Tuesday, January 16, 2007


I was thinking about body image. Male body image. We already know how important body image is to females, what with pushup bras and makeup and all that. But for men, how close is the connection between our actual appearance and the way we think we look? How important is the opinion of others, about something as utterly personal as the shape of the very substance of your being?

Are you proud of your body? Ashamed? Do you show it off? Do you hide it? Pad it under bulky clothes? Are you too skinny? Underdeveloped? Or puffy and soft and flabby? Do you wear tight sleeveless shirts -- or even more horrifying, tight curve-revealing pants? I refer of course to males.

We’ve all seen it. The guys at the gym, with the mirrors. You know. Even if you don’t go to the gym, you know. We have mirrors at home, after all. For my part, I don’t spend a lot of time in the weight room. Nowadays it might amount to 40 minutes a week, if that. Most likely less. The time I do spend is very focused, and as brief as possible. Warm up, work set, and out. But I do see the same guys, month after month, year after year. Hardly any of them have made any change at all. What are they trying to do? Maintain? That’s great, if they're 97 years old. They’re talking, of course. And looking at themselves in the mirror. Nothing wrong with that. The gym is a sociable place, for them. Not my lookout.

Well, one clique of retards was giggling to themselves about how much weight I was using for my squats. What people giggle about is my lookout, if it’s about me. The alpha loudmouth was heard to refer to me as a “mass clown.” Fuck him. Ignoramus. I’m sure he has a very large penis. I tried to see it, but his shorts were too loose. Tight shirt, though.

Now that that’s off my chest, I’ll continue.

I was raised to be ashamed. About just about everything. Shame is a useful tool. It controls and inhibits undesired behaviour. It inhibits all sorts of behaviours, undesired or otherwise. Shaming should be employed sparingly, and one might hope that it’s not so much imposed as elicited. (We apprehend the distinction between elicit and illicit.) I won’t rehearse the long list of petty betrayals and failures that tormented me as a child. I don’t even have a list. I have forgotten so much. I carry the emotion in my body, encysted, nugget, adding to my mass. (We appreciate the difference between encyst and insist -- and incest, but don’t read anything into that.)

I recall that I always wore a sweater. Every year I’d get one for my birthday, or maybe Christmas, and it wasn’t until high school that I stopped always wearing it. What was that about? It was a way of hiding. It was a way of being held. It was a physical barrier. It was padding. It made me bigger. Well, not always. I remember I took it off to play kickball, once. Years later a friend told me he’d never seen anyone so white. Do you think this is a non sequitur?

Up until not very long ago I was pee shy. Too much information? I just didn’t like anyone around. Now I hardly care. I’ve had enough showers at the Y to have lost a measure of modesty. Mind, I’m not one of those guys who struts about butt naked, sails lufting in the wind. If you want to see my penis, you have to take a shower with me. Hm. That didn’t come out right. And it may not even be true. Let’s just move on.

After I’ve been rolling, now, and I’m trying to cool down, I’ll take off my shirt. It took me a long time to lose that sense of ... not self-consciousness ... not shame, surely ... I don’t think there’s a word for it. Something to do with disapproving attention. Something to do with being apologetic. I’m just trying to lose heat, dammit. Am I allowed to do that?

No. Apparently not. I have to cover up. I have to wear a sweater. No one can know that I pee.

How about you? Are you ashamed?

The news is full of those kidnapped boys in Missouri who’ve been rescued. Michael Devlin, the pervert -- come on, we know what’s what -- who had them was manager of a pizza parlor, and worked nights at a funeral home. This is what the authorities need to do, now: they need to dig up every coffin that went through that funeral parlor, looking for extra bodies in the box.

Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly. Laddie bug, laddie bug, fly away home.

Those boys have a lifetime, to get over a lifetime of shame. And they were just victims.

I'm a little bit embarassed about my body. How perfect do I have to be? But it's not that. I'm barely allowed to have a body.

Do you think this is a badly organized piece of writing? I'm just playing with you.

But you didn't answer the question. What are you ashamed of. I tell you so much. You tell me nothing.



Jack H said...

I might write about those boys, later. I've avoided the news, but I had to look at an article to get Devlin's name. I am filled with rage and grief.


Anonymous said...

This is an amazing piece of writing, for many reasons.

Instead of explicitly answering the prompt, I refer to the book that catalyzed the process of unearthing and dissecting the imprinting of shame during my formative years: Brad Blanton's _Radical Honesty_.

Stay away from sweaters.

Jack H said...

And all the reasons are good, I trust.


But how insensitive of you, to mock me so cruelly for the fetish of my latency. Just brutal. Why do you try to hurt me?

Sometimes I wonder if people get it. Glad to find that some of them seem to.