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You are here: Home > Belly Got Me: Channel Hopping at the Gym with La Sorciere

February 18th, 2001

Belly Got Me: Channel Hopping at the Gym with La Sorciere

Well, Sunday morning at 8:10 and here I am at the gym. Sweat dripping off me to pool on the floor and powdered middle aged woman walking past the stepmaster wrinkling their noses in disgust. They wonder why I sweat so much and I wonder why on earth women wear makeup to the gym?

I've been up since 5 a.m. writing the Beauty Blog and answering email. I read an interesting review of Lynne Luciano's new book, Looking Good : Male Body Image in Modern America, in the on-line New York Times and I'll be ordering it from Amazon later. It will be here in a couple of days and isn't the web amazing? I'll be writing a review of it for the site soon.

At my luxurious and exclusive gym there are over a hundred machines: the usual treadmills, stepmasters, cross-country skiers, bicycles all arrayed facing a row of eight large TV screens beaming in the latest satellite channels. Music, news, wrestling, talk shows all vying simultaneously for our visual attention with the sound reaching my ears through headphones.

Below the row of TV screens is a continual bank of mirrors where I can see my disembodied legs pumping furiously away. I glance down at the LED readout on the stepmaster and proudly realize I'm burning off 1000 calories an hour. Gosh, I'll be fifty in a couple of years and I'm still fairly fit.

I glance up at the screen to see a feature on Nelson Mandela. I switch audio from the music channel. It was eleven years ago today he was released from prison and a new CD of his famous three hour speech at his trial has been produced. The commentator is interviewing a colleague of his, sentenced with him, and now an old man who is talking about what a meaningful moment it was in his life. What I notice is how fit the man is despite his age and hope that when I'm that old (he must be nearly eighty) I'll look as good as him but I still feel a twinge of sadness at the thought of being eighty. Even though I'm middle-aged I'm still very fit and pride myself on my youthful attitude to life.

Switching audio to the talk show I realize it is about domestic violence. A woman is talking about why she kept on going back to her husband despite his repeatedly beating her. She finally left him after he nearly killed her. The first thing I notice about her is that she is fat, looks deprived, and rather stupid. This is all too depressingly much like my work (I'm a mental health clinician), and I quickly hop channels.

This looks good. I'm now watching a young, lithe black man singing and dancing. Sweat gleams off his muscular, athletic body. How he manages to dance and sing like that at the same time I'll never understand. He moves from the house to the pool where he's now surrounded by what seem to be dozens of adoring young things wriggling and writhing in not much more than strips of cloth. I notice that they are all about the same tall height and slim build, no fat jiggling anywhere except their breasts, despite being a multitude of colours. A few close up shots and, whoah! this is getting a bit too much for me. The envy, I mean. But anyway, look how fast my legs can pump and I'm nearly fifty but I'm still fit.

Time's up. I step off the machine and glance at my full bodied self in the mirror. Big mistake. Oh no!, I realize again, belly's got me! And where did my hair go? I could have sworn I had a full head of hair when I climbed up on the stepmaster. And then I think to myself, "you're a mental health clinician, you've had years of therapy yourelf, you should be 'above' this narcissistic preoccupation with your appearance." Then I realise that I am not sure where 'above' is? And maybe it's more narcissistic to think I should somehow be 'immunized' against one of the great preoccupations of our culture. Visual images of youth and beauty exuding sexuality are everywhere. How could I not notice and how could it not affect me?

I stand beside the stepmaster, still wearing my headphones, and quickly audio hop from one channel to the other-from hootchies in thongs, to Nelson Mandela, to a woman with a scarred and battered soul. And I remember some clients I saw a few days ago. A refugee family from Afghanistan. A liberal Muslim family, they had fled the tyranny of the Taliban through mine fields, been pounded by artillery, and tragically witnessed several members of their party being blown to pieces before their eyes. Now, seriously traumatized, they were asylum seekers living on a housing estate in southern England, having escaped to freedom only to be racially abused by the English underclass. But what I remember is the gleam in the little girl's eyes as she delightedly told me how she was looking forward to going to the Islamic Cultural centre where she and the other children danced to the music of a notorious rap singer. Her father, who had been a professional man in his own country, beamed proudly while she spoke. His command of English was not as good as hers. I did not have the heart to ask if he understood the lyrics.

The image of a traumatized child, a refugee from horror in a far away world, from an alien culture, delightedly dancing to rap music stayed with me for several days.

And, who is la Sorciere? Well, he's been dancing on a cave wall at Trois Freres in Ariege, France for the last 15,000 years dressed in deer skins.

Lot of things humans get wrong but we still manage to keep on dancing.

Note: The material circumstances of the family described have been significantly altered to preserve confidentiality but the sense remains the same.

Beauty Worlds.com recommends the following books on male body image
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The Male Body : A New Look at Men in Public and in Private

The Adonis Complex : The Secret Crisis.of Male Body Obsession.
Looking Good : Male Body Image in Modern America


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