Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Body Image

So, living in the middle of and occasionally on both sides of the binary opens one's mind to many an issue that goes unnoticed. Body image is not one of them--at least, for the feminine side of the spectrum.

But what about masculinity? In this time of progression and (post-)modernity, the rise of Women's Studies and reclamation of reproductive rights, I feel like there is little emphasis on the plight of the male. Which is fine sometimes, because the entire history of the world is basically Men's Studies. But the more that I notice things I've never noticed before, the more important I find it to be.

People tend to forget that *everything* is constructed in the media. It's not just stereotypes about minority groups or standards for how to fit in as a biological/social misfit. Our normalcy is also entirely constructed. What is considered to be "normal" in our society is nothing more than an image created by swollen-headed billionaires sitting in a conference room at the top floor of some shiny skyscraper asking themselves, "What will the American people projectile vomit their money toward becoming in the hopes of being successful and appealing?"

Men are no exception to this, though it is usually talked about only in the context of women's bodies, which, again, makes sense because the rest of male privilege really doesn't put anyone with a penis in any position to be whining about his position in the social hierarchy. But the more that I experience it, the more I think it, too, needs to be noticed, analyzed, and fixed.

In this journey of self-discovery that I've been embarking on for the past year, I've made it a point to try to examine my own prejudices. I will freely admit this right now: I am horrifically sexist. Toward men. Cismen, to be exact. I used to think this was because I had suffered the plight of the teenage girl in America and was experiencing a lifelong backlash against the patriarchy and blahblahblah. And that's all fine and dandy because it's true for some and you go, girl. But that's not what it is for me.

So, I reevaluated and came to the second conclusion: I hate men because I am jealous of them. I'm jealous that every man was just born with the body that I'm going to have to dump buckets and buckets of money into attaining. None of them had to do jack shit to get to where I wish I could be and none of them understand what kind of privilege that grants them. And I got on this "transmen unite!" kick where I joined every social networking site for FTMs that I could find and reveled in the company of my brothers in arms.

Today, I went with my best friend to a doctor's appointment. On the way home, we were talking about a friend of mine from college who she's never met before but finds to be irresistibly attractive. I asked her why it was that she was so infatuated with him, because, as one of his good friends, I had a hard time seeing him in anything but a silly little brotherly way. She said that he was "gorgeous," because he was 6'5", had broad shoulders, facial hair, and big arms. And that's when it hit me.

See, I'm a tiny guy. 5'3" on a good day, 115 lbs, barely any muscle anywhere and curves like a mountain road in Italy. And this girl is like my sister, so some guy she likes is not going to strike a chord of jealousy in me for want of her affections. But as she highlighted all the parts of this guy that I knew I would never have, I seethed. I white-knuckle gripped my steering wheel and ground my teeth into my jaw so hard, it was almost painful. What made him so goddamn special because he got good genes from his dad? He's "perfect" because he was blessed in the womb? That's not fucking fair. Not fair at all. I love this kid, and I'm not going to hate him for this, I told myself (and I truly think that). But I couldn't help but think about his sweet smile and, for a split second, want to punch his teeth out.

I came home and was messing around on the internet, waiting for the time to come to leave for another errand (which is vehemently approaching as I type). I came across a photoseries on Jezebel, one of the leading feminist blogs on the interwebs. The female models in the series ranged from supermodel thin to close to obese. But all of the male models were the same: slender, but muscular, carved and ripped like they'd been whittled out of strong oak. And it hit me in the face like a fastball.

Women are increasingly being told that being fat is OK, embrace your curves, let Mother Nature work her magic, just be yourself and the weight won't matter anymore. But nobody's telling this to guys. Men are still shown that the rugged, strong jaw muscle man look is all they've got to snag a good looking lady (or any lady at all, if he's posing with the average sized models).

And yes, yes, I *can* think of instances where this isn't true (any sitcom on primetime television, for example, where a balding white guy with a beer belly and his hand in his pants is happily married to a thin, well put together and logical bombshell). Men still have the upperhand, men are still allowed to be brash and impolite and douchey without consequence.

But it's still hard on guys like me. Already, I've got to wear a neoprene girdle on my chest to flatten myself out. I've slouched my entire life and now, to gain a little bit of wingspan in my shoulders, I'm painfully trying to practice standing up straight as an arrow at all times. I've spent countless hours at the gym trying to gain some muscle mass but balancing that with a vegetarian diet and diabetes, as well as a family who doesn't know that you're trying to pass as male, is proving to be fruitless and I'm too easily discouraged. And what have I got to live up to? It's impossible. Even after HRT, I'm not going to get any taller. My weight will shift but I've already got a little bit of a belly. In plain English, I'm fucked.

This isn't supposed to be "waah waah look at me I can't live up to impossible expectations now hold me while I cry" but it is venting frustration and it is a cry for better representation for guys like me. Guys who can't help how they were born and just want to know that we can be functional in this society as who we want to be. Give me something to lean on, give me someone to look at who I can see myself in. Give me something to look forward to. Or else I'm gonna have to step up and try to become a famous body and believe me, nobody wants me to have a voice in the media.

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