Solidarity – Body Image

I changed as quickly as possible, and kept my face turned towards the ground so as to avoid being caught looking. The conversation started up again. It seems to be the normal, run of the mill, jock talk found in many locker rooms across America. Phrases like, “My big dick,” or, “Getting some of that pussy with this dick,” are frequent. (Of course, I wonder whether or not they realize the pathetic irony of bragging about their genitalia when everyone can see it after they’ve showered). Despite the fact that not all of the guys who were in that locker room were fit, their testosterone fueled comments left me desiring something more from my body.

This might come as a shock to some quarters, but guys struggle with low self-esteem and body image, too. A struggle that, as with girls, cuts to the quick by asking, in a roundabout fashion: what is a man? What defines him?

I remember sitting on my computer looking up pictures of my favorite male celebrities.  I sighed and looked at myself. The layer of fat forming because I’m too lazy to work out, the pale skin, the red lines on my stomach where the fat folded on itself, I looked at all of this and grew deeply saddened. I’m not in shape but I am not “fat” either. I’m in between, but nowhere near as good looking or beautiful as the men whom I admire (at school or in the realm of the celebrity).

There’s a growing objection to the way women are portrayed in film, magazines, and any form of media really. This objection states that, too often, the image portrayed is objectifying and puts forth an ideal that skinny is better, that not having fat is the epitome of beauty. This movement is correct in stating that the definition set forth by American culture (specifically), at least when it comes to women, is poor, dangerous, and has caused untold amounts of harm. But what about the “real” man set forth in today’s society?

“You’re beautiful and I’m not.” These were the words my first flesh and bone crush and friend ever said to me. He was, and is, in my opinion not only beautiful physically but has such an amazing personality and he, of all people, told me I was beautiful. I didn’t believe him. I still don’t.

American culture idolizes the man who is in shape. I cannot count the times I have held conversation with other guys who admire that one celebrity who is, “Jacked.” Or, when I sit with girls and they talk about the tan, sexy, bodies of Zac Efron and Channing Tatum. I laugh and agree. But deep down I’m wondering what makes this the ideal for manhood? Why must men look like this? So we can date someone? Why is the physical linked to that which is not physical whatsoever?

I understand the importance of being fit. Being fit does lead to a better life overall, and higher quality in said life. I also understand the attraction and desire for fit men in particular. But at some point we have to get past the idea that the definition of manhood is in any way linked to what you look like. If you look fit you’re manly and tough etc etc. If you’re “fat” you’re less a man. “Oh, you don’t play sports…” and the comment trails off listlessly. And if you’re a guy who is talented, especially in the world of high school, where most guys seem to play sports, that’s just a no, or, if your body isn’t perfectly chiseled, again a no.

All that being said: I have not been bullied, except by myself. I always smile, except my smile always embodies and defies this. I do not have an eating disorder, but I do have low self-esteem. But you know what? I’m going to be quite frank: forget the idea that fitness is determinative of manhood. Fuck it. It’s not true. If you’re gay, like me, hot guys with abs are wonderful, but that doesn’t mean you’re any less beautiful (physically or otherwise) for not being so fit.