I happened to walk past the mirror the other day...er...actually, no I didn’t; there was nothing coincidental about it. I approached the mirror as I do most days, determined to find every blemish that had dared to raise its head and ruin my day.
You’d really think that a 60’er wouldn’t give a damn any more wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, we may be sixty plus but us baby-boomers are still romping around Woodstock...in our minds! Anyway, today for the first time for some time, I really saw myself and it wasn’t pretty!
Now, I’ve got a great bathroom mirror which hides a multitude of sins but if I want the truth I have to go into the spare room and look at the mirror there. That piece of glass is a ‘mirror, mirror on the wall’ which has been injected with truth serum! After looking; really looking, I suddenly realised that after you hit a certain age, you look older in dog years and the body ages even faster than the face!
Why is that even an issue? I’ve had a life, done some stuff, been good, been bad, you know the story and should really accept that nature slows you down for a reason. However rational that may be, the mirror still has the power to shock and re-awaken the vanity genes.
Men have always been slightly smug about the female need to look like super models and have sniggered at that weakness in the female character we always suspected was there. How could they fall for the hype? I know, stereotyping much! Yet any intelligent person can see that the beauty industry is exploiting people’s vanity? Lesbians resisted for a while until the advent of fashion for dykes; upon which they rushed out, bought Versace and lip gloss and completed the cycle. Men would never feel the need to cover up our blemishes or fluff up the image...or so we thought, until we tumbled into the same trap! In our case it has been called the Adonis Complex and the Ad men have finally won!
Yes okay, the male menopause probably exists and yes, we probably go through monthly hormonal cycles of behaviour and emotions and we’re used to having penis envy thrust down our throats, so to speak and accept that real men cry and that it’s okay to share with our emotionally retarded drinking buddies? However, do we really have to give in to that thing which has reduced healthy teenage girls and boys to anorexic waifs, driven people into the arms of wealthy plastic surgeons and made fortunes for fashion designers the world over? I’m afraid so. We men, young and old, have become vanity victims!
After years of trying to develop acceptable toiletries for ungrateful males who used their Old Spice and Brut to scour the toilet bowl (some of course didn’t but you could always smell them coming well in advance!), our vanity was used against us and Cosmetic Ken was created to join airbrushed Barbie on the billboards. Heterosexual women were finally convinced that they had to drag their husbands’ sagging bodies into the 21st Century and a whole new gleaming set of products was born.
For gays of course, the whole process started much earlier and the well-toned, muscular hunk has never been out of fashion. Somehow though, in the fifties, sixties and seventies it all seemed much more innocent – those who sweated and worked that body, achieved what they wanted but the vast majority of us were still quite happy to parade around with what Nature had given us. Often a moustache and a cowboy shirt was enough to satisfy our needs to look macho swish. Nowadays though, if you can’t compete in the body-beautiful stakes, you can’t take your shirt off in the club or on the beach, much less join the ‘pecs’ parade! The drive to be Adonis has enlisted the help of the chemicals industry (never a stranger to gay society) and the innocence is gone. Never mind that steroids can shrink your genitalia and render you impotent; they can also make you sterile, which might concern Mr and Mrs Nuclear Family but has never really bothered us, has it? What is really frightening is the sheer size of the industry that has built up around the workout ethic and the fitness frenzy. ‘It’s all about the money, money, money!’ We won the battle to get homoerotic images into advertising but lost the war because we got sucked in! Duh!
There is a serious side of course. A whole generation of boys, gay and straight, and gay men of any age, is experiencing the angst, which their sisters have known about for centuries. Previously rare, the male anorexic is becoming a major problem and penis envy has been replaced by body envy. Gyms have sprung up like mushrooms and the number of home-fitness systems, as shown every day on Tele Sales programmes, is mind-boggling. We read horror stories of men carefully removing the nuts from their rough muesli and haunting supermarket aisles reading every word on the labels, seeking sugar-free and cholesterol-light. Diabetic food sales have never been so high! It can’t be healthy!
Actually, all people fall into three physical groups: Ectomorphs, Mesomorphs and Endomorphs. The Mesomorphs have it easiest; they‘re the ones with rectangular bodies, an upright posture, thick skin and thick hair. They only need to play at working out and they develop muscles in all the right places. Thank God they turn to fat in later years! Ectomorphs are thin, have flat chests, are tall but stoop-shouldered and are supposed to have bigger brains, which is a fat lot of use when you’re trying to attract some Hercules across the dance floor! Endomorphs have the round, soft bodies; the underdeveloped muscles; the overdeveloped digestive system; have trouble losing weight and have the hardest job of all! So, for at least two thirds of the gay male population, this new body culture has been greeted with horror because no amount of working out, weights, or hormones will ever give us the body they say we should have. We have to do the best we can with the physique we were born with but there’s always someone better, someone to secretly envy! Oh come on, we all do it! The tragedy is that we give in to the temptation of that Wonder product which promises to let us achieve our dreams. And only $ 199,00!! Have your credit card at the ready!
For those whose idea of a full workout is drinking standing up, there’s always the scalpel! Cosmetic surgeries across the civilised world are reporting booming business from men! We apparently have more money than sense, so the face-lift and liposuction are within financial range and men are flocking to the chic clinics to have it done. Nobody tells them of course, that you have to go into hiding for at least three months afterwards, endure pain and infections and just pray that it all looks good at the end and no, I’m not talking from experience but I’m not knocking it either...it’s a cruel world if you’re getting sand kicked in your face!
Finally, before your insecurities cause you to rush off to dust off the weights and start pumping, consider this: In 1998 in the United States, there were over three thousand suicides of men between the ages of fifteen and twenty five, who suffered from Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Yes it has a name and is thought to affect 1-2% of the population in the western world! Of that 1 to 2%, between 20% and 22% have suicidal tendencies. That may not seem much but we’re talking about 1-2% of the whole population who are clinically depressed by body issues and you might safely assume that it’s somewhat higher in the LGBT sector.
Obsession with physical appearance amongst gay men has become the single greatest reason for visiting the psychiatrist and in San Francisco for instance, plastic surgery operations on men outnumber those on women by three to one. Well, who’s surprised but it does make you think! Are gay men always going to be suckers for the latest trend? Is this obsession with physique here to stay and for people with HIV, is it a reaction to the potential the virus has for wrecking the body? We like to think that we set the trends, not follow them but the beauty industry is quite happy to indulge our delusions.
Now where did I put those dumbbells?