Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ian Thorpe and the Bear closet

Body image issues are supposedly a strongly girl/woman thing – bafflingly so, IMO. Yep, anorexia/bulimia is certainly very gender-weighted, and obesity moderately so, but men have their own (or predominantly so) body image crosses, as well.

Male shortness is widely-enough discussed – albeit usually jocularly, a treatment that I don’t find always satisfactory. But in any case, shortness is the relatively well-adjusted sibling of men’s other body image elephant-in-the-room (or closet): body-hair.

Again, the standard mode of discussion with male body-hairiness is lashings of jocularity – yet a distinct odour of shame is often close to the surface. Unlike male shortness, which is virtually unclosetable (unless you’re Tom Cruise) male hairiness can be endured with a bulimia-like shame-cycle: a combination of passing for “normal” in public with episodic private depilation/“purging”.

Gay men are probably more prone to have body-hair image issues than straight men, but there are some complexities to this. One is that there is a gay male subculture – of the “bear” – which celebrates the hairy (gay) man. But despite being a member of the exact target group, I’m not the least bit interested in bear-dom. I want a partner less hairy than me; indeed, I want a me less hairy than me.

Straight hairy guys have got it easy in comparison, I figure. AFAICT, women have never formed a separatist, hairy-man-lovers subculture. Presumably, this is because: (i) women are less visual-looks superficial than men, but even if not, (ii) women would not continue to accept a half-arsed (or backed) shameful depilator for a partner, anyway – they would either insist that the job be done as matter-of-factly as female depilation is, or they would require that nature be allowed to take its course, so reassuring their men that they prefer “caveman” to “metrosexual”.

I you’d asked me a week ago, I would have said that Ian Thorpe veered very definitely towards “metrosexual”, rather than “caveman”. Today, I’m not so sure. The Australian muses over how two photos of Thorpe, taken moments apart and from a similar angle, can be used to justify alternative readings of his being “fit” on one hand, and “out of shape” on the other. It also quotes as American swimmer – jocularly, of course – on Thorpe, witnessed training in a LA pool recently, as “big, fat and hairy”.

Hmmn. I detect a bear-prism here. By which I mean that the simultaneous fat-Ian/thin-Ian paradox can be resolved, but only by ditching some Thorpie-as-metrosexual preconceptions.

Now if I were a (i) rich (ii) swimmer like Thorpie, I would employ a full-time team of PhD-qualified depilators to nuke every unwanted follicle.

Thorpie, however, seems content to go “bear” – which usually means hanging loose about one’s weight/diet, as well as one’s body hair. I’m not saying that there’s necessarily a gay aspect to this – perhaps the guy finally has met his female match, who’s set him straight about his inner caveman.

His toned inner caveman, I can hear her chiding voice. It’s one thing to come out of the body-hair closet, another thing to do a mid-70s Elvis (albeit with a black, rather than spangly jumpsuit). Meanwhile, I’ll continue to prefer my food naturally guilt-free, but when it comes to my bodily follicles, there’s still not a regime out there extreme enough.

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