I could but yeah, I think that’s we need help working out the mental noise. All that stuff all that’s the images you’re supposed to look like this from the magazine this is what your lover says that they want you to do in bed this is who society says they need you to be in work this is who you’re supposed to be as a woman or a man like all that stuff just gets in there and it claws up who you are so getting some help to work that out ain’t no shame in that.

No, I 100% agree, I’m so grateful that you came on, that we had this conversation, I think it was a needed conversation and I think, I’m hoping that maybe other people watching this it’ll open some other conversations with people that need to happen but before we finish, I have one more question for you


This is the one question I told you I was not going to prepare you for.


And I ask this of every guest.


What is one thing that you love about yourself?

Oh wow, I’ve been working on this one so, I love my skin, I love the color, I love how the older I get the more appreciative of it I am. I’m aging very nicely but also, I just I’m loving it all now I’m loving my hair there’s a little tiny gap between my two front teeth. I’m loving my, the build of my body to my fuzzy dreads to yeah, to you know, to all of it. All of it.

I love all of it too, I love you! I really am so glad you came on tonight thank you so much for doing this

Thank you, you are so very welcome I’m going to say this, if you’re approaching these kinds of subjects one of the best ways to do it is always compassion and little bit of humor, a little bit of laughter, a little bit of love, always goes a long way, but yeah, everybody, everybody feels this way, even if you meet the qualifications of the perfect person, it terrifies you that it’s going to change and you’re going to lose that status. So, we’re all dealing with identity and body image issues. So yeah, happy to be here whenever you want me to come back let me know, it was fun

Definitely will. Thank you so much I will talk to you personally later, you guys thank you so much for being here I love you and will be back here next week!


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