Body Euphoria Syndrome
May Men's Room column
It reflects poorly on our society that so many women suffer from body dysmorphia: The body they see in the mirror is less attractive than the body they actually inhabit. And, while some men suffer similarly, most of the men I know (myself included) exhibit symptoms of a condition I’ve dubbed “body euphoria syndrome.” For these men, the body they see in the mirror is vastly superior to the one they, in fact, possess.
These days, we may be tempted to applaud such an attitude in the name of body positivity and all, but Google up “health risks of beer bellies on middle-aged men,” and the drawbacks of this kind of magical thinking start to become clear.
Plus, for the women who live with these body euphoric men (“euphorons”), this condition can be downright annoying. Case in point: That guy in his late thirties who only dates women at least a decade his junior (always with rock-hard abs) is the same schmuck who, garbed only in faded boxer briefs with an overtaxed elastic waistband, parades his portly corpus through the living room with all the delusional self-satisfaction of a toddler scrawling crude figures on the wall and expecting praise from mommy.
And, how about those otherwise skinny men with globular bellies who always pull up their shirts, smack their distended gut skin, and exclaim, “All muscle!” Then taunt you into poking it, so you can “see how hard it is.”
The “dad bod” trend a few years back didn’t help matters. Neither did middle-aged actors with dumpy physiques doing nude scenes. Don’t Will Ferrell and Jack Black seem just a little too eager to disrobe? There’s something that smacks of male privilege here. An obnoxious variety of not-so-passive aggression: “See how shameless I can be? How easily I’ve transcended caring? How enthusiastically unfazed I am as I flaunt my man boobs? Those aren’t love handles, they’re hip muscles!”
Of course, men aren’t confronted with images of perfect male bodies at every turn. Perhaps if my fellow euphorons and I were confronted by ridiculously fit, half-nude young men on billboards every day of our lives, we’d be less self-satisfied in our rotundity.
I’m not saying my fellow euphorons and I (or anyone, for that matter) should be ashamed of our bodies. Not at all. But, I also don’t think our delusion deserves a round of applause. Do we celebrate the spendthrift who overestimates his checking account balance? Congratulate the slacker expecting a promotion? Applaud the guy who thinks he’s dad of the year because he changed one diaper?
I’m also not making an argument that it’s vital for men (or anyone) to have perfect bodies. I guess my point is this: If you have a lens that skews hot and fit, be sure not to change lenses once you’re done looking in the mirror. Spread that magical thinking around.
Dylan Patterson is a writer and filmmaker who teaches English at Cape Fear Community College.
To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to markweberart.blogspot.com.
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