Friday, October 29, 2010

Lasting Impressions II

The 99th Monkey left the following stories about what people said to him which left a lasting impression on him:

Since I never went to summer camp as a young kid, gym class in 7th grade was the first time I ever had to undress in front of other boys. The different genital sizes were glaring, and the word we were using back then was "meat." My best friend told me once that "you have no meat."

In contrast to many women (I'm assuming), apart from that one comment, I can't remember ANY comments from ANYBODY about ANY part of my body, EVER! Oh, I just remembered--in my 40s I developed a belly, and my mother once said, "What do you have, a tumor in there?" She now has Alzheimer's, and I lost weight.

Another man shared a story about shared showers in high school and his experience there, then went on to share other, more positive experiences:

The communal showers in the male dorms at [my boarding school] were a hard place for me. Experiences, not of words, but of others scoffing and laughter about my body are harsh memories from those days. Not everyone, but a few who fit into my category of jerks.

A more positive experience of a doctor who asked me as a 14 year old about my body's sexual functioning. It was fine. A moment of confidence building.

But the greatest impact has been in my relationship with my wife. We have the kind of love and intimacy which has been so affirming. We are both overweight 50-somethings. But she has so intentionally lavished love on me (and I on her) that the gift our bodies are to each other is life and perspective transforming. Simple words like, "I love your body," "Your body gives me so much pleasure," and "I love the way your body does ...," are so affirming. I think this is part of what life and love are about. We have found partnership, and part of it is the physical connection we feel in each other's bodies.
I had thought, when I asked this question, that most of the responses would be from women.  Somehow I keep being surprised when men respond as strongly to my blog as women do, but they are making it very clear to me that men suffer from the same types of body image issues as women do.  I think it used to be more of an exclusively female issue, but the media has begun to show impossibly fit men as much as they do women, leading men to have horribly impossible expectations for themselves just like we do.

Interestingly, when I look at this beautiful picture of the man's abs, I know it isn't what most men look like or could look like or even should look like.  This man has a very unusual physique. 

But when I look at a similar picture of a woman, I immediately think that's what I should/could look like.  I wonder what that's about?


  1. I don't know about other men, but I do get a feeling similar to what you say you feel. When they use shots of men with six-pack abs, or when, on TV, even some of the "nerds" who are supposedly non-physical have such well defined bodies, I do get the sense of, "Oh, that's what I should look like and I should be working out more to make myself look that way."

    There was a long period where I could hardly get any dates at all (through my late 30s and most of my 40s). I actually had women mention my weight as a reason why. Other times, some actually said, "You're a teacher, you don't make enough to support a family and there's no room for advancement."

    Yes, the impossible expectations go both ways and it doesn't start or stop at the body.

  2. How strange to have come along this blog. I haven't thought too much about this since the summer before 7th grade. We all talked about how scared we were about the communal showers that would accompany gym. I broke my arm shortly before start of school term, so I had to sit out for several weeks. So, they all had their time to get used to it together. I remember my first day in gym. I changed into regulated gym attire, had class and then it was the dreaded time. All I can think is that I whipped off everything as fast as I could, followed in, showered, and put things on as fast as possible. Within the next couple days, I relaxed a bit and was cautiously curius when I saw boys the same age as me with various stages of body hair, some full regalia, some just sprouting peach fuzz. Then, the sheer size difference between some of us. Obviously, you make yourself the control subject and start thinking, okay, not as bald as that one, I was shortchanged there, etc. For all the horribleness I thought it might be, it really wasn't as bad as we make everything in our minds. Kids were teased then as I'm sure they are today, without the coddling that's done for them now. Some have no P.E. and if they do, have no showers. I think we were stronger because of the challenges in life we faced back in the day. At 51, I don't remember anyone having six pack abs back then, even the jocks who were obviously toned and more muscled. It might be why I would be skeptical to join a gym now. It seems that these are the places for the "pretty people". Such a shame. Originally European, people changed on the beach and no one really paid much attention. Sure you saw nudity and various types of shapes and sizes but back then there wasn't the judgment of others we as society pass towards one another now. It excludes people from being confident enough to exercise in a gym, club, or using a locker room. We cannot all look like statues of physical refinement and it shouldn't matter. The reason for exercise is to improve health, not to be the fitness model that few obtain. Let's all give each other a pass and if you're fortunate enough to have progressed in physical fitness, help someone or encourage them to move forward with it. It's about a persons health, not so much a look of perfection. This matters in all areas of life; I love teaching anyone interested in something I've learned. Let's do the same with physical activity at any level.