Naked, yes; The Truth, Whose?
I saw the magazine cover from across the lobby at Port Authority. I detoured, approaching the magazine stand with a purpose. I wanted to pick up the latest copy of THE ADVOCATE, a gay magazine that I have read on and off during the years. On the cover was a fine looking man, naked, with a sign over his privates that said I HAVE SKINNY LEGS. In the lower right hand corner of the magazine cover was this: “Twenty-two people of all shapes and sizes strip down, pose, and then spill their guts about what they love and hate about their bodies.” Long obsessed with honesty, with the truth, with the stripping down of ourselves, our personalities, our trappings, I thought this article would be just the thing for me. I paid my four bucks and put the rag in my bag and went on with my day (I was, in fact, on my way to the fish market – Port Authority is the perfect pass-through to get from one block to the block where it is—to buy some Tilapia, for that is what my diet is right now.) That is an interesting thing to note since the people who know me (or even glance, occasionally, at my blogging) know that I live my life on a diet so extreme as to be considered inhuman. I prefer to call my diet “bleak”, though I would not call it inhuman. The truth is that (contrary to popular belief and frequent accusation) I and my husband eat ALL throughout the day. We put fuel into our bodies every two hours. We eat oats and sweet potatoes and fish and chicken and broccoli, asparagus, spinach – any number of green vegetables. We just don’t eat the way the general populace eats. That is because we are health and fitness conscious, we are body conscious and we pay a trainer a lot of money to tell us what to eat to stay the way we are – to not follow his advice would be a waste of money. So the fact that I stumbled upon this article while on my way to feed my own obsessive dietary needs is kind of apropos. I have had to defend my lifestyle in the past; these days I find myself having to explain it I never apologize for it.
I am a fitness trainer. I am new to the industry but I have people who I assist to live healthier lives. I have friends who ask me to help them with this, as well as people who pay me for it. I am not the biggest expert; but I know what I know. I am a perfect example of living healthily because, at one time, I was 5’7.5” and 205 lbs. Today, I am the same height – and 156 lbs. I didn’t have any medical procedures; I worked for it. I did it for two reasons: I wanted to healthy and I wanted to be pretty. In the process I learned a lot about health and fitness – including the emotional and mental varieties.
As a gay male, I am (naturally) aware of the insane demands placed on the community to look good. There is no group of people more prone to judging a person by their looks – and I mean NO group of people; not the Hollywood agent, the magazines who hire the models, not beauty contestant judges, not High School cheerleaders. Nobody, nobody, nobody can score a person faster or harder, based on their appearance, than the gay American male. I believe I should say the gay male – but I have friends who are gay men from other countries and they just don’t seem to be as hard to please as the Americans. What is more, the specificity of judging ranges from city to city – and while some might think that Los Angeles or New York ranks at the top of the list, they don’t; neither does South Beach. No, for the highest in bigotry based on beauty, one must go to the deepest south to Dallas, the place of my birth. Born there and living in New York these fifteen years, you might say I have become an expert on prejudice based on looks. Is it any wonder, then, I should become an expert on looking good?
I’m not an expert on looking good. I’m an expert on feeling good. I’m an expert on making your body glide upstairs with greater ease, with making it possible to walk around New York in August without huge sweatbands under your breasts (female OR male). I am an expert on taking off weight so that your knees and back have less to support. I am an expert – a new one, a fledgling one, a continually learning one—on making yourself healthy; and that means mentally so, as well as physically.
Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass whether someone has a hot body unless I am going to photo them or fornicate with them. Even then, I am less interested in their fat content and more so with their character content. A nice person, an honest and trustworthy person and, yes, a pretty face, goes a lot farther than a six pack in my book. As a photographer for 20 years and a health and fitness fanatic for 6, I am more interested in the person than the body. I have gotten involved with men who were underweight, overweight, completely lacking in muscle tone (and also those with extreme muscle tone) over the years – because of who they were inside. I won’t lie: a guy with a nice body is nice. So is a girl with a nice body. It’s not the end, though; and I am saddened by how much importance is placed on this by our community. Oh, it’s placed on the straights, too – by the fashion industry and Hollywood. Look at the ongoing problem of anorexia, bulimia and all the other eating disorders during the last 20 years. Think about how much money is spent on the cosmetic surgery industry every year. Look at the Barbification of the Hollywood actress and the gay male community. It’s repulsive. It can’t be stopped, though.
We all have egos. We all have self esteem issues. We want to be pretty. We want to be admired for our beauty. We want to be wanted. This is not news. This is not a big surprise to anyone. It is a universal theme, isn’t it? Since we are born, what do we hear? Even before we know what the words mean, we hear people telling our parents what a pretty baby they have. It is what every person says about babies, then about children. In our pre-pubescence we are introduced to dressing up for church, for school, for special occasions; in our teens we are given the lovely experience of teenage angst and peer pressure until, finally, as young adults we go out into a world where we must date – something that always, always, always begins with physical attraction. Why shouldn’t we want to be pretty?
There is, though, a point when it becomes dangerous to be obsessed with our looks. It is unhealthy and gives us far more baggage than a normal human being should be asked to shoulder. Don’t we have enough damage without the pressure of being beautiful? I have learned to admire and respect people who make beauty their artfrom because it is bloody difficult! Oh, yes, there are the rich and famous who make themselves beautiful by artificial means – well, that’s expensive, painful and also damaging to your psyche. Then there are the people who diet and exercise to be pretty – being one of them, I can tell you it is hard work and damned painful. I happen to love the exercise part; it’s the dieting that is hard. I still love sweets and potatoes and bread and pasta and want them every day of my life. I just don’t eat them; not just because I am body conscious, though; I don’t eat them because I am at a point, now, where if I eat candy or cake or bread, it hurts my intestines. I don’t feel, physically, comfortable carrying around extra weight. My clothing doesn’t fit. There are other reasons than just being pretty to live the way I live.
Not according to some of the people in this article, though.
I read the stories and was disappointed to find that what I thought would be a heartwarming article about honesty and self awareness was little more than a piece about vanity in which people ranted about issues that I consider superficial and demeaning. Each subject is given a chance to say what they like and dislike about their body. One likes everything that is tattooed and dislikes his forehead. That is, indeed, specific. I don’t think I have every known anyone who disliked their forehead. I find it nit picky. I can understand liking your tattoos – I love every one of mine; but I do think that it is a cop out to say that what you like about your body is the mural you have put on it; that is not a compliment to your body, it is a compliment to the man or woman who created that artwork on your canvas. A second subject in the article weighs 317 pounds and likes his face and legs. He tells that he thinks he is good looking except for being overweight. He discusses his past, in which he lost forty pounds and gained it back because of depression eating. He tells that he is considering gastric bypass surgery and liposuction. He would rather cut off a part of his body than work hard to change it or learn to love himself as he is. He also says he would like to see a decreased emphasis on body image in gay culture (that is a direct quote from the story) but goes on to say that he is more attracted to muscle men than others. The man needs professional help, both with his body issues and those matters rolling around in his head.
There is a model in the story who, upon turning the page and seeing his photo, inspired me to say (out loud) “he is FINE”. Nevertheless, he likes his smile and his eyes, not his perfectly muscular body. In fact, he tells the interviewer that, in his thirties, he liked the attention he got from men; in his forties, that attention has waned and it bothers him. He tells the writer that” he goes to the gym and bleaches his hair because he believes people respond to appearance first and personality second.” It is my opinion that he is attracting those superficial people to him by perpetuating the belief, by feeding it through his actions. Further models in the magazine include a man who says he will stop taking his hiv medication if it causes wasting or a hump (he would put his life at risk for the sake of vanity), a female fitness trainer who says “I’m still working on a six pack, so I’m not perfect by any means” but who is HOT in her nude photo, the handsome cover model who says he doesn’t go to the gym, he just stops eating if he feels fat and a transgender actress who is so, so lovely, but is down on herself because she could not afford the best plastic surgeons to make her look the way she wants.
Then there are the two ends of the extreme: there is a wonderful lesbian who is what I call Rubenesque, some might say zaftig; her dislike is a scarred abdomen – not something she was born with, but something that is the result of life—and her like is her brain and her feet “they get me where I’m going.” She talks about the fact that she is comfortable with her own body because it attracted her girlfriend”. This is my kind of gal. Yay for her! AND. THEN. There is this gorgeous asian male model with a perfect body who refused to disclose his age, who says he likes his muscles and dislikes “sometimes feeling fat.” I didn’t need to read further. That turned me off. That is the worst kind of gay man and the ones who, somewhere deep inside, have to deal with too much self loathing. Ech. I’ve had enough self loathing; I don’t need to read about other peoples’.
And you know what? That is the God’s truth. I hated myself for most of my life, for one reason or another. I had to learn to like, and then love, myself. Finally, thank OB1, I am at a place where I can say that if I met myself at a party or in the street I might think “that fellow..he’s ok.”; and that took a lot of hard work – spiritually, mentally, physically. I had good teachers, in the form of therapists, trainers, friends, my spouse, who taught me how to be the kind of person I want to be. I don’t beat myself up over my imperfections – not much; I’m human, after all, I have slips. The thing is, without our mental health, without our spiritual well being, how can we enjoy our good body health?
I have a friend who is a little overweight because he has a new boyfriend and they eat out a lot and drink a lot of wine. They have both put on a couple of pounds and it doesn’t affect their attraction to one another; but it makes my friend uncomfortable to feel his flesh hang over his pant waist. I train a woman who was a dancer in her earlier life but who, in her forties, has but on a couple of pounds – her cute clothing doesn’t fit and she feels lethargic. I have a friend who is overweight and aware of it – but the people who love are less concerned with her weight (as is she) for cosmetic purposes and more concerned with her health. She’s good looking, smart, funny and she (and her husband and other loved ones) love her(self), just the way she is. However, she has pointed out to me that it gets old listening to skinny people complain about being fat. I feel her. I have been there and, frankly, am still there from time to time. I have days when I haven’t been to the gym in awhile (due to travel or, frankly, to odd bout of laziness) and when I have opted to go off the diet (everyone needs a holiday) and my abs don’t show and my hip cuts disappear. I look at myself in the mirror and say “uh oh” but I try to not heap that shit on anyone else because I know they will roll their eyes and think “manorexic” the same way I do when my FINE ASS friends pull that “I’m fat” bullshit. We all have our issues. So what. The key is to learn to love yourself.
Years ago, my friend Mark Irish asked me to go running with him. Once out on the street, he peeled off his shirt and encouraged me to do the same. Never, I said; Not in a million years Dolly Levi, I said; I would sooner wear a shroud, I said. He told me I had to, HAD to, learn to love my body. I needed to tell my body that I loved it. He put his hands on his tummy and said “every day I tell my big fat belly (which he didn’t have, by the way) I LOVE YOU”. At the time, it offended me. However, the experience stayed with me as I became the health and fitness fanatic that I am today. Eventually, I gave my body parts names and I talk to them. They are my co workers and deserve names. My arms are Joe and Frank Hardy. My legs are Mikhail Baryshnikov and Betty Grable. My feet are Gene Kelly and Cyd Charrisse. My pecs are Ray and Anthony (named after my trainers). My hands are Jack Dawson and Simon Bishop. My back is Hillary Swank and my neck is Hercules. My abs are Ryan Reynolds and my hip cuts are Merry and Pippin. I won’t tell you the names of my most private body parts – but they have names, too; and each day I tell them good morning. After each workout I thank them. After a rough workout or an injury, I apologize and thank them and tell them I am grateful. We must all learn to appreciate what we’ve got. We must learn to love ourselves, absolutely. Otherwise, what is this life for? I’m so grateful to Mark Irish for the lesson he taught me and it has become a part of my work ethic. There are times a client says “I hate my abs” and I say “apologize to them for that.” Your head hears that negativity and it gets in there and festers, doing more damage than every third grade bully or ex boyfriend could ever do.
I don’t want to criticize the creator of the article in THE ADVOCATE. I think that it was a good idea. Neither do I want to cast stones at the people who participated in the article or hold myself up as someone who knows better. I think that I am just lucky to have unpacked this particular bag (not all the time, either – it is an ongoing process!). We’re all here to learn and I am grateful for the inspiration and the lesson brought about by this story and experience. It just bothers me to see people turn on themselves, let alone do it in a public forum that might encourage others to do the same.
The judgements passed on us as gay men and women, as children of the world, as straight, bi, transgendered human beings, are nothing compared to the bigotry we heap on ourselves. No prejudice, no hatred, is or ever will be as bad as that which we pour over our own beings. When will we learn that lesson and learn to stop it? Isn’t it time we learned our true worth?
And in keeping in line with the magazine article, here is MY nude and my stats:
Stephen Mosher, 44
Hometown: Dallas, Texas and New York City
Likes: Every part of my body, especially my skin and my vascularity
Dislikes: None of it. I need every flaw and every pain.