Vanity thy name is …
The Jakarta Post - WEEKENDER | Tue, 03/24/2009 4:22 PM |
Women were always the ones obsessed with achieving the perfect
figure. Men were considered lucky, able to take on a few pounds here, a
love handle there, content to let their physical appearance slide with
the years. Then along came Brad Pitt and muscle magazines, and
everything changed, with many men today trying hard to be latter-day
Maggie Tiojakin reports.
A typical day at Gading Mas Fitness Club in Kelapa Gading begins
after sundown, previously known as “cocktail hour”, as young business
executives file into the gym area and check themselves out in the
mirror before starting their workout session. Dressed in sleeveless
shirts and training pants, they scrutinize their pecs, abs, biceps and
calves. A triumphant laugh follows a nervous giggle, as they measure
each other’s progress throughout the week.
“I think I need to do a few extra crunches today,” says “Ali”, lifting his shirt and briefly running his fingers across his rippled abs. “I had a little too much to eat last night.”
“Mirza”, a 30-something finance consultant, nods in agreement, pinching his own “love handles” around the waist. “This is depressing,” he says. “All that effort and nothing’s changed.”
For the past six months, Ali and Mirza have been religiously visiting the club, rarely missing a session, spending at least one hour a day, five days a week, doing bench presses, crunches and cardio sessions. Both single, they complain about the continuously mounting pressure to have the desired body, claiming how women are becoming more “picky” when it comes to looks.
“Back in the day, we had beauty and the beast,” Ali says with a comical smirk. “Now it’s beauty and beauty: Adonis and Aphrodite.”
Mirza sits on a stool and raises both legs, getting ready for a quick crunch. “Beauty comes in proportions,” he says. “It’s not about your face, it’s about your body. You can’t fix your face, but you can do a lot for your body.”
It sounds vain – to be driven by one’s looks – but a quick glance at fitness clubs across town will disprove the theory that beauty is reserved for women only. Gone are idolized images of the 60s, 70s and 80s where men were expected to be burly, hairy and scruffy. Today’s male icon is more chiseled and buff than Michelangelo’s David.
In Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Think (2008, AMACOM), author Gordon L. Patzer describes the Adonis Complex. “Bombarded by idealized male physiques on magazine covers, in underwear ads and in action movies – all of which feature men with rippling abdominal muscles and bulging biceps, deltoids and pectorals – many men have grown increasingly insecure about their appearance.”
Patzer also cites various studies showing that in recent years, male exotic dancers, models and even male action figures like GI Joe have become steadily more buff to represent the muscle-bound definition of ideal male looks.
“Times have certainly changed,” says Fathir Arange, a fitness instructor at Gold’s Gym in Kelapa Gading Square real-estate complex. “What was once considered emasculating has now become a trend: men apply anti-aging cream, drink protein powder to look buff, and – note this – have considerably less body hair.”
However, beauty often comes with a price. Just as women have been subjected to eating disorders, unhealthy body-image obsessions and low self-esteem, men are gradually falling into the same patterns. Eating disorders among men are not rare, yet their reluctance to get help has made it difficult for them to receive treatment and for the world to acknowledge their problems. According to a US study reported in Psychology Today in 2006, about 10 percent of anorexics and 20 percent of bulimics are “average Joes” who also display symptoms of binge eating at one point or another.
“I always tell my clients that health comes first,” says Fathir. “A picture-perfect body doesn’t happen overnight, and having buns of steel at the expense of one’s well-being is not worth the ounce of fat you burn per minute.”
Fathir also shares his personal “recipe” for attaining the desired body: “Eat well, sleep well and keep your body on the move,” he says. “There’s no such thing as a bad shape, there’s only good and bad habits.”
Nevertheless, temptation looms: deprive men of their monthly subscription to male-oriented fashion magazines, and they will find their motivation elsewhere, by stealing glances at each other, comparing one another’s muscle-to-fat ratio, guffawing in locker rooms and talking about work, traffic or the weather, before moving on to the new Calvin Klein ad, the protein shake, the energy bar, the weight scale outside.
“Damn,” says Ali, looking at the needle on the scale. “I gained half a kilo from last night’s supper.”
Mirza lets out a quick laugh, pushing Ali gently off the scale and getting on it himself. A second later, he takes off his shoes and gets on it again. He frowns. “How is it possible that my weight remains the same as it was last week?” He steps down, checks whether the scale is working properly, gets on for the third time – same results. “That’s it, I’m going on a water and cracker diet.”
“Take it easy, man,” Ali consoles his friend, slapping Mirza’s back. “Love handles are cute.”
Mirza shoots Ali a menacing look, jumps off the scale and playfully catches his friend in a deadlock. They wrestle for a while, on the mat, before walking toward the treadmill. They set the same speed, same distance, same elevation, and begin to run side by side.