Our Bodies, Our Selves, Our Desperation

Over the course of my fifty-two years there has been a dramatic change in American opinion regarding what constitutes a physically attractive person. In the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, a bikini clad Ursula Andress and a shirtless Sean Connery set hearts racing. By today’s standards they both would need to get to a gym, but in 1962 our gym obsession had not developed. In many ways, it’s a regrettable change.

During the 1980s Tom Selleck set hearts throbbing as the hairy-chested “Magnum, P.I.” but today male actors spend their time being waxed and otherwise plucked so their body hair is eliminated while spending endless time at the gym and consuming legal and illegal supplements to perpetuate the fiction that we can all look eternally young if we will just sacrifice our emotional maturation for the promise of never-ending sexual liaisons with other equally immature people.

Photographer Jade Beall’s book project, “A Beautiful Body,” was recently featured in The Huffington Post. The book features un-retouched images of women who have given birth. The response from women on Facebook has been overwhelming, and the Kickstarter fundraiser to fund the book had nearly doubled its goal with six days to go at the time of the Huffington Post piece. This past weekend was my wife’s fifteenth college reunion, and for me one of the most refreshing things about it was the presence of real men and women both with and without families who had discovered responsibilities and interests that obviously precluded regular gym attendance. Ironically, and I want to avoid over generalizations here, a good percentage of those for whom maintaining their college bodies was a priority arrived alone and seemed to choose only to socialize with others with similar priorities.

Last week I saw a commercial for a men’s grooming razor in which the actor said that “she likes a little chest hair but back hair is a deal breaker.” This razor apparently allowed him to trim back what needed to be trimmed back and completely shave his back – though how he managed to do that without assistance remains a mystery – so that “she” would find him attractive. I suppose as long as your back hair is gone the fact that you have two dislocated shoulders is acceptable. If you happen to be among the few who stop long enough to ask whether or not it is possible to build a sustainable relationship with someone who determines long term attraction based upon the location and amount of body hair you clearly are out of touch.

Of course, I understand that we can do very little to control or change our short term biological attractions. Most of us have “types,” and if we lined up pictures of the people we had been in relationships with there would be clear trends. Some of us have never even dated outside a particular hair color or height range! I understand that for some people a man who looks like he is wearing a sweatshirt even when he is naked isn’t very attractive. Some men are turned off by women who can grow a better moustache than they can while some women are turned off by a man with bigger breasts than they have – while others pursue them with the same zeal with which I watched Ursulla Andress emerge from the water in Dr. No in the early 1970s.

In fact, it’s not the things that makes other people attractive to us that bothers me but rather the lengths to which we will go in trying to change ourselves in transitory ways in the hopes that we might become attractive to people who cannot accept us just the way we are as well as just the way we will be in the future. In other words, if I find someone attractive who tends to find hirsute, six-foot three, blonde, brown-eyed, body builders attractive I have two options. One is to accept myself the way I am and move on. The other is to undergo the removal of some hair and the coloring of other hair, buy lifts for my shoes and never take them off, purchase colored contact lenses and get chest implants – and hope against hope that when my partner realizes our whole relationship is based upon lie that it won’t bother them. That could happen…

From a spiritual as well as a psychological perspective, we need to work toward accepting ourselves just as we are. A big part of that task is recognizing there is so much more to us than our physical appearance – and that the further we move from our twenties the more important that realization becomes to our happiness! The anti-aging industry in America is huge, and while I am all behind doing what we need to do to remain healthy the truth is that most of the anti-aging industry makes its money attempting to produce ninety year old corpses that appear to be twenty-five years old. If you are one of the people who find that option attractive, I hope you realize the odds of your succeeding are the same as the odds of you effectively and completely shaving your own back hair. Just ask Kenny Rogers, Bruce Jenner, Chuck Norris, and a host of other celebrities no longer able to blink because they had one eye job too many.

On the other hand, if we can get comfortable in our own ever-changing skin and recognize that the majority of what we have to offer comes from within, then when the physical fades we will carry on. If we come to understand that is isn’t what we do that gives us value, it isn’t eternal youth that gives us value, it isn’t “landing” a partner who isn’t really attracted to us as we are that gives us value, but rather it is our ability and willingness to love others and respond compassionately to them that affords lasting value. In other words, the spiritual journey leads us to a place where our true value emerges and endures!

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