'I hated my body - now I'm on the catwalk'

I DOUBT I have told any of you that my left pectoral muscle was permanently swollen, because of some sort of condition called Gynecomastia. It dictated my life in my teens and 20s, even though I tried not to let it.

I avoided swimming in public, but when I did, I had my shirt on. I always wore a baggy jacket everywhere while I went to university, even in the middle of summer. If someone went near me, especially a girl, I would flinch, afraid that they would find out. I tried ignoring it, and when that didn't work, I prayed about it by trying to beg, bribe, promise, and emotionally blackmail God. I made jokes about it, and I even named it 'Bob'. I went on the public health system, but it wasn't a high enough category, so there would always be forms and procedures to fill out, and then nothing would happen until I had to do the same things again.

I finally had the surgery. It was six years ago. I still have the crescent scars underneath my areola. If I think about the scars at all, I think about it with pride. Or sometimes I'm scared that it will grow back.

People who have recently come to know me are shocked, and amused, that I would enter the Manhunt Australia national modelling contest, which was held in a Surfers Paradise nightclub on the weekend, mainly because a skinny guy like myself would compete against the model stereotype. But people who have known me for years are shocked for a different reason.

Journalist Chris Burns competes in the Manhunt model competition at Surfers Paradise.
Journalist Chris Burns competes in the Manhunt model competition at Surfers Paradise. Richard Mamando

There's a presumption with modelling I guess, and that is that in order to do it, you surely need ego, and a heck of a lot of self-absorption. Having known these guys since I first competed two years ago, which kind of happened so I could get a guaranteed free trip to Cairns, I don't think that's true.

Last time I had no tone. I competed against strippers, tradies, bodybuilders, personal trainers. One competitor could hold a 50-cent coin sideways between his abdominal muscles. They encouraged me to keep trying. They said they were proud that I was starting to make the right decisions to improve my physique, if that was what I wanted.

Life gets in the way, and I moved to South America, testing my bilingual skills in a life under mental pressure, but when I returned to Australia and I moved to Bundaberg, I began prepping again. It gave me a motivation and a dedication I needed in my personal life. I knew I couldn't compete in physique compared to the other guys, but I quit alcohol and focused on a protein diet. If it made a one per cent difference, then it was worth it. As time ran out before the competition, my mind increased in its doubt, that I wouldn't be good enough, that the work I had done had made no difference.

I feel I am talking too much about myself. I am, aren't I? I'm proud of my narrative, but I'd prefer to hear the voices of others in this community. Bundaberg really helped me in the last few months. I was given everything I needed to help me accomplish my personal goal. Our photographer Mike Knott gave up his free time to help put together photographs for my application. I walked into a clothes store wondering how I would be able to fit my suit in time during formal season, and yet I was offered the service. I was waxed, fake tanned, given advice and help from people constantly going the extra mile. The Mayor showed his support during the last council meeting. And my boss allowed me to take the additional days off I needed.

I didn't go to the competition in Surfers Paradise to win. I didn't win. That's what people want to know, and when I tell them, they assume I failed.

But there were 16 men who competed at the Avenue Nightclub, and the results don't consider where I came from, or the actual work I put into leading up to the event. The other thing is I wasn't overcoming the scars of my past, those silver shapes that couldn't be seen under the bright lights of a stage. They weren't a factor at all. I completely forgot those were even there. And I feel better, healthier, and encouraged enough to keep looking after myself, even though there are no immediate plans to model on a foreign catwalk anytime soon. I'm happy in where I am right now.


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