I know that I work pretty hard to stay in shape and eat healthily, but the interesting question is "Why?". Officially, I lift weights because it is a good healthy practice, and muscle burns more calories at rest. In truth, weight lifting promotes muscle growth, which can look pretty excellent. Officially, I perform vigorous cardiovascular exercise because strengthens the heart. Unofficially, I do it because it helps balance out every (or most every) mindless eating indulgence and thereby keep me thin(ish). So there you have it. One of the reasons I try to live on the healthy path is so I can, as they say, look good naked. If I can simultaneously be super healthy with improved prospects for a long life, it's a definite win-win. Right?
Sometimes when I see my birthday-suit self in the mirror, I'm pretty OK with what I see. Mostly, that's the case when the light is dim, and I haven't eaten in hours. I also think I look OK when I'm lying on my back -- gravity is amazing at creating a flat stomach. However, I would say that most of the time when I look at my body, my reaction is either 1) "My body is weird" or 2) "Criminey, I suck". I see all of my imperfections on display, and I can tell you where every single pocket of fat is not-so-effectively hiding. In fact, most of the time when I look at a mirror, I'm pretty much only seeing the imperfections. Throw some grey hair on top of my head, and the guy who's looking back at me from the mirror is some middle-aged guy. And I don't think I like looking at him very much.
Fortunately, most of these mirror reactions are fairly split second, and they dissipate pretty rapidly. Also fortunate is the fact that I intellectually recognize that I'm an idiot. In a rational and self-reflective moment, I realize that I look comparatively just fine, and the degree of scrutiny that I put on myself is unmatched by any other human being in the known universe put on me. All of the little imperfections that I see go unnoticed either because a) most people could really care less what I look like and b) I wear clothes. Yet, like so many others, I choose to subject myself to the bright fluorescent naked torture light of doom.
What to do? The best place to start is a useful scapegoat -- I blame part of my body image problems on people who illustrate comic books and cartoons. Most human bodies do not look like the ones found on Aquaman, Batman, Superman or any of those other goons from the Hall of Justice. Perfectly etched abdominals and excellent muscle separation combined with unnatural chest-to-waist ratios don't really exist without the benefit of an airbrush pen. They certainly are not found on many mid-40's guys, no matter how well-intentioned they are. Yet, I am convinced that they have somehow become the subconscious norm that have ultimately found their ways to the covers of upstanding periodicals such as Men's Health. Just like our female friends, we guys are now subject to ridiculous body image comparisons.
|The real one may have a gut, but I wouldn't want to try outrunning him...|
So what to make of this?
- It seems that women no longer have the monopoly on applying a harsh self-critique in front of the mirror. I suspect that many more men than just me indulge in exactly the same nasty exercise.
- I would guess that my tendency to do this can be traced all the way back to my childhood underneath some nasty rock that should never have been kicked over. Simply telling myself "just don't beat yourself up every time you look in the mirror" is probably not totally practical advice in that I will inevitably still keep doing it.
- I should periodically remind myself that I am, in fact, an idiot, and that I look just fine. There are terrible things happening all over our planet. There must be something more constructive for me to worry about.
- Probably none of the guys who wrote all of those old comic books even vaguely resembled the pictures that they drew -- that's why they drew them that way.
- I should give myself a little bit of a break for being prone to superficial impulses.
- While I should work to aspire to letting go of my body image mishigas, I should also recognize that being less obsessed with it is not a great reason to run out and eat a refrigerator full of Chubby Hubby ice cream.