A few months ago, my brother and I were at the grocery store picking up some snacks for movie night. The checkout line was stocked with entertainment magazines and tabloid covers. One of them was Men’s Health—I don’t remember what was on the cover, but they’re all the same. Drop 10 Pounds of Fat Now! 3 Ways to Naturally Boost Your Testosterone. Get Huge Arms and a Chiseled Six-Pack Fast! Something like that, I’m sure. What I do remember is that the cover model’s arms looked as wide as my head, and his abs may as well have been sculpted by Thor’s hammer.
“Look at his arms,” I pointed out to my brother. “They’re huge!”
“Mine are pretty good too,” he joked back, pulling up his sleeve and puffing in his chest, as he flexed. He’s 10 years younger and the complete opposite of me, both in personality and physicality. At 14 years old, he’s in prime puberty. He’s skinny, but you can already see the vascularity in his arms. He does, in fact, have discernible abs.
My body is not like that. I’ve never seen my abs—a nice cushion of belly fat has always kept them well-hidden. I’ve done my best to make sure nobody noticed. Over time, I became very good at sucking my stomach in.
I cross my arms and stand up straight to look tall and defiant. I tuck my hands behind my biceps rather than resting them on top to make them look bigger—in case anyone is looking. Nobody is.
I’ve been slowly coming to terms with my own body image issues, but it’s a strange environment. Women have long faced intense scrutiny for how they look and what both Eastern and Western standards deem ideal. Perhaps the most infamous example in the South Asian community is the propagation of the Fairly and Lovely skin lightening cream, a product that unabashedly markets lighter-skinned women as more attractive.
We’ve begun taking steps to fight these toxic ideals, from the viral #UnfairAndLovely hashtag that celebrated South Asian women of all body types and skin colors to celebrities, such as Vidya Balan, championing body-positivity. Albeit we have miles to go undoing the psychological rewiring of women’s self-perceptions, while simultaneously building a foundation of self-love early on—but it’s a hopeful start.
For men, on the other hand, body image has largely been a non-issue—publicly, anyway—such that the rising prevalence of male insecurities has gone unnoticed. The lack of conversation around this has left many men exactly how you’d expect: alone and insecure.
A 2012 survey of 394 men found that about 80 percent of men talked about their weight, their hairline, their frame, and other physical factors negatively. Like me, 63 percent of these men felt they weren’t muscular enough. And about 30 percent actively thought about their aesthetic at least five times a day.
Feeling self-conscious about our weight is a universal insecurity. But men tend to worry more about being underweight and desire a hyper-muscular physique. This coupled with a negative body image is a psychological disorder called muscle dysmorphia. Those affected may engage in extreme behavior to achieve their desired look, such as over-exercising, hack diets or excessive use of supplements, and even steroid abuse.
But the problem goes beyond the desire to look muscular. Men, too, suffer from eating disorders. According to a report by National Eating Disorders Association, 25 percent of men are affected by anorexia and bulimia. In all cases, research suggests body image issues usually start early in adolescence and are linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality.
Media’s Historical Impact on Body Image
Toxic masculinity has defined the “ideal man” to be more than just muscular. Other physical attributes, such as balding or receding hairlines, penis size, and height are also common anxieties. All three are genetically determined, but it’s often promulgated that men with a full head of hair, a large or above average penis, and a tall stature are more desirable than those without. While there are surgical or chemical ways to enhance these qualities, they don’t solve the underlying insecurities of a man’s personal sense of masculinity.
Unsurprisingly, media plays a very large—if not the most significant—role in this. Speaking to The Atlantic, Dr. Raymond Lemberg, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders and body image, suggests that pressure to be hyper-masculine goes back to 1964 when the first G.I. Joe toys were released, likening them to the male equivalent of the Barbie doll. These physiques are also present in comic books, which often draw their heroes to be aggressively muscular (while also painting their heroines to be just as feminine and skimpily-dressed).
Modern Hollywood movies adapt these looks as well. Consider how many celebrity body transformations you’ve seen in which someone packs on muscle mass while shedding significant body fat in an impossibly short amount of time? Chris Evans, Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, and Alexander Skarsgard come to mind. Even Mark Hamill, the 64-year-old actor famous for his role as Luke Skywalker, spoke about having to lose almost 50 pounds before being able to return to that role in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (Carrie Fisher, who portrayed Princess Leia, faced even more pressure).
Do I wish I had bigger arms or wider shoulders? Yes. Do I see mindfully note a lack of those qualities when I see myself shirtless in the mirror? Yes. Do I worry about my physical appearance when I wear short sleeve shirts? Most definitely. In fact, for most of my college career, I actively didn’t wear short sleeve shirts even in the summer months because I thought the size of my arms compared to the size of my belly made me look disproportionate—and therefore unattractive.
Last year I decided to invest in a personal trainer at my gym. After injuring my knee trying to work out on my own, I decided training with a professional would help mitigate risk of injury in the future. But if I’m being honest, my initial motivation to join a gym was for that “desirable aesthetic.”
My trainer, Tom Van Langen, has been training clients for almost four and a half years. He estimates that a vast majority of his male clients joined the gym only to look better, not to actually learn proper diet and exercise. These motivations are more common and apparent in younger clients, he says. Langen also notes that these superficial motivators often fall short of keeping clients committed to their routine, so they often plateau with their progress. His older clients, on the other hand, are commonly driven by a desire to become stronger and healthier, so they can keep up with the kids and grandkids. They, Langen points out, are more likely to stay on track at the gym, too.
Gym culture also influences how men conducted themselves. Younger male clients can be less comfortable with admitting they want to become healthier, learn to work out better, and importantly, that they need help. Even trainers sometimes feel uncomfortable talking to younger guys in the gym because they can become defensive. Some of this simply boils down to feeling insecure about themselves and, again, the bigger, stronger, more capable guys at the gym.
“People naturally tend to compare themselves to others around them,” Langen says. “The gym is where the smaller insecurities come out.”
So, how do we combat them?
Detoxifying Body Image Talk and More
Education plays a big role. When it comes to gaining or losing weight, it’s important to differentiate between gaining muscle and losing body fat and how diet and exercise both have an impact. It’s also vital to find the intrinsic motivation for why you choose to diet and exercise. Wanting to look better isn’t a superficial motivator. But if you’re not doing it for yourself, it can be.
Secondly, it’s key to understand that bodies portrayed in media (both male and female) are often enhanced and airbrushed to look larger than life. In a nutshell, they’re not real. Given that Americans adolescents and young adults spend more than seven hours engaging with media, this is a critical factor to consider. Younger men are more prone to media bias but are also more receptive to receiving help. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Dr. Aaron J. Blashill recommends actively talking to boys about body image rather than waiting for them to speak up. He stresses the importance of viewing these issues and disorders as psychological ones and not physical ones.
The field of psychology also has work to do. Assessment tests for eating disorders often include language tailored to reach women, which poses an additional roadblock for men who do want to seek help. Lastly, we as consumers can demand more of the media we ingest. We can support films and shows that portray a wide variety of body types, especially in leading roles.
We can use our social media platforms to break down stereotypes promoted by toxic masculinity and femininity and uplift individuals who do not fit into the thin, light-skinned body types valued by Hollywood and recent Bollywood media. Most importantly, we can create environments (online, in a classroom, in a one-on-one dialogue, etc.) where individuals, including men who may not feel comfortable being vulnerable in front of others, can speak about their insecurities freely and without fear of judgment.
As for me, I didn’t initially want to admit that I was (and still am) insecure about my own physicality so publicly. The irony of that is not lost on me. I still see those Men’s Health magazines every time I’m at the grocery store checkout. Part of me still wishes my body looked exactly like those of the models emblazoned on the covers.
“But choosing to learn more about toxic masculinity and the psychological effects it has on men has taught me at least one thing: I am not alone.”
Over time, I’ve learned to slowly tune out those harmful images and just focus on myself. And hopefully one day, I’ll truly be able to grow into my own skin.
For more information on mental health in the South Asian community, check out MannMukti—ending the mental health stigma, one story at a time.
January 1, 2023January 1, 2023 7min readBy Brown boy
Wyatt Feegrado is a comedian and content creator from Walnut Creek, San Francisco, California. Feegrado moved to New York City to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Feegrado always wanted to be a comedian and grew up watching “The Last Comic Standing” with his mom — his favorites being Alingon Mitra and Sammy Obeid. In 2020, Feegrado starred in the TV show “Bettor Days,” on Hulu and ESPN+, as the character Vinnie bets on the baseball team The Astros and wins big. Feegrado also has a podcast called “First World Problematic,” along with Vishal Kal and Surbhi, where they talk about a range of topics such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, and will be dropping an “Indian Matchmaking” Reunion show. Currently, in Bangalore, Feegrado is performing his first show in India, at the Courtyard in Bangalore. He was previously on tour in the United States. He recently dropped the Amazon comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate.” Continue reading to learn more about Wyatt Feegrado.
Do you feel that your upbringing in Walnut Creek and your personal experiences are what molded your comedic style?
Walnut Creek, for people who have never been there, is frankly a very white place. I must’ve been one of four or five Indian kids in my high school of 2000. I think growing up like that, you begin to believe that it’s a bit ‘odd’ that you’re brown. Part of finding my comedic voice was changing that perspective to say; it’s not weird that I’m brown, it’s weird that you’re not. That’s the paradigm shift — I don’t move through the world trying to impress people, why should I? Who are they? They should be trying to impress me.
What was it like attending the Tisch School Of The Arts and what classes helped shape you as a person?
I hope I don’t get too much flack for this…but I don’t really think that NYU helped my career very much. Being in New York helped me immensely, it raised the ceiling on what I could achieve. I really appreciate NYU’s approach, they teach art as a fundamentally collaborative discipline, which I do believe it is. However, that’s just not how I learn. I’m a competitive person, I want to be pitted against my fellow students and prove I’m the best. That motivates me. I would say, if you want to use NYU or any art school to your advantage, understand that classes are only half of what you’re supposed to be doing. That was a pet peeve of mine, I used to see my fellow students finish class and simply go home. That’s not the way to do it in this industry. Every day, after school, I used to go to two or three open mics, send in self-taped auditions, and make opportunities of my own. You’re betting on yourself — so go all in.
What was the process of creating the comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate?”
In terms of writing the jokes, it’s the culmination of studying joke writing for 10 years. But I was approached with the opportunity in March or so, and I had my reservations to even tape a special — I’m a perfectionist so I wanted all my jokes to be some of the best ever written. But that’s just a bad strategy in terms of trying to make it in life. When an opportunity falls in your lap, you have to take it no matter what. Worry about whether you’re ready later. One time I was cast in a commercial for Facebook that required me to do skateboard tricks. I lied and said I knew how to do skateboard tricks at the casting call. I landed the commercial and then started practicing how to skateboard. I think the most important lesson in comedy you can learn is how to believe in yourself when nobody else does. I always have the confidence that I will rise to the occasion.
What was it like getting your special on Amazon Prime?
So Four by Three, the amazing production company that produced my special, has a very good relationship with Amazon, as they’ve produced a lot of content for their platform. They handled distribution for me, and together we made the strategic decision to also release De-Assimilate on YouTube. I think because of the over-saturation of streaming services you have to pay for, combined with the renaissance YouTube is having, where a lot of the content will have TV-level production value, more and more young people are turning to YouTube as their primary source of content. People are always asking who is going to win the “streaming wars.” My dark horse candidate is YouTube.
As a comedian how do you deal with hecklers?
So many comedians are mean to hecklers. I hate that. There’s no reason for that. They’re a person too and it’s not right to berate them unless they truly insulted you first. In my opinion, there are three types of hecklers — the heckler who is just too drunk, the heckler who thinks they’re helping the show, and the heckler who actually hates you or thinks you’re unfunny. I think only the latter deserves to be berated. The rest of them I try to work around, and tell them they’re interrupting the show in a way that doesn’t interrupt the show in itself.
What was the first joke you ever wrote and your favorite joke you have ever written?
Oh god this is going to be horrible. The first joke I every wrote was:
“Shawn White is a professional snowboarder, but a lot of people don’t know he is also very skilled in Curling, his hair”
That is so bad. I’m embarrassed. At least it disproves the BS some people say that “funny isn’t learnable.” That is NOT TRUE. What they mean is the infrastructure for funny scant exists. There’s no Standup Comedy Major in Art Schools or Textbooks that teach joke writing. There will be one day, but for now there isn’t.
My favorite jokes I write are jokes that I really think encapsulates the zeitgeist. My favorites on the special are the joke about how Jesus’ Disciples are Brown, and how the Vaccine is the first time anyone in the US has gotten healthcare for free.
Are there any jokes that you regret telling in front of an audience?
Of course. Referring back to my answer to the first question, any joke that has the underlying presumption that it is ‘odd’ to be brown — which is a genre of jokes that many Indian-American comedians in history have been pigeonholed into — I regret saying those type of jokes when I first started. Now I do the opposite. Sometimes I’ll do a joke about how Jesus was brown in Texas just to piss them off.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
Flying to Nashville to shoot Bettor Days for ESPN+ was great. I was just out of school at the time so it felt amazing to make money, travel, and work. Also the sets were fun and I’m still friends with the cast. And then getting to see myself on TV for the first time — thrilling.
Can you tell us more about your podcast First World Problematic?
Yes! First World Problematic is the comedy podcast I host with Vishal Kal — yes the same one that broke Nadia’s heart on Indian Matchmaking — and Surbhi, another close comedian friend of mine. We’re all Indian-Americans, and we discuss a wide variety of topics, such as dating, pop culture, and just in general make a lot of jokes. ALSO! We just released an Indian Matchmaking Season 2 reunion special — we brought back all the cast members of season 2 for a tell all! In Jan we plan to do a Season 1 reunion.
Who do you look up to in the world of comedy?
Man. I’m a student of a looooooooot of comedians. So so so many people I look up to. Steven Wright and Dave Chappelle are my first loves. When I was a kid, I used to think standup was just time pass, until one day I stumbled upon Dave Chappelle: Killin Em’ Softly on YouTube. That is what made me realize that standup can be high art. That is when I knew I wanted to be a comedian. Steven Wright is the comedian who first inspired me to write jokes, many of my first jokes emulated him. I have learned so much about modern Joke Structure from Dave Attell, Emo Phillips, Dan Mintz, and Anthony Jeselnik. Bit structure I take directly from Louie CK and Bill Burr. As for my comedic voice, I learned so much from Paul Mooney. Listening to him is what I feel really unlocked my approach to comedy, the way how he is so mean, so aggressive. He talks about white people the way the media talks about black people. I always thought us Asian people needed that, an Asian comedian that talks about Asian-American issues, but not with the friendliness you typically see Asian comedians portray. He taught me to be in your face. And Chappelle taught me how to be nice about it.
Do you feel that South Asian comedians can be easily pigeonholed?
Historically — unequivocally yes. In the modern times, much less so. I very much think South Asian comedians in some sense pigeonhole themselves, by trying to emulate past South Asian comedians, who were pigeonholed by the market. I do think now, and it is completely because of social media, there is a market for every kind of comedy. Like I said in my previous answer, I’d like to be a South Asian comedian with the confrontationality that we have historically only seen from Black comedians.
But you know who is really pigeonholed nowadays? Female comedians. This may be a tangent, but if there was a Female comedian that talked about Female issues, with the hostility towards men that Bill Burr will occasionally have towards women, in my opinion she would likely be the GOAT.
How do you feel social media such as Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat have changed comedy?
Social media has been a truly beautiful thing for comedy. It has completely decentralized the power structure of our business. Back in the day, if you wanted to get famous, you had to do comedy that appealed to the white men who held the power at the networks, at the talk shows, in the writers rooms. They still do control all those things, but now because of social media the people watching our stuff are representative of the population, and we can grow our followings because the market is wider. Now if you have a social media following, you have all the leverage, and therefore you see a multitude more styles of standup comedy out there. Also social media in my opinion is the third great comedy boom. Seinfeld made standup a household art form, Netflix made it possible for people to binge watch standup, and now Tiktok and Instagram have proliferated standup to the point where it is EVERYWHERE. There are more comedians than ever and there’s a bigger market for standup than ever.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
Us Indian-Americans are at a very interesting financial and cultural intersection. Indians are the richest ethnicity in America, and culturally Indian parents will generally pay for their children’s college, unlike other ethnicities. If Indian parents were to hypothetically support their child to go into the arts, just like they may support them in getting their Masters degree, I believe Indians would have an astronomically higher chance of making it in the arts than anyone else. The greatest gift you can give your artist child is financial support in the early stages, since we all know the early stages of the arts make next to nothing. We just have to get rid of the Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer only BS that I would argue is a remnant of the Caste System in India.
Also, remember to call white people Euro-Americans. It helps the movement!
An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.
The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.
Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.
Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.
“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”
“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.
“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”
“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”
“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.
Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.
Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.
Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.
“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”
Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need.
“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.
Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.
I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.
A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.
It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.
Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.
I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.
I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.
She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.
I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.
I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.
Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.