In my endless quest for every positive message related to body image and fat liberation, I recently came across the Instagram handle @effyourbeautystandards. Created by plus-sized model Tess Holiday, the account is filled with pictures of gorgeous women and men living unapologetic lifestyles (ahem, my favorite kind of lifestyle). Through that account I found Kelvin Davis, a self-proclaimed “body positive gentleman author, blogger, model, dancer and activist.”
Davis’s page is filled with messages of self love, and I soon learned that not only does he run a male style blog called “Notoriously Dapper,” he is coming out with a book of the same name in early October. Wanting to learn more, I called Davis at his home in Columbia, S.C., to hear what it is like to be male in the body image movement.
You are constantly smiling in your photos, and your message is incredibly positive. Have you always been so open and happy about the concept of body image?
[Laughing] No, not at all. I’ve dealt with my fair share of negative thoughts around my body, but I’ve made the conscious choice to be happy the way I am.
How did you feel about your body when you were growing up?
Growing up, I was chunky. I remember being teased about my body in fifth and sixth grade. Back then, I had to shop in the “husky” section, which was a nightmare as a boy because I was bigger than everyone else but not big enough to shop in the men’s section. Everything in the husky section was designed to fit horribly—basically everything was a drape. Back then I only felt comfortable wearing Dallas Cowboys jerseys, so I wore those all the time.
As I got older, though, I started to take pride in my clothing and spent money on tailoring clothes to fit my body type.
How did you get into body image blogging? Was this always something you wanted to do?
I’m an art teacher, so I never really thought about it. That is, until early 2013 when my best friend Adam came to visit, and we went shopping at Express. I remember seeing a red blazer that I loved. They only had a 42 on the rack, so I asked an employee if they had my size—a 44. They did and I tried it on, only to realize that it simply didn’t fit. It wouldn’t go over my elbows or shoulders. It was really odd because I always fit into that size, so I asked if they had a 46 and they said they didn’t have anything that big.
How did you feel?
I felt awful. I started to think that I was simply too big; it took me back to my childhood and the shame I used to feel about my body. I went home and told my wife about it. She said women deal with those situations all the time. I explained that that kind of thing doesn’t usually happen to guys—usually my friends and me will go into a store, ask for our size and it would fit.
It really bothered me, but at the same time, I felt like I had to keep it inside because of the societal expectations around masculinity. You aren’t supposed to be emotional or weak when it comes to your looks. Society tells guys that they should be tough and be able to change tires, etc. But it still nagged at me.
What did you do?
I started looking for spaces online where I could talk about my feelings around body shame and how we, as men, could feel better about ourselves. When I didn’t find anything, I decided: shit, I am going to be that guy. And that’s how Notoriously Dapper got started. I wanted to make a body positive menswear blog for every man, no matter what race or size.
Your gender makes you a unique voice in this movement. How do you feel about the movement at the moment?
I’m excited about where it’s going because, back in 2013 when I started the blog, a lot of people didn’t understand what I was talking about and advocating for. Now it is much more mainstream.
What are men dealing with when it comes to body image issues?
They are dealing with so many things: eating disorders, emotional distress, and mental health issues due to oppression and being told that we can’t talk about a variety of topics, including body image. The truth is, so many of us are suffering in silence. Think about it: It’s incredibly rare to hear a guy in public talk about losing weight in his thighs or wanting leaner pecks. But mentally, they are thinking about it all the time.
According to the CDC, men make up 79 percent of suicides, which makes sense when you think that guys are expected to bottle up their emotions. It is really dangerous. I am trying—with my blog and my book—to make it more acceptable for men to be honest with their feelings.
What are a few ways that men can feel more confident about their bodies today, as they read this?
First, try to find confidence in anything that you do well. Maybe that is your ability to draw, or style clothes, or paint, or bake, or make good coffee. It is important to find confidence in something if you are starting your journey to self confidence.
Second,—and I know this is hard—try not to compare yourself to others. It is easy to get caught up in the models on Instagram, but that just distracts you on your journey to self acceptance.
And third, keep moving forward. My grandmother always says, “A setback is only a set up for a comeback.” If something happens along your journey and someone body shames you, try not to get distracted. Instead, move forward and ignore those haters.
Photos courtesy of Kelvin Davis.