on this story
How to be a manthe mass media consumer culture way.
by Joe Tarr
I was about three-quarters of the way up the mountain toward Spence Field in the Smokies when my body started working in a way alien to me. Hungover from the night before, I hadn't had a big enough breakfast and my body started to tank. I trudged along the last couple of miles with baby steps while my friend stopped every once in a while to look back at me and chuckle in amusement.
It always used to be easy. Sure, it was exhausting, and I was bound to be sore the next day. But physical activity was always something I could just do. I knew I'd make it to the top of the hill. Now, I wasn't so sure. All of this reinforced something that my sore lower back and aching knees had begun to suggest over the past couple of yearsI'm getting old. I knew it was coming, sure enough, but hadn't figured that aging means you'd start to feel old. And anyway, wasn't I supposed to be at the peak of my life, the height of my manhood? I don't ever remember my dad or my older brother or John Wayne acting like this, like some little weakling.
Drastic measures were required, I realized. I saw only one way out of my predicamentI was going to have to buy some men's health magazines. Surely, they'd help me through this. The next week, I zipped out to the Kroger's in Bearden and bought a stack of them. Along with a red pepper and two serranos (for dinner). As I carried them out to the car, I felt strangely reassured. I slipped my hand into the bag and caressed the covers. We'd get through this together, I thought. You'll show me how to be a real man.
My first impression is that men's health magazines must all be run by rival factions of the same family. I imagine each magazine published by a different brotherMen's Journal is put out by the urbane, slightly literary one who lives in New York City, loves traveling, the outdoors and drinking; Men's Health is the brother who made millions trading tech stocks in the early '90s and now spends his time buying lots of stuff and trying to become a stylish, confident family man (what he believes his grandfather or father was); Men's Fitness is the narcissistic brother who ran off to L.A. and is really obsessed with his body and appearance (he thinks he's great in the sack); and Exercise & Health is the brother who is convinced that the way to a woman's heart is with big pecs, lots of money and a red Mustang or Trans-Am (he spends hours in front of mirror sifting through his thinning hair). When they were teen-agers, these brothers used to beat each other up in the backyard. I wish I could go back in time and watch them pummel each other.
I think they're all related because the men on the covers all look pretty much identical: firm bulging muscles (but not too big), veins popping out of their arms, and washboard stomachs. In other words, well-toned bodies, but not grotesque or perfect. None of them have any hair on their chests. (Well, Men's Health is the only one that doesn't show the guy's chest. That guy is also the only one who needs a shavehe remembers his dad and granddad always needing a shave, so he's partial to the look.) Each cover guy has nearly the same stylish haircutshort but with some body on top and tousled as though each had just finished a workout.
Three have articles on sex (oh, goodie!) flagged on the cover: "Supercharge Your Orgasm," "The Ultimate Sex Guide," and "Make Good Sex Great/Start Tonight!" Men's Journal avoids this clichéapparently, this brother is either repressed or more dignified. There are, however, stories about drinking, skiing and cars in MJ.
When I finally start paging through the magazines, I am alternately encouraged to find out I'm not as out of shape as some of the sloths these magazines write for, and disheartened to realize that this is going to require effort. Worse yet, most of the exercise advice involves working out in a gym, most of it involving weightsI hate working out inside and have no desire to body-build. I'd rather just keep my heart and lungs working well and my muscles flexible.
The guys in Exercise & Health are the brawniest. There are lots of ads for supplements promising to "Blast" my "Muscles to the Next Level!" It sounds painful. E&H's "Sexercise" is the weirdest, showing a series of exercises you can do with a busty, bikini-clad babe (busty, bikini-clad babe not includedthough she appears to be an important prop for the workout). Men's Fitness gives me 27 pages of tactics to "Take Control!" Much of this, such as the "Kick-Start Your Quads" and the "Strength & Power Workout" articles, is useless for my own goals. There is a power yoga workout, but it's designed to complement weight training. One of the exercises is a hand stand, which looks really hard. Men's Health gives me a pullout poster with little pictures of its cover model working out. The magazine also claims the dumbbells are the greatest exercise tool ever invented. I make a note to buy some. Men's Journal promises me my best body through the "The Body Project." The secret to staying in shape is something I've long believedfind a sport or exercise you really like to do. However, it doesn't let me off the gym hook. It says I need to go work out for my sport of choice to reduce chances of injury and supplement my conditioning. Shoot. Well, I'll start working out tomorrow. I'm kind of hungry at the moment.
Luckily, there's lots of nutritional advice inside these magazines. Unfortunately for me, most of the diets are geared toward burning fat and building muscle; and most of the diets are heavy on meat. I'm a vegetarian, dammit. However, Men's Fitness offers me a nutrition plan for my seven deadly sins. Maybe I could use this. Turns out, I only indulge in one of the sins regularlybeer drinking. The otherssmoking, pot, sunbathing, soda, television and meatare not part of my daily life. The fix for beer amounts to taking vitamin supplements and nutrient-rich foods like chicken, turkey (little help for me), citrus and vegetables. And drink lots of water. It'll be advice I need if I follow the recommendations of Men's Journal, which ranks the 50 best bars in America. None are in Knoxville. A great bar in MJ's opinion is "warm; it is friendly; it has no idea how to make a jello shooter." Men's Health gives me menus for a variety of situationsbefore a job interview, marathon, while playing catch-up at work. My favorite is weddings where "the bar is open, and so are the bridesmaids." (Eat a good mixture of protein and fat, the article says, to avoid your "'funny drunk' impersonation." But avoid mini-quichestoo much saturated fat.) Also in MH, I learn that chili peppers are a miracle food of sorts, causing the body to produce lots of endorphins, as well as lose weight, fight colds and avoid ulcers. Ironic that I just happened to buy a pepper along with my health mags. Unfortunately, most of the recipes involve meat.
I'm feeling more and more like a morose, quiet, scrawny underachieving boy who could never live up to the image his older brothers cut. What kind of a guy am I, I wonder? One who worries a lot, it seems. That's where I and the men's magazines really connect. I find things to worry about I didn't know existed. Men's Health has me worried about blood in my urine (could be cancer!) and what color my stool is (dark could mean stomach ulcer, richer burgundy colitis, bright red perhaps a tumor or hemorrhoid. I'll have to check next time). MH also tells me I'm not getting paid enough, I should change jobs more often, and that I'm not making the right investments. Oh, and I may want to consider a vasectomy. Also, I'm not half the man my grandfather was, according to a five question criteriaI fail the "Am I captain of my soul?" "Am I useful?" and "Do I give up too easily?" tests. Men's Health does reassure me in one respect, giving me a nifty little plan in case of a terrorist attack: basically, have a plan, overreact and give everyone 10 and older a cell phone. It's not the articles in Health & Fitness that make me feel inadequate, but the ads. Apparently, there are two main problems in men's lives: small penises and baldness. I can hardly read any more.
There's one other way I find that I am deficient in being a guy. I don't buy enough stuff. Men's Journal recommends watches, sport shoes, sunglasses, backpacks, camcorders and cordless power tools; Men's Fitness suggests snowshoes, breakfast burritos, insoles, red tea, a rice cooker, blender, and George Foreman Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine; Men's Health pushes a sunrise simulating alarm clock, a Samsung Uproar cell phone that also plays MP3s and provides internet access. Perhaps this is the key to being a man in 2002: All I need is a credit card.
January 3, 2002 * Vol. 12, No. 1
© 2002 Metro Pulse