Year 1991. Vladivostok, Soviet Union. Arnold Schwarzenegger emerges from a time warp, butt-naked on our black and white TV via renegade channel #3. My ten year old self is mesmerized by his grotesquely muscular frame, so perfectly fit to portray a robot, moving awkwardly through the future/past of some American city. Now I know what my friends with slightly-better-off cousins who had VCRs have been talking about for the last couple of years. I have been given numerous accounts of “Schwartz” (as we affectionately referred to him in Russia) running through the tropics in war paint, saving planet Mars in bionic drag and wrestling prehistoric monsters in a loincloth. In a few years, I too had a VCR and got to catch up on all the bodybuilder action movies that my friends have been retelling me in great detail years prior – I savored Dolph Lundgren’s demise in “Rocky IV”, drooled at Van Damme’s glorious sweaty ass in “Kickboxer” and appreciated Sylvester Stallone’s comedic timing in “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot”. In my group of friends we had a Stallone camp and a Schwarz camp. One time we had a fistfight arguing over who’d win a wrestling match between Rambo and Arnold. But I digress….
Back then I was fascinated by bodybuilders. No, I never desired to look like a bodybuilder. And even on the horniest days of my teenagehood, I wouldn’t have fantasized about screwing one either. My interest wasn’t sexual. It was purely aesthetic or even political. What I admired about bodybuilders was how exotic and different they were willing to be in the public eye. The idea of a human being pushing his/her body beyond all limits as a form of self-expression was inspiring to me. I grew up in a place that forced its conventions through violence – if you were a boy and didn’t own a brand new Adidas sweatsuit or if your hair was a centimeter too long, you risked getting a knife shoved in your throat between classes. Bodybuilding seemed to be an over the top form of Western-style freedom of expression, like men with long hair, or women with really short hair, or people of both sexes covered in tattoos and piercings. I believed that to stretch one’s body into a strange work of art and to flaunt it in public was a magnificent act of rebellion and self-determination, one I was too shy to make myself.
Year 2012. Seattle, US of A. There’s a blog post multiplying on Facebook, an article one would expect from Ann Coulter but instead it’s by some vapid gay clone. The writer (and I use the word “writer” loosely) asserts that all we, (gay men), do is grow abs at gyms, strive to compete with gay friends’ abs, despair with jealousy as our boyfriends’ abs get bigger and try to spend the abundant amount of cash we all supposedly have by going on fancy vacations to show off our shiny new abs. There’s really no reason to address most of the offensive crap in the article – it’s too silly to repeat (but if you want to read it: http://hommemaker.com/2012/08/20/why-the-gays-hate-their-bodies/) So I will stick to abs. After all it was the abs-ification of the male body that made me most angry.
There was a time when freakishly bulging abs were reserved for bodybuilders – that great little subculture I so admired as a kid. Now the giant ripped bodies and abs abs abs is what the media believes we all want. And it’s not just the gay media. The grotesque and shaved muscle bodies are ubiquitous in the “straight” culture as well, from underwear ads to TV shows. Whenever the mainstream dares to objectify a male on film or on a glossy magazine page, it does so only if that body has more in common with Schwarzenegger than a “normal” athletic man (I put “normal” in quotes because I do believe that we are all normal in our own way, bodybuilders included).
Now I have to make a disclaimer – I’m not judging gay men for objectifying their own bodies and bodies of others. I’m not trying to pretend that we can all suddenly shift our physical attractions to what’s “on the inside”. As much as I love a big heart or a good brain, my dick will always have a mind of its own and my dick is shallow. I objectify guys all the time – real guys at my gym, on the street, at Cal Anderson park, guys I’ll never meet but see on ads, movies, TV. Some of these guys have abs, some don’t. What I take an issue with is our culture’s presumption that bulging (and usually hairless) abs must be and are attractive to me and everybody else. We are being force-fed that idea with every ad in every gay magazine and every blog. So it’s time for me to come out of the closet as an abs-hater, abs-phobe and general not a fan of too much muscle.
Yes, I know I must be a pervert. But I’m not lying when I say that I’ll take a soft, fleshy peach-fuzz-covered curve of a normal male belly over the unnatural feel of abs any day. On a cute and otherwise weight-height-proportionate guy, even a big old beer belly is hotter, more sensual, than a six pack. I do find many guys with abs very attractive but it’s not because of their abs, it is despite them. I overlook abs on a hunky man, the same way I would overlook a little bit of acne or an occasional flat butt or a slight aroma of patchouli (OK, not true, I draw the line at patchouli). I’m here to speak for millions of gay men (actually just a few friends who discussed this matter and happen to agree with me) that abs are NOT THE IDEAL. If two Channing Tatum twins came into my bedroom – one with abs and one with a normal belly – I wouldn’t even have to think about it: “Sorry Channing Tatum twin with abs, it’s not your lucky day, go make “Magic Mike 2″ or “GI Joe 5″ or something”. There are evolutionary reasons for some basic things we might look for in a man – shoulders that are broader than hips, big arms, etc. Abs is not one of them. Abs rarely happen to men just from regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle. The six pack abdomen is a form of deliberate bodybuilding and as such I would prefer if it was restricted to action movies and circus sideshows (you’ve seen enough of the bearded lady, Timmy, c’mon let’s check out the guy with abs!) and not presented by the media as the new norm.
Why do you care what I find attractive? Of course, you don’t and you shouldn’t (unless you do care for some reason and your name is Eric Balfour or Jake Gyllenhall, in which case: find me on Facebook, wink wink, ttyl). But perhaps we can agree that the current standards of beauty are ones that many (probably most) people don’t even relate to. Most straight men do not prefer female Starving Marvin models of today. Instead these images are being pushed on them by our sick demented media. Likewise, I believe, deep in my heart, that most gay men don’t actually want to see abnormally muscled bodies or to look at perfectly nice stomachs ruined by six packs. And if you really do like to look at bulging abs, good for you. It’s a free country. Just don’t speak for me. Contrary to what you may find attractive, most gay men may not be on your side.
So that’s it for my anti-abs manifesto. May other abs-hating freaks come forward without fear of being ridiculed or stripped of their gay cards. No need to thank me for being a ground breaker but you’re welcome. At first we’ll be few in numbers. It may be a long fight. But if we have enough courage and stick it out, there may come a new era, a kinder/gentler time when horrible abs go away and when you’ll look at a cover of a gay magazine or a Calvin Klein ad or a Falcon video and see a hunky guy with just enough muscle tone and a normal unshaven belly.