Obesity and Masculinity,
a Male's View on Dieting
If offered the job, most of us wouldn't want to be God. Think of the responsibility. Yet, though we may not take responsibility for the entire universe, there does seem to be a clear sense of ethical duty to the temple, in which we reside, our own bodies.
Though we hem and haw about the temptations and challenges, we know we are the guardians of our own portals. We choose inevitably what we swallow, both intellectually and physically.
How responsible we feel and how well we succeed is another matter. For example, I seem to have strong prejudice against pampering and self-focus, believing it to be narcissistic or self-indulgent. I feel preoccupation with my looks to be fundamentally feminine, so I avoid it as much as possible.
This has left me dangerously indifferent to my own appearance and physical maintenance. I am neither completely 'un-self-conscious' because I still want to look good, nor 'fully conscious' as I steer away from mirrors, afraid perhaps of appearing too concerned. This macho posturing ends-up as neglect and self-depreciation.
To embrace the responsibility of body care, as both masculine and ethical, is a difficult leap for many men. Particularly since the world of personal aesthetics, nutrition, and dieting has traditionally been the domain of women. Day-time television and the magazines at the check-out counter all proclaim beauty, food, and diet as a woman's issue.
Hetro-males do not talk much of 'face and hair re-does', diet receipts, or aerobics for trimming. We tend to package such talk in absolutes... muscle work for pending competition, medical necessities, or work related requirements.
|We need weight control to compliment our sense of duty. We need to feel it crucial to our standing as a man among men.
We may chose a dietary or exercise discipline for 'practical' reasons, for example trying yoga as a philosophical gesture in solidarity with some intellectual value or as a cultural experiment. Or we might embrace some accolade of masculinity, 'extreme' sports being the rigor of choice for the younger set these days.
Marathons, racket ball, tennis, football, snow boarding, or mountain climbing are cool. Lingering too long at the health club sipping tea, or having Jane Fonda telling us what to do next aerobically, just doesn't match our masculine self-image.
Therefore, when it comes to weight-loss plans, we gravitate to extremes, like Atkins' meat eaters diet, or body-building experts like Arnold the exterminator. If we do take up jogging, yoga, or Tai-chi we tend to move it into another level, a life-style shift, boarding on the obsessive, until we either jump to stud level or fade to indifference.
Working on a moral imperative helps a male feel motivated and self assured. If I am fighting for my health, it is easier if I can say it is for my family and their livelihood. Though inside I recognizes it as a quest for sex appeal and a competitive edge.
To build diets that are effective, take gender seriously. As men we want to feel proud and in control, to sense success throughout the process. We demand concrete rewards, like recognition and sex. We expect to see proof. We are partial to facts not innuendo.
We call out for nutritional rules we can stand by, tasks we can master and excel in, ways which enable us to say with our body language "Look at me, aIn't I an exemplary citizen... and a damn sexy one too. I've got this diet thing under control and I feel great!"