September 18, 2015

Giving The Finger To Getting Jacked: It's YOUR Body, Not Theirs.

A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook about the “Spornification” of male beauty standards:

A man who works to have the body of “modern porn-stars, sports heroes and of course, movie stars… the lean-yet-jacked look has become the [ultimate display] of masculinity”.

A stock photo of the Spornosexual.
This is the male body type our culture is now pressuring men to conform to. It’s an entirely artificial, completely unnatural “designer” body type. To maintain the spornosexual body, a man has to work out obsessively and stick to a diet that borders on religious doctrine.

Now, before I continue, one important clarification…

If you actually enjoy the military-style life that getting jacked requires, if to you building such a body is a passion, an interest, something that makes you happy in your heart of hearts… If body-building for you is a fun, enjoyable pastime… You can stop reading now. Good day, sir, and happy [kettlebell] snatch to you!

But if you are stuck on the gym treadmill, if when you look at yourself in the mirror, you feel nothing but contempt and disappointment at your apparent failure to get “fit” or “jacked”, keep on reading. If you’ve ever let out a wan sigh, and bemoaned your “gaining 10 pounds” and “feeling hideous and fat” as a result, keep on reading.

I see guys who work hard to maintain this jacked-spornosexual body type. From what I can tell, it’s a full-time job. Hours at the gym. Endless plates of greens and boneless-skinless chicken breasts. Self-flagellation publicly shared if they eat a piece of cheese cake. I see updates on their lowered body-fat percentages, their trimmer waists, their bench press gains, and so on. Photos of 6-packs, legs, arms, and more. It seems to me they’ve commoditized themselves into a collection of body parts that they, and others, rate in value.

I wonder, “Has this man placed the foundation of his self-esteem onto his physical body? What is going to happen to him as he ages, or if he has an injury? Will he feel unworthy as a man, and undeserving of love if this happens?"

"Will the people who profess to love him, but only began to love him when he became ‘jacked’… Will these people abandon him?”

Sometimes, it seems like these men are placing all the eggs of their self-esteem into one basket.

All of this makes me feel sadness, anger, and disgust.

I feel sad because I perceive that beneath the surface, these men live from a place of fear. I wonder if they have placed their entire value as persons in their physique. They seem to fear that if they, for a second, put on a bit of bodyfat or lose some muscle mass, or skip a workout, that they will become worthless men. Men who are unloveable, unwanted, and undesireable.

It makes me feel angry because it reminds me of all the years of my own life that I spent hating myself because I didn’t look the way our culture tells us a sexually desirable male looks like. It reminds me of how worthless I felt before I learned, finally, that I can be loved for who I am as a whole person. The anger I feel is directed at our culture, the media, Hollywood, and at the advertising industry. I refuse to be angry at myself about this anymore.

And I feel disgust because… Well, how can I not feel disgust? It’s disgusting that men are told to meet these ridiculous, artificial, completely manufactured standards – which, ultimately are designed to make us hate ourselves so much that we desperately empty our wallets for their snake oil promises of endless love, adoration, sex, and perfection if we just follow the right diet, buy the right products, and follow the right fitness regime.

In a fucked-up, twisted way, this is one more step towards equality between men and women. Now, men are beginning to hate themselves for failing to have perfect bodies in the same way women have for centuries.

I don’t think a “jacked” body is a natural or healthy one. If you look at any man who actually works his body in a real physical way every day – not by working out in an air-conditioned gym – you’ll see that he has one of these three body types:
  1. Sinewy and wiry, but incredibly strong: Think of a moving man.
  2. Burly, perhaps with a bit of a belly, and a generally large or thick physique: Think of a construction worker or perhaps an auto mechanic.
  3. Large, lots of body fat, tree-trunk legs: If he does physical work, he probably does something like baling hay – something that requires stamina and strength over long periods of time.

Body fat is a good and natural thing. 

It’s there to provide you with insulation when it’s cold, and energy over an extended period when you need it. If you look in any traditional cultures, it’s considered a sexually attractive feature. Working towards 0% bodyfat is NOT healthy, and if you look at any bodybuilding forum, you’ll find no shortage of men reporting diminished sex drive/performance and fatigue/weakness as they continue to reduce their bodyfat even further.

A 22 year-old man with low sex drive, likely from pushing himself too hard.

Besides the un-naturalness of such a body, why would you put yourself through the hell that is required to get jacked? How about treating your body and yourself like a human being rather than a machine that you abuse and force to function beyond its original design’s capacity?

I’ve tried in the past to get this “ideal” spornosexual body type myself in the hopes that it would make me worthy of attention and love. But I’d always end up injuring myself or getting such muscle tension in my body that it would hurt to walk. I thought that I had failed.

And I had failed - but I hadn’t failed at getting “jacked”.

I had failed at trying to be someone else.

I had failed at accepting myself and simply being myself. I had failed to listen to my body and its specific needs, all in the quest to look like an image of man that had been shoved down my throat for years.

It started quietly within me, but I decided to stop listening to diet gurus, personal trainers, and others… And to simply start listening to myself. For so long, I had ignored something so simple and logical – that every man is built differently, and every man’s body has its own quirks and specific needs. I was treating myself like a factory-produced machine that I was expecting to look a certain way if I worked it out the way all the “jacked” guys seemed to.

But my body needs a different kind of attention and focus. For my body, I need to focus on relaxation, releasing muscle tension, and improving my flexibility. Even when I was 5 and 6 years old, I couldn’t touch my toes or sit cross-legged. And as I’ve gotten older, my muscle tension has gotten worse. Regularly going to the gym for hour-long powerlifting sessions will almost always cause injury for me because they cause my already-tense muscles to tense up further. The gym, for me, is the total opposite of what my body needs. I also have a very high metabolism – so if I work out in a gym even 3 times a week, I will end up losing weight really quickly - and end up weak and emaciated.

What does work really well for me though, is lots of stretching like what you find in a good yoga class, the occasional run, and a mild strength work out every once in a while – and some real physical work outside. I schedule regular yoga classes for myself, but sometime I crave a run or some weights or a hike instead. On these days, I skip yoga and I follow my natural desire for a variety of activities rather than forcing myself like a robot to follow a particular “program”.

I won’t ever end up “jacked” doing these things, but I will have real, functional strength and mobility, I’ll be healthy – and most importantly – I’ll be happy.

Looking “jacked” would require me to cruelly whip myself and live like a modern-day ascetic with a strict diet of tasteless chicken breasts and a schedule governed by my workout routine. All of this would be done to look the way society currently says a worthy male is supposed to look. It’s sickly Puritanical – as if being happy in my natural body is a terrible sin, and that only after suffering greatly to achieve an “ideal” state of body, that I would be worthy as a man.

Why would I want to place myself in the prison of other people’s body expectations when I can live a life that’s fun, spontaneous, free, and where my body feels good even though it doesn’t look “perfect” as society has defined perfection?

Thinking of getting off the spornosexual treadmill yourself? Here are 9 things to consider if you’re starting to question the whole push to look “perfect” and “jacked”:

  1. Turn it off. Stop watching typical Hollywood drivel and worshipping celebrities who look the way they do because they have personal chefs and personal trainers and the like. Start watching shows and movies where the actors and characters look like regular people. Netflix original series and foreign films are good places to start. British TV is great for this. Stop your subscription to “Men’s Health” and “GQ” and “Maxim”. This will help you, over time, to reprogram how you see the human body, to change your expectations of the body to be more in-line with reality, to be more accepting of the wide variety of body types out there, and consequently – to be more accepting of yourself.
  2. Stop or reduce the amount of porn you watch. Porn, in small doses, can be a healthy and wonderful thing. But – it does need to be used responsibly. Too much of it can ruin your real-world sex life by rewiring your brain to lose its ability to get aroused by real-world sexual stimulation. Mark Manson has a great post about this here.
  3. Switch to amateur porn. Go on sites like xTube and watch real, regular people having sex. Stop watching most studio porn where the guys have porn-star bodies and they all have gigantic pornstar cocks. Real men have body types and penis types/sizes all across the spectrum.
  4. You’re a person, a human being, not a fucking machine. This is what really pisses me off about the whole “EXTREEEEEME!” jacked-spornosexual machine. It makes men treat themselves like emotionless robots. It makes them whip themselves as if they’re slaves. You see guys putting themselves on diets that lack any variety. Working themselves out so hard that they risk injuring themselves. Making themselves push through pain, to the point of vomiting, all in the name of looking “jacked”. Men are already treated and viewed in society as the disposable sex – we should be working to FIGHT this idea, not enforce it upon ourselves!
  5. You don’t have to be perfect to be loved. This. It took me far too long in my own life to understand this. I first learned this in 2 of my previous longer-term relationships. For a long time, I didn’t think I could be truly loved because I wasn’t white, and then because I didn’t have a muscular, toned body like you see in gay magazines/porn or on TV. It seems laughable now that I even felt this way – but such is the power of the media and society’s ideals – especially when you’re young and impressionable. I think when you get older, you respond to this in one of two ways. You either wise up to the falseness of media images and laugh at them – or you end up being one of those guys who’s always trying to look like a 22 year-old gym bunny.
  6. Start using the phrase, “Fuck off!” more and more. You see yet another gay men/men’s magazine with some dude with 0%
    Yes, use this finger.
    body on the cover? Feeling like a failure when you look at that magazine cover and then down at the fat on your own body? Stop. Seethe. Get angry. Get pissed off. BUT NOT AT YOURSELF. Turn your middle finger up at the image, and say to it, “Fuck you, fuck off, I don’t need to kill myself anymore to be like you.”
  7. Remember the truth. Every time you see an image in media or advertising that makes you feel like a failure or unattractive, remember - that image was designed to make you hate yourself. To make you sign up for the latest fad diet and buy its products. To make you hate yourself so much that you spend your life and resources on empty promises of love and sex and glory that you’re promised to receive – if you only just look jacked enough. Images like this are pervasive enough to encourage you to essentially transfer the wealth you generate in your life over to people who get rich off your self-hatred. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty fucked-up.
  8. Go get naked. Start going out occasionally to nude beaches or places that are clothing optional. You’ll start to see a variety of body and penis types, shapes and sizes. You’ll probably find yourself initially disgusted by what you see. And when that happens, ask yourself why you feel this way – and who made you feel this way. There’s a whole spectrum of humanity out there that the media/advertising industry complex wants you to hate, because that whole spectrum of humanity is in each of us – and if they have you hating the body types of most of the spectrum of humanity, they’ll have you hating yourself so that you buy more shit you don’t need to become something that at best isn’t going to be as good as you think it’ll be… And at worst could lead to injury or death.

    What’s funny to see when you go to clothing optional places is the paradox of nudity you’ll see. The guys with the most toned, muscular bodies – the ones whom our culture tries to trick us into idolizing - are the ones who refuse to get naked. They have worked so hard to have their “perfect” bodies – but they are so hard on themselves because they think they’re not perfect enough to simply be free and naked. What this tells me is that those toned, muscular guys whom we’re supposed to all want to be are very insecure and fearful of being judged for their bodies. I feel sorry for them. We get what, maybe only 70-90 years of life on this rock? To be imprisoned in a cage of body image expectations that prevent us from enjoying some of the simplest pleasures life has to offer is a terrible waste of our limited time here.

    There’s always going to be some asshole in life who’s going to come up to you and tell you you’re too fat, too ugly, too brown, too whatever. Always. The least you can do for yourself is to stop being that asshole to yourself.
  9. The Brunch Test. Portland has taught me all about the importance of brunch in life. They don’t fuck around with brunch in this city – it’s serious business. If you’re a single gay guy looking for a boyfriend, I think “The Brunch Test” can help you screen out the wrong type of guy, and screen in the right one. It’s simple – when you’re considering a particular guy online or in real life, ask yourself this:

    “On a Saturday morning, would this guy insist on getting up at 6AM, having a protein shake (and not the good kind), going for a run, and then working out for an hour before coming home to eat boneless, skinless chicken breasts and salad with paleo dressing? Or is he the type of guy who’d probably sleep in, then fuck, and then brunch?”

    I believe that the fuck-and-brunch boyfriend is by far the better choice. He’s someone who can appreciate the simple things in life – and that? That’s the type of person you want by your side. Because the simple things in life – love, food, friendship, and family - are really it. If you have these things in your life, you’re pretty fucking lucky. Why would you deprive yourself of things that so many people don’t have?

I’m a car enthusiast, and so let me leave you with this thought:

Male Porsche drivers have, over the years, gotten a reputation as being jerks with too much money who are trying to compensate for lacking in sexual virility. While certainly true of a small minority of Porsche drivers, I think what’s more accurate is that male Porsche drivers can be split into these two groups:

  1. The guy who gets a Porsche because he wants to project an image of wealth, success, and having it all.
  2. The guy who enjoys driving his Porsche because he likes its speed, its handling, working on it, and racing it. He gets lost in the moment when he is driving his Porsche.

The first guy drives his Porsche to elicit approval and envy from others. His happiness and self-worth are dependent on others. He has unwittingly become community property.

The second guy drives his Porsche for himself. His happiness and self-worth come from himself. He owns himself.

Which guy do you want to be?