Archive for January, 2012

Am I perfect yet?

I was intrigued by a recent cover story in Details Magazine. The big, bold headline read: “America’s New Male Body Obsession.” And the subhead: “It’s official: The Male Gaze Has Turned Upon Itself, and American Men Are Focused on Their Physiques as Never Before.”

Among the many things the article points out, the opening statements are sobering: “… Everywhere you turn, the male form is being idealized, commodified, fetishized. On TV screens (the ripped vampires of True Blood), in Hollywood (Ryan Gosling’s toned torso lifting Crazy, Stupid, Love to the top of the box office), and on billboards (towering images of chiseled men in briefs), laptops, and smartphones (the appendages of Weiner and Favre). Now look in the mirror. (And we know you do.) We’ve all become body-conscious to the core…”

Indeed. In my last post, I reported about a recent study that noted the majority of gay men would give up a year of their life, or more, to acquire that perfect body. According to Rosi Prescott, the CEO of Central YMCA and who was interviewed by PinkNews, where the story originally ran,  the research shows that “body image anxiety is sadly much more of an issue for gay men.

“Today gay men are under enormous pressure about their bodies,” Prescott added, “and we believe that a lack of body diversity in the media, including the gay press, and a relentless focus which values people based on appearance, may in part explain why gay men are particularly susceptible to this issue. This is of concern when we know that record numbers of men are taking steroids or having unnecessary cosmetic surgery to achieve what is often an unattainable or unrealistic body image ideal.”

After sifting through both the Details’ article and the original study, I recalled one of the more potent interviews I conducted over the last few years. It was with Geneen Roth. She’s the celebrated author of “Women, Food and God” and “Lost and Found,” and quite the trailblazer when it comes to raising the level of awareness around the severity of eating disorders and body image issues. (Her books, by the way, aren’t solely for a female audiences. Many of the issues she addresses are universal and affect both women and men.)

Roth told me that she struggled with her weight most of her life, gaining and losing more than a thousand pounds since adolescence, fluctuating between dangerously overweight and severely underweight. Yet she remained committed to fully understanding herself and her motivations. And so, as is often the case with such passionate internal quests—be careful what you ask for—around 1979, she took action and did the one thing she may not have thought she ever would: Stop dieting. 

“I felt like I [was] in a living hell for so many years because I thought my pain was about my relationship to food,” Roth revealed. “I suffered hugely, having been on dozens of diets and gaining and losing every week, and feeling that what was wrong with me was the size of my body; feeling that the size of my life and the size of my body were exactly, perfectly synonymous.”

But putting a halt to dieting wasn’t so much about being overweight.
 She writes: “When I stopped dieting, it was because I glimpsed the possibility that my crazy eating was the sanest thing I’d ever done. If I didn’t reject it, try to be good or measure up to an external standard of right eating or right body size, if I was curious and open about each part of it—what I was eating, how I felt while I was eating, what happened in the moments before I suddenly found myself hacking away at frozen cake in an attempt to get the whole thing into my mouth ten minutes ago—the eating itself would lead me back to the feelings, beliefs, fears that created the addiction. Once I understood what I was using food to do, I could ask myself if there was a more direct way to have what I wanted without hurting myself in the process.”

I love that last statement because it suggests that one’s disorder—and all things that make it up, whether it be binge eating, starvation, dieting, body checking/fixation, and more—can act as the epiphany most people seem to be craving.  In other words … your food-related/body-image acts are actually an external manifestation of your inner self trying to get you to pay attention to something deeper—about you. All in an effort the heal or transform something. (It’s delicious irony if you think about it.) As Roth suggests, it’s not about “the food” … it’s more about that “thing” that makes you reach out toward food in, perhaps, an unhealthy way in the first place.

Cut back on plastic: Yo-Yo diets aren't healthy.

So, in regards to men and body image, I believe that the actions—the addictive behaviors around obtaining body “perfection”—are actually signals that something deeper is not being attended to. It’s tasty fodder and one of the reasons why I am writing this blog. As I noted before during the book tour of “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!” I don’t have the all the answers to these curious issues, but I do believe that engaging in conversations about it—especially men and body image—is extremely helpful.

It’s 2012. When the elephant steps into the living room, it’s OK to talk about it.

In the meantime, taking a step back, and simply observing our actions around food, body image, etc., is a good first step. For when we’re able to do just that … even for one day … we begin to see a clearer picture of not only who we are (at the moment), but how we are being.

More importantly, over time, it may help us appreciate the best qualities of ourselves and re-examiner who we really want to be or become. And I propose it’s something greater than a human being who can fit into skinny jeans.

Some delicious news just came across my desk.

According to unicornbooty.com, a recent study of 394 participants conducted by the Central YMCA, the Succeed Foundation and the Centre for Appearance Research at UWE Bristol, found that about 92 percent of gay men are obsessed with body image and that 59 percent of gay men compare themselves to other men they deem more attractive. And the figure for straight men? Half of that.

That may provoke a “no, duh” out there, but let’s do some more math.

The study also concluded that 48 precent of gay men would sacrifice a year or more of their lives in exchange for a perfect body. ONE YEAR. And then came this morsel:  10 precent of gay men would agree to die more than 11 years earlier if they could have their ideal body now. And this: Nine in ten gay men admit they also “enforce unrealistic images” of “attractive” muscular men in talking with others. About 35 precent of gay men said they were “anxious” about what their pals think about their body.

And straight men? Only one in five straight men seemed to care what their friends think about their body.

While this news may not be surprising to some, the 411 certainly raises eyebrows and once again proves to me that there are not many discussions being had among gay men about the deep desires/pressures to fit a certain ideal—the “gay” ideal/look that somehow became a standard way of being. By not talking about these issues, the problem continues.

I’ll be doing talks to groups of gay men on the matter this spring—all this sprouted thanks, in part, to a chapter about men and eating disorders that was included in the book I co-wrote “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!”

Stay tuned for more on this matter, but in the meantime, I say this: Shut up, and do some service!

Being healthy and looking good is nice. But when it becomes an obsession, how healthy is it, really? Giving is actually proven to offer stellar health benefits. Not too long ago, Forbes Magazine came out with a report that illuminated the benefits of charitable work. Giving immediately pulls you away from yourself. There’s no time to worry if you look good in your jeans. You can’t really focus on how many carbs, calories or fat grams you’ve been consuming—or how many your pal has either. There isn’t enough to time to fret about dieting or obsess about buffing up your biceps or hoping for that rock-hard ass that will make your world spectacular.

Here’s the thing: The world is spectacular no matter what weight or size you are. It’s there for the taking. Look around. LOOK at the people around you. Life isn’t all about how much a person weighs or how they look. It’s more about inter-relationality. So, if we find ourselves consumed with a new fad diet or something of that ilk, maybe it’s best to catch ourselves and consider switching gears. Why not locate several places in our neighborhood where we can give back—a homeless shelter or a food bank that feeds the homeless are great portals where you’re giving can make a difference. But there are so many others, too—from organizations helping teens or at-risk youths to mentoring.

Look away from the mirror—and body obsession. In 2012, it’s not about your waistline …. It’s about giving back.

OUT: Being overly self-involved.

IN: Giving.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the great Mohammad Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”