Forget all that Mars/Venus stuff. The difference between the sexes is this: women lie about their weight, men lie about their height. I already knew about the former trait — never mind how — and a male colleague tipped me off to the latter a few years ago. Necessarily surreptitious yet totally scientific observation has subsequently verified his insider report.
Like most generalizations about the sexes, it doesn’t apply universally. Some people, for example, simply don’t discuss their weight or height, thereby avoiding the lie direct. But universal truth or not, it’s a useful rule of thumb. Among other things, it helps to explain the continued popularity of magazines offering advice on dressing to look lighter (for women), or taller (for men). The latest tips notwithstanding, neither weight nor height can readily be concealed.
Pointless or not, lies about height are sort of endearing: a rare indicator that men, too, can be insecure about their appearance. It isn’t that we thought men were indifferent to how they look: perfectionist grooming isn’t restricted to the military parade square, after all, and all those ads for men’s hair products are clearly targeting some market. But men’s preoccupations have always seemed as nothing to the anguish that women indulge, from puberty through middle-age at least.
In the ocean of self-consciousness that is adolescence, women can become trapped in a Sargasso Sea of concern about their appearance — aspects that can be changed and aspects that can’t, with little apparent ability to recognize the difference. In the former category: weight, of course, endlessly; hair colour and style; complexion quality, to a degree. In the latter? Too many to tolerate: build and proportions; hair texture and thickness; face shape; size of mouth, nose, eyes; size and shape of fingers and hands; hairiness of arms; curve of leg; size and general attractiveness of ankles, feet and toes.
So many body parts; so few to feel good about.
If adolescents only knew what lay ahead, they’d relax and enjoy the moment — and the relative firmness. For with middle-age comes a whole new set of horrors: hair in new and dreadfully wrong places; wrinkles rivaling the cragginess of the lunar surface. And that’s just the surface deterioration: underneath, major structural problems are shaping up. Or down.
The notorious failures are a given: sagging jawline, breasts, butt. It’s the surprises that really hurt. Who knew that thighs could droop enough to fold over the knees?
Men are not entirely immune to distress over an aging process seemingly run amok: casually mention thinning hair at your next mostly male gathering and listen to the sound of silence. Yet while the ravages of middle-age create a limited common ground between the sexes — in a misery-loves-company style — otherwise-perceptive men still seem amazed at the degree to which otherwise-normal women obsess over time’s latest assault. Asked directly, men admit to being baffled by our preoccupation with things they swear they don’t even notice, like that nasty sag of flesh above the elbow. Now, honestly, who could miss that?
Where middle-aged women feel betrayed by their bodies across the board, men admit merely to not being quite what they once were. The gap is more subjective than objective, more attitudinal than experiential: even in the battle with time, where all of us are losers, men don’t judge their bodies as harshly as we do ours.
Consider just one example. No matter their weight, women are always morbidly conscious of the ‘extra’ 5 pounds they carry (the 5 pounds that somehow become 20, overnight, on or about the 50th birthday), whereas men at 50 seem undisturbed by their own paunches. Christie Blatchford has written appreciatively of the comfort men exhibit in exhibiting themselves in the buff, at any age and stage; of their apparent belief that they are gorgeous rather than ridiculous. How sexy it is, this self-confidence. By contrast, women exhibit a preoccupation with their perceived physical faults. How sexy it isn’t, this self-consciousness.
Even for women, it isn’t this way everywhere. At an age where the North American woman’s focus typically shifts to camouflaging bulges, many women from Latin cultures continue to dress to flaunt their shape, whatever it is. Women well into maturity continue to think, dress, act, and therefore be sexy. The female form is a good thing, they seem to be saying, even if it isn’t the idealized shape of the 18-year-old.
For those of us well past that ideal age (and who never had that idealized shape anyway), it’s time to have confidence in the rightness of our bodies, no matter their specific shape and condition. It’s time to play the cards we were dealt and enjoy the game.
Our new perspective can be, at once, more realistic and more hopeful. Did we hit our peak at 18? Larry Kazamias, a high school student in the 1987 movie, Summer School, certainly thought so. He justified moonlighting as a male stripper as the only reasonable action, under the circumstances: It’s all downhill from here. Mr. Shoop, reluctant teacher and unlikely role model, had both the last word and, for once, the right idea: Yes, but it’s a lovely ride.
Mr. Shoop was played by Mark Harmon (then a mere 36 years old), whose online bio says he’s 6 feet. Well, OK, Mark, if you say so.