I began working out on a more serious basis recently. I’m actually hitting the gym. After my knee suddenly bummed out on me a week ago and the evil weather kept me from even running on the weekends for the past two weeks, I began to worry about being too sedentary. That and my arms could really use some more strength.
I realize most of the societal criticism these days gets thrown at the way women are seen on television and magazines. Hell, Barbie has been taking shit for two decades because her figure is literally impossible to replicate in person. (Honestly, does anyone even play with Barbie anymore?) But what hasn’t been quite as noticed are the steroid-hulked proportions of action figures marketed to young boys. If a man tried to bulk up the way a more modern, comic-book-ized action figure did, his biceps would literally be the size of basketballs. It would require the use of steroids, and even then, it would be a real stretch to say it was possible.
I am about to break one of the most sacred rules of the unwritten Man Laws by admitting this, but here goes: I have issues with my body. I’ve had them since I was about 15, and I’m not alone. Men look at the magazines and go to movies too, and we feel the same pressure as women: To bulk up and become that perfect Adonis figure, 220 pounds of pure muscle like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. The expectations men feel to look like that and be the ideal man of a Playboy model’s dreams may not be as overt, but they’re there. The universal Code of Masculinity just clamps our lips, and we tend not to speak up about this pressure because it’s not manly to do so.
My exercise regimen has wavered and fluxed in all kinds of directions over the years, but it never disappeared completely. At 15 I was doing countless sit-ups and pushups, spending a lot of outside time dashing along the dirt trails at the lip of Cazenovia Creek in South Buffalo. I still do those things in various forms, although sit-ups and pushups have been almost completely exiled from my routine; pushups, in fact, are a form of masochism for me because one of my arms is significantly longer than the other, and so I have to prop the short arm up with books.
At 30, I’m probably now in the best shape I’ve ever been in, especially in a city where post-high-schoolers either head toward the closest exit roads with their degrees under their arms or load up on beer and begin leading with large guts by 20. There’s no possible way anyone could even begin to call me fat. I credit my current shape with a series of good habits which just happen to keep me healthy:
-In 2002, I took up bicycling, and I have remained a fervent cyclist ever since. I’ve become so synonymous with cycling that a large number of my Chicago friends instinctively think of cycling when my name is brought up.
-At various points, I took up running, only to ditch it later. It’s a habit I’m still in. My latest running kick is now going on five months.
-Frustrated with my bottle-a-day pop habit and my apparent inability to cut back, for New Year’s in 2010 I made the decision to quit it cold turkey. Like all New Year’s resolutions, I do have contests with this one, but for the most part my pop intake has been cut by around probably 80 percent.
-I almost never eat ice cream or cheesecake anymore. They’re twice-a-year treats for me these days. Three times, tops.
-Although I still eat many foods with dairy products, around 90 percent of my pure dairy intake has been axed. I’ve largely turned into a soy child. My only real dairy indulgence is cheese.
-If there’s a meat choice which involves a bird, I’m usually going to eat the bird.
-I stopped eating french fries a long time ago.
And yet, I still have some of the old padding, and I don’t understand why it’s still there. I have a sweet tooth, but I also have a high metabolism. Now, keep in mind that absolutely no one regards me as fat, stocky, bellied, or even as having a few extra pounds. I can – and in fact frequently do – wear extremely tight shirts, and no one thinks it’s inappropriate for a person of my figure. One of my friends, Ty, has even likened me to Jim Morrison. And yet, I regard myself as fat and ugly. The treadmill I run a morning half-mile on is an apt metaphor for my fitness goal: Always running upward on a hill that never ends. (I set the treadmill on an incline.) It’s probably just another way the bullying I faced took its toll.
The perfect figure that all of the beautiful people in the media seem to have is only attainable by about 10 percent of the population. I know that, and I’m only beginning to realize that I’m never going to be among those 10 percent. It says a lot about the pressure I feel about having to look a certain way that I hate the way my body looks.