I’m writing this column with my arms barely outstretched to the keyboard. My shoulders are jammed at my sides, my forearms perpendicular to the floor, my fingers reaching like talons. I look like a gay dinosaur.
Everything hurts. I exercised.
The amazing spring weather, the promise of summer on the horizon, and a quickie press trip to the Caribbean next week (holler!) have conspired to make me even more self-conscious about my body than usual. The fact that I’m about twenty pounds heavier than my ideal weight might have something to do with it, too.
An annual bout of my own twist on Seasonal Affective Disorder (colloquially known as Aw Crap I Have to Wear a Bathing Suit Soon) is inevitable. What’s different this year, though, is this aching pain that has accompanied moderate exercise. I’m only 30 years old, but suddenly “pushing myself” too fast, too soon, results in my hobbling out of the Boston Sports Club locker room as though I just filmed a Falcon Studios scene in the sauna. (And I did not. Thank you very much.)
Just for the record, my moaning and griping isn’t coming from a place of gay culture-inspired Adonis Complex. (Although that is, for sure, a real phenomenon.) I have never operated under any delusion that I will one day resemble a Grecian muscle-hunk, nor do I have any desire to. I’m not planning to launch a side career that involves dancing on a box (who the hell would pay for that, anyway?) and the only way you’ll catch me in a Speedo is if I’m going incognito on Ryan Lochte’s new reality show. (“Is he really as dumb as he seems? Join me in this undercover report.”)
My self-consciousness is of the entirely self-generated self-loathing variety, thank you. Plus I have fond memories of a very specific three-year period when my disciplined gym, running, and yoga routine actually had me satisfied about the way I look. (2006-2009, it was good to know you.) So when I pinch the extra inch around my stomach now, it hurts extra hard - sometimes literally, if I did too many crunches.
I know it’s just a matter of getting back into the swing of things. You can’t take a few months off from the gym and expect to hit your old routine running. Things are already getting easier again, and I actually enjoy exercise – not so dieting, which I consider a venal sin. It was lack of opportunity, not desire, which most recently kept me from working out. I know that within a few weeks I’ll be back to my own version of tip-top shape, which compared to other people still only ranks about halfway up the proverbial Stairmaster of good physiques. But, hey, I’m fine with that. As long as my quads aren’t aching after a night spent reenacting the opening number from Madonna’s MDNA Tour on the dance floor, I’m satisfied.
I just hate that my recovery time has actually slowed. That I can feel a physical difference in my body compared to prior years. It’s slight, to be sure – but it’s real. And it makes me wonder: how much harder would this be if I were a woman, held to even less forgiving standards of body type? How much more stress would I be under if my social circle overlapped with the gay cult of body worship, or with the shrill harpies of the youth-obsessed? I put so much pressure on myself that I can’t imagine the added weight of trying to live up to someone else’s standards.
That’s not to say that I’m not a product of my environment too. I remember last summer, during the final cover shoot I organized as editor of a local lifestyle magazine, the envy I experienced when working with two male models. It was a pool shoot on a hotel rooftop: the guys (and a third female model) were in their swim trunks. They looked like they had been sculpted personally by the tender hand of God. (Or at least Billy Blanks.) And they looked healthy and wholesome; natural, not overworked by a Nautilus machine and Creatine shakes. Their bodies weren’t so perfect that they didn’t also seem attainable – but deceptively so.
“So, what else are you up to?” I asked one of the guys, or something to that effect, in making small talk.
“Oh, just finished school,” he answered. He continued to talk, but I heard only white noise at that point, when I realized I was talking to someone still in college. Someone quite literally a decade younger than me.
And I was holding myself to the standard of his body type. And I realized how ridiculous that was. And I felt embarrassed again, but for a very different reason.
After the shoot, I wound up at the gym. But I stopped for Ben & Jerry’s on the way. (It was hot!) And I remind myself now that even though bathing suit weather is on the horizon, so is ice cream weather.
I look forward to grabbing a cone. As soon as my arms are able to lift one.
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