My body is like a jackass brother to me: I can live with it, but I hate how it acts. It stores abdominal fat like Iran stores uranium. My legs develop faster than my arms. And at age 38, despite regular sweat sessions and a respectable diet, I can't seem to drop back below 200 pounds. My odds of having abs or a V-shaped torso grow longer by the day. Strike that. I do have them. I just carry them in a supple, 20-pound man-purse around my waist.
Aw, here I go again. Pissed off at the body. It's not like it scooped up a gun, pointed it at its own head, and ordered itself to drink Budweiser for 23 years straight. Still, pretending that's what happened is easier. And I'm not the only one who thinks that way. If there's one area where men and women are equal, it's flawed logic. You won't find a man on earth who has uttered the immortal line "Do these pants make me look fat?" However, when checking out the mirror he will wonder, "Do these pants hide my gut enough to get me laid?" It's the same thing fundamentally, and it defines that irresistible logic gap we all try to leap: If the body looks like crap, recalibrate the pants.
It's Not About The Pants
This body image nonsense starts when we're young. I was overweight at 12. Not obese, but I had a gut. And I'd hear things. Someone would point me out at the swimming pool: "He's the fat one." In college, when I was all of 190 pounds at 6 feet tall, my buddy's girlfriend said after meeting me, "He'd be cute if he weren't so fat." Come on, 6'0" and 190 pounds isn't exactly John Candy Land.
Guys are just as sensitive as women about how their bodies look, but actually admitting it is where the genders diverge. Women ask us how they look all the time. But we know how we look and we don't need the extra punch of knowing how we look to you. So we solve the problem as quickly as we can: We stuff ourselves into the pants, drape an untucked shirt over the gut, and accept that it's the best we can do for the short term. Then we go about solving the other solvable things in our day.
As for the long term? Here's the logic: If carrying the extra 20 isn't the fault of the male body, the pants, or society (no man can sue McDonald's and still call himself a man), then it must be a fault of character. My own fault. Welcome to the bowels of the male mind, where the truth is suppressed faster than a White House whistle-blower. And the truth sounds like this: I drink the beer, I revel in the food and the belching, I'm the heart attack waiting to happen. But screw it all, I WILL NOT CHANGE. Because it's too...damn...HARD. Now, would you like to hear a man actually say that? While weeping? Don't answer.
Mirror of the Soul
It's this inner turmoil that finally sends us to the gym, where we can solve the immediate problem: inactivity. And where we can continue to ignore the tougher-to-solve character question. It's also where we face the one object that crystallizes the relationship between men and body image: the wall-length mirror.
I'm one of those guys who use them. I want to look, especially as my body improves. That's why you should never believe men who say they don't like mirrors at the gym. They're selling modesty they don't have -- I guarantee that they're checking themselves out peripherally. Right after they check you out.
And the guys who do gaze at their reflections all the time? Admiring their form, sure -- damn well studying it. But not their lifting form. The cephalic veins in their biceps. The cords pulsing in their necks. The ridged flow of their quads. My God, is that a new vein in my forearm? We live for that stuff. I like it so much that frequently I'm tempted to spend the rest of the day trying to get to second base with my pecs.
Maybe it's delusional, but I can't quit trying to solve the bigger issue of character. There will come a day when I'll be 180 pounds again, and it won't be from chemotherapy. So what's the holdup? It's only 20 pounds. Maybe because the effort necessary would force me to transform my spirit before my body and address issues like discipline, weak will, and oh yes, beer. Impossible? Well, I've failed so far. But if I quit trying, then I line up with the corpulent guys who really don't care. The ones who have degenerated from body-image issues to health issues, smothering a bar stool and using their exposed butt crack as a middle finger to the world. Nobody wants to be that guy.
I should just admit it. I know exactly why I will eventually make that ultimate change, because I believe that men and women think the same things and share the same goals. You, when you go to yoga and kickboxing classes. Us, when we lie beneath a full barbell, punch a heavy bag, or mix a protein shake. We hate how we look because we want to look better. And we want to look better because we want you. That's the real reason. In the end, it's all about getting into our pants. And yours.