American men of all ages are subjected to ‘body shaming.’ Not nearly to the degree that the women in our society are, but still enough to cause psychological and physical damage. The media images of young, muscular models strutting their six-pack-abs, narrow waist, and massive shoulders, feeds feelings of physical inadequacies that eat at many men’s psyche. This body shaming has nothing to do with getting us healthier. It is all about making us feel psychologically unhealthy. The goal being to make us feel inadequate, weak, unattractive, and “less than.” For, if you feel that way you are more likely to spend money.
Besides the obvious capitalistic angle, there is body shaming connected with the virility of our intrinsic masculinity. The degree of “genuine masculinity” of boys and men is judged by society by our body’s appearance. Are we good (or great) at sports? Can we move a refrigerator or couch? Can we carry a woman over a threshold? Can we physically beat another male foe or attacker? These are the questions that run through men’s minds. These are the questions that run through the women in our lives minds. We are always being judged (by men and women) by our muscle. Different (in degree and kind) to how women are more severely judged by their features. Yet, damaging, none the less.
I personally know more than a few top amateur athletes who were pushed by their coaches in their teens and 20’s to “out”-perform, who died in their 30’s from heart attacks. I am not a doctor, so I am not sure why this occurred. Yet, I still think it is extremely strange that healthy athletes would die like that so young.
So what can we do? Be balanced! Exercise as separate from life activity is a relatively recent cultural apparition. Can you imagine our hunter-gather forefathers sitting around on a grass meadow doing “Crunchies” to achieve maximum abdominal muscle definition? Or even 19th century farmers bench pressing farm equipment? Get real!
For millennia, exercise was part of our everyday lives while we worked to sustain our lives from the earth through hunting or agriculture. Sure, professional soldiers may have done something like exercises, but their number was few and far between. Both in Asia, Europe, and Africa, soldiers were normally conscripted from the general population of farmers and tradesmen.
Get Balanced. After years of intense and concerted exercise in all forms, I purposefully “downsized” my exercise according to the actual needs and limitations of my body. I generally do an intense (but safe) 30-minute routine of body-weight calisthenics three to four times a week. I used to love running, but due to a knee injury from being pushed too hard by a Sensei in my marital arts training years ago, I have a reoccurring sensitive tendon in my right knee. If I PUSH too hard, I won’t be able to walk. That would be stupid.
I find I get the same level of oxygenation of the tissues and lungs (and subsequent lung endurance capacity) by doing milder mind-body exercises like Qigong and Tai Chi, which I also teach. I also recommend Yoga, but NOT like most ignorant Americans practice it. Again, due to the machismo attitudes and competitive mindset that permeates our culture, Yoga (though mild in India) is now the number one cause of sports injuries. In India, I am told, they are smart enough to only push to 70% capacity on the exertion, which prevents injuries. It also provides long term steady progression in strength, which does not over stress our delicate tendons.
Many men are jacking themselves up by pushing themselves towards unrealistic media images of what “men’s fitness” should look like. I challenge you to challenge yourself to examine on a psychological level, “why are you pushing yourself the way you are?” “Who are you trying to impress?” “Who are you trying to be?”
Answering questions like those, and being mindful of your unique makeup as you decide how to make YOUR version of a strong body will go a long way in keeping you healthy. It may also keep you out of a hospital or a graveyard.
These pressures (like economic pressures) often cause men to push themselves at an unholy pace. Athletes takes dangerous drugs and steroids to perform, disregarding the long term consequences to their health and life span. We “shred” and “burn” fat, we get “cut,” we do programs like “Insanity” to get fit. Think about that. How can something called “Insanity” be a healthy routine? Do “sane” people jump up three feet in the air repeatedly crashing down on delicate knee and ankle ligaments, pushing their heart rate to mad ranges?
We buy men’s “health” magazines (with the same looking fit dude on the cover every dam month.) Men join gym programs, or get personal trainers that PUSH us. Often, with the only results being damage to our tendons, ligaments, and pride—since we seldom achieve those visual outwards physical signs of “masculine” health. We feel like wimps, and sometimes even incur injury.
Men succumb to the pressure to literally “jump” through these hoops. Yet, what happens when we land? What body part tears when we “hit” the ground? What part of our psyche gets torn when we do not match societies’ steroid driven expectations?
Note: This article was previously published on the author’s website, www.frankblaney.com, and The Good Men Project.