You’ll never see a dude turn to another dude and ask, “Do I look fat in these pants?” But that doesn’t mean men are invulnerable to insecurities, no matter how much we’d like to think so. Women are upfront about their fears, doubts, and self-esteem. I used to think it was just compulsive gabbiness, a quirk of the fairer sex. But, in fact, it is an admirable coping mechanism that’s even a little bit courageous. That said, I’ll sack up and admit that I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling like a fatty, a chubasaurus, half-man and half-marshmallow.
(Do these pants make my ass look like too much jello was shoveled into too small of a trash bag?)
Men have always had insecurities. We just don’t talk about them, preferring to grit teeth, squint, and clench fists. Mostly, we overcompensate, mistaking swaggering arrogance for bravery. And we have been doing this since time immemorial with diminishing returns. Our swagger has gotten us trampled while chasing bigger Wooly Mammoths, or splattered by limestone blocks while designing taller pyramids, or shot in the face while vaingloriously galloping mighty white steeds into machine gun nests. Not much has changed: There are still dudes swinging thimble wangs, flashing plastic, and braying like sweat-glossed swamp donkeys. Sometimes they drive their sports cars into trees. Hopefully, in another thousand years, we’ll have rid the gene pool of this transparent bluster. After all, giving a name to your fear makes it easier to kill.
If I had to hazard a guess as to the number-one male insecurity, I’d say it was hair. Many men, from their early twenties on, live in mortal fear of losing their locks. Thanks to my swarthy Mexican-American maternal grandfather, I have, so far, kept my hair. But I know it’s a source of never-ending dread for dudes. I sincerely believe women who tell men that they find the shaved head sexy. But like the beefy Biblical badass Samson, when a man loses his hair, he loses his vitality, his game. Or so it feels. I had a friend who eventually ended up dating a wonderful woman who soothingly convinced him that shaving his noggin made him unbelievably hot. I give her mad props for gingerly convincing him to go Jean-Luc Picard. Because before her, he would slick his hair straight back, with greasy strands revealing wisps of scalp. It was brutal, and he never asked what I thought about his hair, and I never said anything. Because what would I have said? How’s the chemo going?
I’d say the second biggest male insecurity concerns penis size, and sexual prowess in general. Men are freaked out by penis size, independent of reality. Two people fit or they don’t, and sometimes a man with a meat pendulum just doesn’t fit. But recently, I’ve been noticing more and more of those “male enhancement” drug commercials, which seem to be subsidizing all of cable television. You know the spots, where a creepy middle-aged man enthusiastically talks in winking innuendos about increasing stamina, improving your love life, and sometimes there’s an endorsement by a race car driver. Read up on these “vitamins.” The best parts of the commercials are when they promise users “powerful erections.” That’s right: Erections that can shatter concrete blocks! Judging from the omnipresence of this patently absurd snake oil, I can only surmise that there are a lot of men out there dreaming of a magic pill that will turn their penises into light sabers. This makes me sad. These ridiculous pills are probably just part pesticide, part Tic-Tac.
But I think men and women share a similar neurosis about weight, although we tackle it in different ways. I think men are more results-oriented, and less prone to angst. But not me!
I mean, don’t pile on the sympathy. I was a fat kid, but an angry, belligerent one. Try and push me around, and I’d throw my “Lunchables” at your head, then waddle over and punch you in the throat. There are some scars, though. In fourth grade, my mother forced me to wear a ghastly, dark yellow sweatsuit she had proudly bought at a thrift store. The suit’s color resembled the cafeteria’s butterscotch pudding. Which earned me the nickname, ahem, “Puddin’.” The first person to refer to me by that nickname gets punched in the throat.
I never allowed myself to give in to my insecurities. I was a fat kid who acted like he wasn’t, even though I hated getting naked, or wearing tight shirts, or jeans that weren’t “husky,” the former polite word for “human donut.” I would date women who were very open about feeling fat, or just committed to not getting that way. I pretended to be the understanding boyfriend and would go on “sympathy diets” with them. Holy Zeus, am I sensitive or what? The truth is, it allowed me to experiment with dealing with my body issues. I have tried just about every crash diet out there, and am willing to talk at length about them to anyone. Atkins, South Beach, liquid diets, the cabbage soup diet, the foraging diet. I’ve taken diet pills and gone to saunas, and even tried Weight Watchers, which was the best of the bunch because it teaches portion control. Because of these diets, I eventually confessed my body image fears to a friend of mine, a hard-drinking construction worker. I actually opened up, and shared my feelings with a guy whose idea of a good time was drinking cases of beer, setting things on fire and shooting guns. (I have no problem with any one of these things. When done at the same time, however, they can get hairy.) He looked at me, blinked, and said, “John, if you think you’re fat, stop eating so f**king much. Walk more. And don’t put sugar in your coffee.” And I don’t. I take it black, a cup of Darth Vader. It was pretty good advice.