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What it’s like to be a Man?

I have studied nutrition, exercise and supplements for years now. I have done reports and presentations on women in relation to eating disorders and self-image issues. Yet there is one thing in today’s health and fitness world that I just can’t quite figure out yet: men.

Women get most of the attention when it comes to eating disorders, obsessive exercising behaviors and self-image issues. Overall, we are under a lot more pressure to look a certain way or be a certain size. This may explain why in 2001 more than 88 percent of all cosmetic surgeries were performed on women.

The standard for beauty among women in general tends to be a little steeper than it does for men, but that doesn’t mean you guys don’t worry about what you wear, how much you’re lifting or who is watching you — does it? What I want to know is this: what is it that a health-conscious man is self-conscious about?

Do men worry about appearance? The top five surgical cosmetic procedures for men in 2002 were nose reshaping (145,204), liposuction (52,797), eyelid surgery (44,150), hair transplantation (26,501) and ear surgery (21,316) according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. While woman overwhelmingly outnumber the men when it comes to plastic surgeries, men are signing up, and apparently, noses tend to be their problem area.

Is it just women that worry about what they are going to wear to the gym? Even though we are going for the “just threw this on” look, it takes time to get our ponytails properly placed and find a long-sleeve shirt to wrap around our waist — and don’t even get me started on finding a top. For women with larger breasts, it is hard to find something that will keep it all together when bouncing around on the elliptical machine. For women with smaller breasts, you’ve got to find something thick enough or dark enough to camouflage you when you get cold.

Yes, women worry about what to wear or what not to wear when heading to the gym. How about the men? Do you guys really just throw on any old shirt, or do you only like to wear name-brand shirts like Nike or NFL apparel? What about the guys with their sleeves cut off? Ever debate whether your biceps are big enough for cut sleeves or is that strictly done for comfort?

One anonymous USF graduate said it took him time to get ready for the gym. “When I was really into my working out, I would be in there five days a week at least, and I always had to iron my shirts, even if they didn’t need it. Also, depending on the shirt, sometimes I would throw it in the dryer to make it a little more snug on me and show off my pecs a little better.”

If gym clothes aren’t an issue for you, maybe weight is. In the United States, conservative estimates indicate that after puberty, 1 million boys and men are struggling with eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or borderline conditions. So at least a million men worry about their weight, but I bet a lot more than that worry about the weight they are lifting. Do you care if you have to do bicep curls next to a guy that could probably use you as his barbell? Is it worth reverting back to another set of squats until he moves on to the next exercise? If you aren’t competitive with other men, are you embarrassed when another woman is lifting the same size dumbbells you just re-racked?

I am speaking out in honest ignorance of what it’s like to be a guy. I could write endless articles on women and the physical pressures society places on us, but when it comes to men I draw a blank. Men, send me your thoughts, answer my questions and lend me some insight on what it’s like to be a man in today’s physically focused world. Do you worry about not being cut enough, strong enough or big enough? Do you compare yourselves to the Muscle and Fitness cover models, or do you even think about these things? Is being a guy really as easy as it seems, or is there a self-conscious side to you all that is disguised under your cool, calm exteriors?

Send your responses to talkhealth@hotmail.com with Men vs. Women in the subject line. Your response can be printed anonymously at your request.