DARE TO ASK: When a belly goes to pot: Gut reactions
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
I see a lot of men with very large stomachs. Sometimes, I see them without
shirts. Men often have opinions about women's bodies. How do men with big guts
feel about their own bodies?
Jazzine, 35, female, Phoenix
As a large man, I must respond. I am fully aware I need to lose weight. But
there's no way in hell I'm wearing nothing but sweatshirts just because I'm less
than perfect. Besides, my wife (herself a Big Black Woman) thinks I'm sexy,
shirt or no shirt!
Brad, 32, Winchester, Va.
Look at most "family" sitcoms. The husband is overweight, lazy and less than
intelligent. The wife is skinny, beautiful, smart, sarcastic and funny. Society
tends to follow television trends. It has become OK for men to be or act dumb
and be overweight. I honestly think most do not see a problem with the way they
Cassy, 22, Jacksonville
I have a respectable potbelly, and it's had an impact on my self-image. For a
lot of my teenage years I felt my weight limited me from having romantic
relationships. Lately my self-esteem has grown, and I'm of the opinion that no
one should hide their bodies because they don't fit the cultural "ideal."
Andy, 19, Santa Cruz, Calif.
Beached whales in Speedos who don't give a rat's-abdomen what you think owe
their attitudes to guys like John Wayne, say body image researchers. Burly dudes
were the movie heroes for so many decades that it still affects men's attitudes.
Alas, men are catching up to women in body-image woes.
Beginning in the '80s with the muscled Soloflex guy and into the '90s with
ripped movie stars like Keanu Reeves, Adonis-like media images were held up as
the standard of the male body: slim waists, broad shoulders, rippling biceps. In
the book The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture, Daniel Harris noted that this trend
began when gay men, reacting to AIDS, started valuing beefy bodies as a sign of
health, and Madison Avenue and the mainstream took note.
What a shock that a Psychology Today survey showed 45 percent of men are now
unhappy with their overall appearance, not far behind women at 55 percent.
Sixty-three percent of the men didn't like their abdomens.
Still, psychologist and Brown University research associate Deborah Schooler
says what irks men most aren't physique issues but "real-body" issues.
Schooler published a study last spring with L. Monique Ward of the University
of Michigan that found that the more music videos and prime-time TV college-age
men watched, the more they worried about things like too much body hair,
excessive sweat, body odor, etc.
"These things can creep up on you unexpectedly, and you can't always manage
them and they can 'betray' you in sexual situations," she said. "You focus on
your shame and not your partner's needs or your sexual safety because you're
less comfortable advocating for your needs. It suggests that feeling bad about
your body can be unhealthy for men and women."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to
Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.