I hate my thighs and ass. When I put on weight I develop an ass that would give Beyoncé a run for her money. In my teens, I was tall and slender. Into my twenties, my subconscious prepared for a nuclear Winter by stockpiling lard in my thighs, hips and ass. I would kill for the silhouette of a male model as opposed to my shape, which resembles two or three models huddled together. Three or four years ago, I achieved a body I should have been proud of. I was lean – I had a flat stomach with good definition. My arms, shoulders and pecs filled a T-shirt nicely. My legs and thighs were solid. I obtained this physique by spending roughly ten hours a week in the gym, doing cardio, weight lifting and spinning. I calorie counted on a daily basis. My obsession reached its peak when I used an excel chart to graph my fat, protein and carbohydrate intake. I allowed myself treats now and again, compensating with an extra push during a workout. In my head it was all worthwhile; in my opinion I looked great. My friends disregarded my broad shoulders and bulging biceps, paying attention to my sunken eyes and ashen palor. Only when I regained weight did honest opinions emerge.
“I am putting on weight again,” I moaned to Joanne one day.
“You look great Stephen,” she comforted. “You were too thin!”
“Too thin? I looked great!”
“No, Stephen, you looked sick. You looked ill.” There was an unexpected firmness in her voice.
I was taken aback by Joanne’s comment. I was obsessive with weight loss yet I don’t feel I had an eating disorder. I question the reason for this distorted self-image. Advertising and media are often criticised for bombarding women with unrealistic portrayals of beauty, encouraging eating disorders. The same accusations can be made at male orientated media, perhaps to a lesser extent, since it traditionally did not focus so much on the male physique. Historically, actors such as Marlon Brando and Rock Hudson carried significant influence on the interpretation of male image in the 50s and 60s. Both actors – albeit through their portrayal in movies – appealed equally to men and women alike. Today’s portrayal of male and female beauty has more in common than ever. The portrayal of male beauty centres more on physical body – muscles and weight – than actual “manliness”. This is illustrated in men’s magazines that contain information on achieving the despairingly elusive washboard stomach. Countless men’s magazines boast secrets for the “killer abs”. In reality, a six-pack is achievable only by maintaining a relatively unhealthy body fat, rigorous approach to healthy eating and good genealogy. The facts are ignored by thousands of men who purchase these magazines on a regular basis.
I know many vain men. Gay men after all are perhaps the most narcissistic sub-category on Earth. However, increasing numbers of straight men are following suit in the amount of care paid towards their appearance. The modern portrayal of male beauty can be blamed for the advent of the metrosexual. David Beckham, undoubtedly the most famous metrosexual, was iconic for both his athletic ability and high ranking in the style stakes, during his hay day. His prowess on the football field reinforced his ability to be daring in his choice of attire. He popularised countless hair styles among teenagers around the world. Roll forward ten years and Beckham – and his modern equivalents – are role models for working-class teenagers. Cue the creation of the chav. The male chav, associated dress code and hairstyles, is a massive reinforcement to metrosexuality and an attack on the manly man of old.
As comfortable as I am discussing my own body-issues, I was surprised when one day Best-Friend and I openly discussed our personal hang ups with our appearance. Men – gay or straight – rarely do this. I recall mentioning how happy I am to have pursued orthodontic treatment. The conversation eventually turned to what we would change about our bodies, if we could.
“Once my braces come off, I’m getting laser whitening. Think Donny Osmond!”
Best-Friend admitted an insecurity, again prompting my turn.
“I am going to look into laser hair removal for my monobrow. I pluck so much I’m afraid a chunk of my face will one day come off.”
Following a discussion of cosmetic surgeries, it was revealed neither of us would consider anything more drastic than Botox. Walking through Stephen’s Green, I pointed to my crow’s feet and prominent frown lines on my forehead. I have no issue with age. I can’t wait to go grey. It just seems that for a certain amount of money I can pay to treat an insecurity. My once crooked teeth will be Hollywoodesque within two years. I can rid myself of a monobrow for €130. Should I develop a deep furrow, I can “fill” it, costing €300. For the first time in history cosmetic alteration is available to the public at large. Instead of dealing with insecurity we can simply spend to dispose of it. We do so because we can. Considering the proliferation of cosmetic treatments among the wider public, it’s no surprise increasing numbers of men invest in their appearance. At the height of the recession, Debenhams, London recently reported a doubling in the number of men availing of eyebrow – or “guybrow” – shaping. The Celtic Tiger was partly responsible for the expansion of the Grafton Barber franchise, a styling and grooming service offered in the guise of a traditional barber’s. Despite increasing sales of men’s hair straighteners in Europe, few men openly admit to owning one. Society has progressed to allow man take pride in his appearance, only if he does so in a “manly” way. If he does it in a “pansy” way, he should keep it to himself.