Do you really need a six-pack to make an impact?

The year is 2001.

I am in a bar, talking to a gay man. I used to do that. He might be trying to pick me up; I can’t tell. He takes another sip of his almost-drained drink and looks me up and down carefully. Here we go.

“How old are you?” he asks, with a mouthful of beery spittle.

“I’m 25,” I reply.

He surveys me again as if looking at a child’s finger painting. Finally, he speaks.

“If you want a body, you’re going to have to get on with it pretty quickly.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your body,” he sighs. “You don’t have one. You’ve no shape. By the time you get to 30, it’ll be too late. Start going to the gym as soon as you can.” He walks away.

If there’s one thing you’re going to need as a gay man, it’s a body.

If there’s one thing you’re going to need as a gay man, it’s a body. You can try telling me different, but nine times out of 10 you’re not going to get a great deal of initial interest from another gay man just because you look as if you read a lot of books. Looks count, even if they are only a beautiful lid on a simmering pot of ugliness, despair, bitterness and venom.

While I’m not bashing its usefulness, take good old Grindr, for example. You select your potential partner by browsing a gallery of tiny thumbnail pictures, lined up together like the world’s least appealing mosaic.

Users have less than a square centimetre to make an impression, and while most of us need a pretty face to experience the first stirrings of arousal – or at least a half decent face, depending on the time of day, how long it has been since ‘the last time’ and how many vodka and tonics you’ve had – many users decide to cut straight to business and get out their best weapon. No, not that, you’re not allowed to show that.

No, it’s the bod, the rack, the torso – buffed, shiny, preened and, usually, headless. Yes, these gods are so confident in the appeal of their sculpted trunks that they don’t even bother including their face.

“I have a body like this,” they drawl. “Why on earth would you care what I look like?”

“I have a body like this,” they drawl. “Why on earth would you care what I look like?”

Flicking through these prime cuts of flesh can be a humbling experience. A few brave or fetishised exceptions aside, everyone has everything in the right place.

An array of eye-popping guns, perfect pecs, killer abs and broad shoulders awaits you. It pays not to look down at your own torso while you’re surveying the merchandise, especially if you’re standing next to an open window at the top of a large building. The urge to jump may just be too strong.

All these muscles they’re honing, but for what? What are they lifting that’s going to need mass like that?

You wonder to yourself how they have the time to get bodies like this. Don’t they work? Do they exist in a parallel universe – a carb-free dystopia with no pubs?

And why do they want a body like this? All these muscles they’re honing, but for what? What are they lifting that’s going to need mass like that?

Unless they’re removal men who are forever navigating grand pianos up and down narrow spiral staircases, it all seems distressingly pointless.

I partially blame that Athena poster. You know the one: the oh-so-sensitive, muscle-bound babydaddy, emotionally cooing over the newborn in his arms, while a universe full of women (and gays) are far more emotionally swooning (at the very least) over his beach ball-sized biceps.

Until then, musclebound bodies were more or less restricted to wrestlers and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Why are a generation of bloggers and social media editors all walking round looking like they lift fridges all day?

Sure, there’d be weightlifters in the gym and selected movie stars who were ‘built’, but everybody else was either weedy or podgy, with only the odd natural Adonis scattered in between. And he’d usually be a manual labourer – so why are a generation of bloggers and social media editors all walking round looking like they lift fridges all day?

Watch some television from the 1970s or early 1980s. Glamour sagas like Dallas and Dynasty aside, everybody is fairly average. Potbellies, scrawny legs and funky teeth are the order of the day. Gradually, as Eighties’ aspirations began to be more body-focused than wallet-aligned, everyone started to look a little buffer, more toned. The war against podge had begun.

British soap operas used to be the last bastion of the ugly. Now everyone’s ripped and looks like they’ve just fallen from the underwear section of the catalogue.

Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer whipped off their vests in Top Gun for a slow-mo, trouser-bulging volleyball match and suddenly, every man wanted to be able to disrobe at a moment’s notice and not feel ashamed of their tummy.

Some corners of the media held out longer. British soap operas, for example, used to be the last bastion of the ugly. There’d be one token ‘phwoar’, sure, but everybody else was distinctly average – lumpy, bumpy and boring to know. Shirts would stay reassuringly on.

But now most younger male stars are all ripped and look like they’ve just fallen from the pages of the underwear section of the catalogue. They pull off flimsy cotton Ts at any opportunity, or star in scenes conveniently set post-shower, so they can show off their mile-wide chests and xylophone abs. At home, millions of men gulp and resolve to renew that gym membership. Or at least to go more than once a month.

When it comes to the buffness revolution, personality and kindness are first up against the wall.

But is it realistic for all of us to acquire this body beautiful? Our 9-5 existences don’t usually lend themselves to rigorous, continual exercise, rounds of protein shakes and special eating regimes delivered to our door. Something’s got to give, right? There are a number of exceptions, but my experience is when it comes to the buffness revolution, personality and kindness are first up against the wall.

I don’t want a six-pack, which is handy, as I’m unlikely ever to get one. They look ugly, harsh, as if you don’t do anything else except slog at it in the gym to have this alien stomach, which, of course, you are required to show off at any given opportunity.

I go to the gym; I’ve got a ‘body’, but I’ve got a real one. There’s hardly any fat and a one or two T-shirt friendly muscles are in attendance, yes, but it’s real.

It’s a body that likes a few beers, has been known to eat badly but isn’t averse to going for a run. I can look in the mirror at it and know that it’s mine, that it’s living along with me and I’m not killing myself – or boring everybody else to death – to make it look impeccable. And, most importantly, it’s not for display. You only get to see it if I really want you to.

So if you’re Mr Average, don’t despair at those Grindr galleries – let them keep their bowling-ball guns and starving stomachs. And leave them to slog it out when it comes to those killer abs.

Because when suitors’ eager eyes tire of looking at faultlessness and uniformity, they’ll come looking somewhere else, for something real. And you’ll be waiting.

An early, different version of this piece originally appeared on Huffington Post. Take a look at other stuff I have done for them.

Image: Melanie M on Flickr

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11 thoughts on “Do you really need a six-pack to make an impact?”

  1. I’m a hetero female with a body like a burst mattress, but I can’t deny that I enjoy looking at a washboard stomach.

    I have a married male friend who goes to the gym in the evenings for an hour after work. This is after putting in an 8-hour day as a mechanic, and he still manages to do all the ‘little’ jobs around the house that his wife asks him to do, help out his friends with any jobs they need doing, and spend time with the family. Some people are only happy when they’re constantly active.

    These are the people with rock hard abs and glutes. I’m thankful there are people like that in the world so that I can continue to sit on my arse watching TV and eating chocolate.

  2. I agree with every single word. When will gay men become more accepting of others and themselves? Why did others fight for tolerance when years later we put each other in boxes again? Be it fat, buff, skinny, yellow, queeny twinky ..just let everyone shine in their own way…Hopefully personality will start counting someday again. I never was able to keep a conversation up with two steroided pecs about the meaning of life as far as I recall

  3. I agree up to a point. While there seems to be a lot more guys who have incredible bodies these days (and not just gay guys), making me wonder how they find the time to spend all these hours at the gym, I find that the gay scene has diversified over the last decade.

    Geeks, bears, otters and whatever else have found a presence on the gay scene too, whereas they just did not seem to exist when I was growing up, or were in hiding. And from my own experience, there also seems to be a variety of tastes around, so sections within the community are perhaps not quite as closed to each other as it might seem.

  4. Another great post, and one I hope one more guys take heed of. I honestly believe a lot more think along these lines than we realise, it’s just they are convinced everyone else thinks buff is best and that they need to subscribe to it too or be cast aside. I don’t actually like abs, on others or me (not that I’ve had any, but I have tried from time to time), I think they look like a Klingon forehead.

    Much more a fan of the lived in look, the real look. And if a guy can be himself and comfortable in his own skin that’s the best kind of sexy whatever that skin may be. The headless torsos might look nice but they obviously won’t go for a beer and a pizza with you (mmm, carbs).

  5. Actually I did date a guy with ‘the body’ once, it proved quite tiresome. I would put ‘the body’ in the same category as your posts on ‘the bicycle’ or sci-fi tbh. By definition getting said body is all consuming, takes a colossal amount of time, and it’s only a matter of time until he starts trying to draw you into it to “you know if you worked out a little bit…” or “if you just did this, you’d have that”

    In the same way as the bike or them Star Trek Wars Gate, you’ll always be second fiddle to the gym.

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