The Inadequacy Industry
Unmasking the Inadequacy Industry and its impact on men’s body image and self-esteem
The Inadequacy Industryencompasses the social, cultural, and business forces that keep you from ever being truly comfortable with yourself. It could be a religious interpretation telling you you’re a bad person for being your authentic self, commercials demanding that you need to eat this or wear that or go there to be truly loved, or imagery that shows you how a societally-valued human should look and be. It is the misery that keeps the economy running and the powerful powerful. And we struggle to identify it because we were born into it, marinating in its juices from the moment we access cultural knowledge, which is usually from the moment adults speak to us as babies. One might say that The Inadequacy Industry is the quintessential groomer, for without unwitting marks it would die.
I was victimized by The Inadequacy Industry between 1999-2001 when I made a go at acting just out of college. I moved to Los Angeles. Having been a happy-go-lucky and somewhat oblivious kid when it came to living up to the pressures of maintaining a look, or what some would call today—in a major triumph for The Inadequacy Industry—one’s “personal brand”, I walked into a trap I never imagined existed.
Unfortunately for me and my undefined physique, I went to Hollywood during the rise of the Boyband—N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, and so on—featuring impossibly skinny, sinewy bodies replete with 30-pack abs on huge billboards lingering over the many, many freeways by which I traveled. Soap operas, a proving ground for many a young actor, had latched onto the zeitgeist and seemed only to be hiring these similarly-styled bodies to recite their words. The actors didn’t have to act well, they had to look good. “If only I looked like that,” I thought, “I would achieve my goals.” If only, if only, if only.
Having little money, I ate lower quality food and fast food often. To compensate, I reduced my meals to about one-and-a-half per day. I also ran 60-90 miles per week. Though on trips home I was called “skin-and-bones,” the mirror whispered a more seductive story for two years, “I was hideous and would never make it big in this body.” Out with the oblivious kid and in with the obsessive one.
A confluence of events that included my money running low returned me to my childhood home in 2001. Though I was no longer actively pursuing the stardom that I was destined to achieve (if only, if only, if only), I now had access to healthier food but also to a scale! Out with one bad relationship and in with a new worse one. For months, I’d step on that scale ten, fifteen, twenty times a day. The number would fluctuate, going up at night the way weight does, but no one told me that so I’d go to bed upset with the lack of progress.
My solace was the internet. Surely the world’s expertise could explain to me what was going on in my head. That’s where I learned the terms “body image” and “body acceptance” and found a nudist website that had a vibrant forum in the pre-social media days where well-practiced nudists and naturists answered my questions about the issues I was having.Lacking resources for medical or psychological intervention (and indeed not even realizing I might need such things), I followed the prescription from the nudist community: Strip down and stare at myself in the mirror, reconnect the mind and body.
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I thought it was silly and I was afraid to be caught. Desperate, I followed their suggestion. Lo, it very slowly brought me out of my frenzy and back toward a healthier attitude toward my being. Over time, I started to eat better, kicked unhealthier foods to the curb, and found a more balanced relationship with running and recreational sports. The unkind self-talk didn’t disappear altogether, but it reduced greatly.
These interactions, and further online explorations into nudism, rekindled my long-held desire as a child to live a clothing-optional life, and I started to re-engage with my nudist identity.
The Inadequacy Industry doesn’t quit, of course. Thanks to social media, we can be bombarded on our screens rather than waiting to see a billboard far from the intimacy of our homes. Now in my mid-40s, I’m bombarded daily with social media ads questioning my “Dad Bod,” asking if I want to become a “DILF,” showing me that I should be engaging in a variety of conflicting dietary plans, doing cardio, not doing cardio, doing chair yoga, blasting my “man boobs,” and on and on and on (if only, if only, if only…).
Although I now embrace my nudist identity, I am not immune to the negative self-talk, but I no longer obsess about it thanks to my nudist and naturist counselors from two decades ago. For fitness and to keep up with the family, I subscribe to an online workout program with a supportive chatroom and I continue to run. Instead of the numbers on the scale, I now care more about the markers of internal health that I need to focus on to help ensure my longevity – that pesky cholesterol, in particular. Best of all, I accept that good health comes in many different packages, very few of which have abs visible from space.
Before I experienced my disordered eating patterns and the countless negative thoughts, I thought body dysmorphia was a women’s issue since that’s what was publicly discussed. Into the early 2000s, these issues were framed almost exclusively as impacting women. As a result, I didn’t think men dealt with body image problems and was therefore slow to recognize I might need assistance to figure this out.
Today online resources for men are plentiful. Since I haven’t used them, I won’t recommend any of them. I will only offer this to you: The Inadequacy Industry is here to profit off of your unhappiness and the messages will never cease. Its message is a lie. It always has been, because money is to be had in the misery, the perpetual state of “if only.”
For me, it’s no longer if only, if only, if only.
It’s become you are worthy, you are worthy, you are worthy. 🪐
I have reason to believe I coined the term “Inadequacy Industry” sometime in the past twenty years, but I deleted old blogs where I used it and the Internet WaybackMachine isn’t showing me snapshots from when I did.
I’m a nudist by nature, having had that internal pull since young childhood. It’s a story for another day, but for the sake of this piece, the important thing is to note I didn’t grow up in a nudist environment and had no exposure to nudist/naturist communities up to this point in my life.
The slew of ads you see were all screen-captured in thirty seconds (!!!) of scrolling my little-used Instagram account.
Terrific article - thanks for sharing this, Chris! Yes, for me now it’s endless fitness “reels” on FB, showing what exercises not to do and which to do instead... I think “Inadequacy Industry” is a great way of expressing it. Very cool you found solace from online nudists.
Great work, Chris! Thanks for sharing!