Big Questions with Zach Miko
Photo: Swimsuits For All

Big Questions: How Do I Become More Comfortable Being Shirtless?

Welcome to Big Questions with Zach Miko, an advice column covering body image, sex, relationships self love and more. Send him your questions here. Read past columns by clicking here.

Wyatt: How can I feel more comfortable with taking my shirt off? I always feel ashamed of my shirtless body, my chest in particular. I always refuse to take off my shirt in front of people, except my best and closest friend. When I go swimming, the little kids usually make fun of my fat body and some of my students may even punch my belly for fun.

Dear Wyatt,

I don’t think there is any fear that big guys can relate to more than taking your shirt off. It’s all of our insecurities wrapped into one terrifying act. Our shirts have always been our protection, and losing it means there is no hiding. I always thought that by keeping my shirt on at the pool or the beach hid who I really was from everyone.  It took me a long time to get over it, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still self-conscious, but it gets easier every time.

I told my agent that I thought I was ready to model shirtless, and he said “Would you want your first time posing shirtless to be on America’s Next Top Model?”

Like almost every other fat kid out there, I wore a shirt while swimming. I’d wear one of my dad’s white under shirts whenever we went to the local pool, until one particularly hurtful “wet tee-shirt contest” where I decided to switch to black. Kids can be particularly cruel. What is most heartbreaking is that big kids LOVE swimming. It’s the one time in our young lives that we feel free, weightless, and like everyone else, unless of course someone is watching. There is a scene in Aidy Bryant’s Shrill on Hulu, where her younger self told her mother she didn’t want to go swimming while on vacation, only to sneak out of the motel room while the rest of her family slept in order to enjoy the pool by herself. I think that kicked every current and former fat kid right in heart, I know I was certainly a mess with painful recognition.

Here’s How I Got Comfortable Going Shirtless

I learned how to take my shirt off cold turkey, baptism by fire. I was in my late twenties and by some weird turn of fate had become a model. I knew that at one point I had to pose shirtless. All of the incredible female plus models who blazed the trail to make my career possible are expected to pose in swimwear and lingerie, and I felt that I was somehow not living up to the example they set by refusing to do the same. I told my agent that I thought I was ready to model shirtless, and he said “Would you want your first time posing shirtless to be on America’s Next Top Model?”

Who can turn down an offer like that? So, my first time showing the world what I looked like shirtless, was in my underwear, covered in gold paint, and shot by Tyra Banks herself. Even with this amazing turn of events I was terrified about what people would say when it aired. Luckily, most of the reactions I got were positive, with so many people reaching out saying how brave I was. But was I brave? All I did was get to do what so many people do every single time they go to a pool or beach. This wasn’t brave, it was just about time.

I feel like when I began going shirtless is when I became more of myself. I stopped hiding, my secret was out.

I think being shirtless in public is my act of self-love. Not saying I’m brave or a revolutionary, just another human being who loves to swim. Your body doesn’t look like everyone else’s because no one’s does.  Our individuality is what makes us beautiful. I feel like when I began going shirtless is when I became more of myself. I stopped hiding, my secret was out. The whole world knew every curve and protrusion of my belly, and the exact size and pitch of my man boobs. Were some people mean? Absolutely, but I’m free now, so fuck em.

Here’s How to Deal With the Haters

People will make jokes, because sometimes people suck. Your students who make fun of fat people probably have parents who suck, but they can still learn to be better people. It takes a village to raise a kid, and sometimes it takes one bigger person to let kids know what they’re doing is wrong. Tell them calmly and straight up:

“It hurts me when you say mean things, I just want to enjoy my time at the pool like you, why are you trying to hurt my feelings?”

They’re kids, they wont stop right away. Tell them they’re hurting your feelings, don’t yell, just let them know. They may keep making fun, but I promise they will never forget what you said. It may not click until they are adults, and their body may not look like they thought it would when they were young. They’ll remember what you said and hopefully tell their children that it’s not ok to do that to others. Body positivity and acceptance is still a new concept, and it may take a generation to change the way our society thinks. Things are changing, slowly but surely.

View this post on Instagram

This is my beach body 🧜‍♂️

A post shared by Zach Miko (@zachmiko) on

Take Steps Toward Body Confidence

You need to learn to take off your shirt, for you. Just like everything else in the world, practice makes perfect. Start off slow, walk around your own house by yourself without your shirt on. Then the next time you are at a pool or beach, take your shirt off, just for a few minutes. Then next time a little longer, and longer. Then take a picture, post it to your social, expect assholes, but listen to the people who are supportive. The amount of experiences I’ve missed out on in my life because I was afraid of what other people may think is my only true regret in life.  

Every layer of insecurity we are able to strip down is one more mask we take off. The true you is so great, let everyone see it. Let the people who love you see your true self, and let the trolls kiss your true ass as you walk away.

Love,

Zach

P.S. Give the students who punch your belly for fun ALL of the detentions, that shit don’t fly.

More Stories
Chubstr’s Best of Body Positivity 2015