Friday, May 13, 2011

"It's Just a Picture"

And then, in my reading on other blogs, I found a post written by a forty-something, gay fellow, who recently glimpsed himself in a mirror and didn't like what he saw in the mid-region.  Particularly in comparison to past images he'd seen of Ryan Gosling, Kesler, and Reynolds.  Seems his stomach now protrudes beyond his pecs--and he doesn't even drink beer.  
The alarm continued when he saw the latest cover of Vanity Fair, the one with a shirtless--and, dare I admit, in shape--Rob Lowe on it.  Forty-seven years old, the blogger wrote of Lowe.  "The man needs a super-sized bag of Cheetos.  Every day. And a puppy that chews up his sneakers."  
Of course, I smiled when I read this, but a pang of recognition ran through me, too, because this blogger, Rural Gay Guy, speaks for me and countless other well-into-middle-aged men like me.  The fact is, we can no longer compete with the likes of Gosling, Kesler, and Reynolds--not that we ever could.  And Lowe?  Well, he's nothing short of an aberration.  (In all fairness, on a recent episode of "Oprah," featuring Lowe, he admitted how he looks on Vanity Fair is probably his final hurrah before age takes over.  At nearly fifty-two, I can vouch for that, Rob.)
What do the effects of aging on the male body, and some men's reactions to it, have to do with my blog, apart from the fact I read the above on a blog written by another gay man?  Because gay men, no matter what age--and, certainly, more so than most straight men, who probably can't claim to be straight if they took note of how great Rob Lowe looks on the Vanity Fair cover--are more concerned about their physical appearance, particularly if they are older and single. Always have been, and probably always will be.  If ever there was an issue affecting gay men, and how they see themselves, this is it.   

So let me tell you a short story.  When I was a boy growing up in the late 1960s, I remember looking at a picture in a magazine.  I was so impressed by how great the person in the picture looked--male or female, I don't remember, but it was probably in Cosmopolitan, my mom's favorite magazine at the time--that I showed it to her and made a comment.  My mother took one look and said, in her typical dismissive way, "It's just a picture."  
And that, dear readers, is my point.  Anything we see in these magazines is "just a picture."  
Back in the day, they called it airbrushing or retouching. Today, we call it Photoshopping, the process by which photographs are manipulated, right to left, up and down, to turn them into anything we want.  Need your complexion smoother (think Adam Lambert on his CD cover)? Photoshop it.  Need your chest hair removed without shaving it, although I don't know why (think Matthew Morrison on the December 2010 issue of Details)? Photoshop it.  Need better defined abs (think any of the men's weight-lifting magazines)? Photoshop it.  
The fact is, folks, after the Photoshoppers get to these pictures, the subjects in them are no longer themselves; the real life people can no longer compete with their perfected images.  
Jamie Lee Curtis says it's all lies.  She's well-known for revealing the ways in which pictures of her were manipulated in the past, making her look younger, slimmer, fresher--whatever more desirable, and false, adjective you want to insert. She says she's done with that deception now, done with selling the public a false bill of goods that they can't live up to, and neither can she.      

So, what does all this have to do with the intent of my blog?  Well, first, on a personal level, I want to stop feeling badly about myself because I don't look like the hunky dudes in the pictures.  The message of this post is as much for me as it is for anyone else. Then, I want Rural Gay Guy to stop feeling badly about his physical appearance, too, especially in relation to men who are ten or more years younger. And, if you can relate to this at all, I want you to stop feeling badly about your appearance as well.  
Here's the thing:  As gay people, don't we have enough reasons to hate ourselves as it is, starting with how we've been made to feel about our sexual orientation?  Do we have to add the appearance of our bodies, and how they age naturally, to the list, too?  
About twenty-years ago, I started to work out in earnest.  What I've done in terms of exercise changed over time, depending on what fitness facilities were or weren't readily available to me--because, let's face it, sticking with a fitness regimen is as much about convenience than anything.  Now, I continue to watch what I eat (although I certainly have my treats), and I run outdoors three times per week, rain, snow, or shine.
I long ago learned, to my disappointment, that I'll never look like some of the muscles hunks I've been envious of most of my life.  It takes major dedication to look like that (not to mention photoshopped pictures that make you look even better than you really do).  You need a personal trainer to keep you on track, to feed you the six small meals per day consisting of all the right foods to build muscle tissue, and to teach you the tricks of how muscles respond to different types of resistance. For most of us, this would be another full-time job, and we already have one that saps us of all the energy we can muster.

Hell, even when you get it, you can't keep it. Not even sixty-three-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was a champion body builder decades ago, has managed to do that--to win the battle against time and aging, despite continuing to make working out and keeping fit a priority in his life.  If he can't get and keep the killer body as he grows older, how do the rest of us think we can?  Let's go easier on ourselves, everyone, and be more realistic.         
Here's my advice.  Focus on health.  Focus on being the best human being you can be, in every respect, and not a poor representation of someone you admire.  Get your head straight, and everything else will follow.  That is, work on how you feel about yourself, and, as you master that, you'll make the right decisions that serve you in ways you're not aware of now.  Stop comparing yourself to other people and unrealistic images of them in today's media.  

Embrace growing older and the changes in your body (man, do I need to hear this). Embrace the lines in the face, the crepe-paper complexion, rampant nose and ear hair (where there was none before), the lumps of fat in the abdomen area, the softening and changing shape of your body, the shoulder and back fur, the jelly belly, the protruding veins, the collapsing rear-end, the grey hair on your head--all common signs of aging.  Because, despite your best efforts, it ain't going to get any better.  In fact, it will get much worse, if you're lucky.  Put less emphasis on how you look and more on how you feel about yourself inside.  That's where your real beauty comes from.  

This is life.  Accepting we're not other people is part of it.  Accepting the aging process is part of it.  

Smarten up!  Yes, that's what I need to tell myself.  Smarten up!  


  1. Very good message, Rick, as usual...although I fear I must disagree on one aspect of mens' aging: nose hair. If God really wanted you to have nose hair that stuck out, he never would have invented those nifty trimmer gadgets... :)

  2. OMG, Sarah, I'm not talking about doing nothing with your nose hair. Use a weed whacker if you have to, but do something. While you're working on your inside, of course.
    Thanks for your comment. I had a good laugh.