Clayton Echard Talks Body Dysmorphia in New Interview – Men's Health
“I had a few significant others tell me, ‘I love the way your body looks. I think it’s great.’ But I couldn’t believe it,” the ‘Bachelor’ star says in a new interview.
CLAYTON ECHARD IS A SHARER. For viewers of his season of The Bachelor, maybe to a fault. While the 29-year-old has come under fire for his dealings with the female candidates on the show—
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including Susie Evans, with whom he had an emotional on-camera breakup before starting and ending things yet again once filming wrapped—he’s gained more support going it alone. Echard, a hulking 6’5” former tight end for Mizzou’s football team who briefly went pro for the Seattle Seahawks in 2016 but got cut pre-regular season, has struggled with serious body issues much of his life. He hasn’t been too shy to admit his body dysmorphia both on and off TV, garnering empathy and respect for his honesty from Bachelor Nation, especially as many other male athletes remain tight-lipped about such things.
Now Echard has a new career far away from the glare of reality TV or pro sports: He’s advocating for men like him, and coaching private clients on their physical and mental health. He recently talked to Men’s Health over the phone about his bumpy history with his body—how he’s hated it, trained it, used it on the field, learned to embrace it—and his efforts to teach young men to have the kind of healthy body image he lacked for so long. Plus he discusses the ultimate exercise for beginners and ignoring Reddit critics.
CLAYTON ECHARD: I stepped away from medical sales. The easiest way to say it is I’m a physical and mental wellness advocate. I’m an online coach. So I offer fitness and nutrition plans to clients online. I speak around the country on mental health. I’m writing a book on mental health right now. And then I’m also getting my real estate license.
Oh, yeah, sure. I was trying to make a return recently. But my knees are telling me otherwise. It was tough because that was my life. I played all the way up until I was 23 years old, and it was a part of my identity. And I think that’s where athletes struggle post-sports, because they lose that sense of self because so much of their life revolved around that sport. I found a lot of success late in the game. I didn’t even know if the Mizzou football team was going to accept me as a walk-on so I already knew that after my senior year, football career could end at any point.
When I realized that I wanted to walk on at Mizzou, I was under 200 pounds my senior year of high school. I thought, “If I want to walk on, I should look like all the other defensive ends.” I found that they were all 240 pounds, and I was like, “Wow, I have to gain 40 pounds before I show up.” That’s a lot. I didn’t do it the right way. I basically ate an excess of food. To the point where I was bloated every night. I would never recommend it. I was drinking mass gainer protein shakes, I was stuffing my body with as many calories as I could. I think I put on 10 or 12 percent body fat. I was working out. But I was putting so much weight on so quickly that my body could only put on so much muscle at once.
And then instantly it was like, “Okay, well now I’m going against guys who are 300 pounds.” So then I got up to 275 in two years. I basically put on 80 pounds over the course of two and a half years.
That was really hard on my body not just from a weight standpoint, but I struggle with body dysmorphia. That was really troublesome for me mentally. I knew that I had to be this size for football. I told myself there’s really no other way around it. I remember when I was in college, when we were sitting on the bus for the away game, every time we hit a speed bump or a pothole, I would feel my fat jiggling. On the field, it played to my benefit. The field was my escape from that. It almost allowed me to put my body dysmorphia to the side. But every day, waking up, I’d look in the mirror, and I hated what I looked like. I would have days where I’d be super negative because of that.
Absolutely. With my significant other, I wondered if they found me attractive. I just thought, “They probably think so and so. I hate the way my body looks. I think it looks kind of disgusting. So I wonder if they think the same thing.” I had a few significant others tell me, “I love the way your body looks. I think it’s great.” But I couldn’t believe it.
I realized it was always me. I remember one of my exes was like, “You look in the mirror every day.” And she thought it was because I was vain. I would look at the parts of my body I liked, I’d look at the muscle and maybe I’d flex in the mirror. It’d be like, “See, he’s vain.” But I was doing it to try to counteract when my eyes made their way down to my stomach.
My relationship and football both ended around the same time. And then I was like, “Wait, I don’t have these other priorities. Now. I don’t like the way I look. And while I’m single, I want to be able to love myself for who I am. Can I change my body in a healthy way where I can start to find more self-love?” I started to seek out resources for how to do it. And I looked online and talked to others and just kind of started making small changes.
I wanted to find happiness in my life with a long-lasting relationship. I know people will say, “Well, then why would you go on reality TV?” Whenever I got asked to go on The Bachelorette, my thought was, “I’ll get knocked out of contention after night one or night two. But I’ll be there, and someone somewhere in the world will see me and be like, ‘Oh, I like that guy.’” It’s something that comes around maybe once in your life, so go enjoy it, live your life for what it is. And don’t let your body dysmorphia or your insecurity hold you back.
I wasn’t really happy with my life at that point. I opened up on the show about [my body dysmorphia] to the women. It was met with a lot of support. And then when the episode aired, it was met with even more support. And I started getting people sending me messages saying, “Hey, thank you so much for talking about this. When I watched you on TV, I broke down crying, because it really resonated with me.” I realized that I had a platform to really reach more people and create this great impact.
It’s crazy. I’ve had boys, saying, “I just want to thank you for helping me realize this, because I struggled with trying to figure out what was wrong with me.” So I’ve had it happen. I’ve even had conversations with 50-year-old, 60-year-old men, saying, “I’ve always felt like I could never tell anybody.” It’s been so cool to be able to show people that actually addressing our struggles brings so much more stress relief than suppressing them. They don’t go away when you suppress them. Our ultimate happiness is being able to just be who we are and not have to hide what we are.
I haven’t really had a lot of interactions with the football industry. My former teammates have been really supportive. I’m hoping to get in contact with, like the NFLPA and start having these conversations. I’d love to come and talk to these athletes.
I was forced to grow up quickly. I learned so many different things. I’m just gonna list them off: Try not to use absolutes, because you never know. Maybe it’s no today. I also think I learned we should equally give weight to perceptions and intentions. So when it comes to communication amongst individuals, I think that we should allow them to both hold equivalent weight. And if we do that, that requires a sacrifice of our ego. But if we are able to sacrifice our ego and stop trying to be right, that’s where we find ourselves actually becoming more connected as a society. So many people are so focused on right and wrong. And if we just would set that aside, and focus on understanding, then I think that’s where you start to build those connections. And people feel less alone. Because I think intrinsically, most humans just want to be loved and want to be understood. We all come from different backgrounds. And we don’t take the time to get to know people. One of the bigger overarching messages I learned is if you want to create, then you have to take action. If you want to create change, then be the change. If I go for it and I fail, I find out what doesn’t work. And that’s just one way that I’m one step closer to finally finding success.
Boy, well, I don’t have plans to go back to reality TV. Only because I’m happier than I’ve ever been. And today, I’m at peace with what happened. I think everything that happened was supposed to. I found the silver lining in all of it. And it was very, very scary with body dysmorphia. There was an episode early on where I was running into the streets of LA with my clothes all off besides a pair of briefs. I placed a lot of power into the hands of complete strangers that could have torn me to shreds on social media. But nobody said anything about my body. So I was like, “Okay, I guess this is all in my head.” And it kind of helped me get over it. But I think that’s really dangerous. Because if people would have said something, it could have ruined me.
The show taught me, no matter what I do, I will never be able to make everyone like me. Since the show, I’ve learned to stop trying to be a people pleaser. And that used to be a big, big part of my character.
Oh, God. Yeah, I used to go on Reddit. I still do. But I found The Bachelor subreddit. It kind of derailed me a little bit. That audience for a while was not supportive of me. But I still click in there from time to time. Curiosity gets the best of me, but I’ve seen a lot more positive positivity toward me as of recently. I think people are starting to see the real me and realize that I’m not a bad person. I made a couple of dumb mistakes.
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