I’m Mike, a follower of Jesus, middle-aged, married, a father of three. I’m also straight. YOB’s conversations about faith, homosexuality, and masculinity have been enlightening, and challenging, and a blessing to me. I’m thrilled to contribute to those conversations with some of my own stories.
Several years ago I used to work out regularly at a local YMCA. Afterward, I hit the showers. At the time the men’s locker room was old-school, with a collection of shower heads along the wall and no privacy dividers. When you’re in there, everything you’ve got is on display.
In my early 40s, I was normally the youngest guy in the showers by fifteen or twenty years. I was used to seeing men older, more wrinkly, and more out of shape than I was. Truth be told, I was perhaps a bit proud of that fact.
One day I had just gotten in the showers, though, and in walks a guy who’s about 30: tall, with a lean, muscular build. I was not the fittest guy in the showers that day.
I start my shower, washing and rinsing my hair, my face, my front, arms, and legs. All this time I’m facing the wall, and he’s not in my field of vision since he’s using a shower on the opposite wall. Then I turn around to rinse off my back.
I find myself staring at the firmest male butt I think I’ve ever seen. I mean, this guy had some seriously toned glutes.
I think to myself, Wow. That guy’s got an impressive rear end. I wish my butt were that firm.
And then I realize that I’ve just broken one of the Ten Commandments:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s ass.
(Exodus 20:17, KJV)
Ah, body image. I suspect nearly all of us wrestle with it in some form or another, and in different ways — whether we’re gay/same-sex attracted or straight.
These days for me, that wrestling with body image is around aging. I’m 50, and I have to admit that I think I’m in pretty good shape for a guy my age.
(Vanity is one of my sins.)
Still, I can’t run a mile at the pace I used to. I’ve watched my waist size increase inexorably since the ’90s, along with the numbers on the bathroom scale when I step on it. My pecs sag in ways they once didn’t. That cool vein on my bicep I had in my twenties is no longer visible.
And the hair. Shall we get started with all the hair? Back hair. Shoulder hair. Ear hair. Between-the-eyebrows hair. I even have hairs growing on the top of my nose that I occasionally pluck.
Also, less hair in places. Not that long ago my 14-year-old said to me, “Dad, you’ve got a bald spot.”
What!!?? My wife quickly followed with, “It’s not a bald spot. It’s just getting a little thinner in one place.”
Not to mention that the hair is less and less my preferred hue. When I go to the barber, I swear there’s more gray than brown on the floor when he’s done.
And yes, any hair, in any place on your body, can turn gray — not just the ones atop your head. No, they’re not actually blonde.
Sometimes I look at younger guys and think, I used to look like that. I think. Didn’t I?
And sometimes I look at older men and think, I hope I look as good as he does when I’m his age.
Father Time comes for us all. As my own father says, it’s better than the alternative.
How much should I care about my body and its appearance? 1 Samuel 16:7 says that the Lord looks not at the outward appearance but at the heart. I know that surface things are not what’s important.
And yet . . . beauty is a good thing, isn’t it? Beauty of nature, art, even the human form? What’s wrong with trying to add to that in my own small way?
And I should be taking care of my body, too; it’s the temple of the Holy Spirit. Eating right keeps me healthier. Running makes me feel better.
When I think about my own wrestling with body image I find myself returning to a few lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Ash Wednesday”:
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
Lord, teach me to care for this body — and yet also hold it lightly.
Do you struggle with body image? What’s been difficult about appreciating your aging body, and how can you show gratitude today?