Could you imagine an overweight superhero? What about the lead male role in a romance film sporting a beer belly? Neither can Nicole Johnson, and it’s all because of society’s obsession with the alpha male body.
Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s… a gorgeous man with six-pack abs wearing a skin tight spandex suit. His bulging muscles and chiseled face are impressive. We are enchanted by his ability to protect; power and strength are emanating from his body. Because of his appearance, we’ve surrendered to the notion that he will unequivocally save the day.
I’ve never seen an obese Superhero, and I’m confident I never will. I can’t imagine Stan Lee has plans to launch a new Spider-Man in need of gastric bypass. Given what we revere in our society, audiences would have a hard time routing for a Superhero toting an extra 200 pounds. We would be disenchanted by his ability to safeguard against evil.
I have never seen an overweight leading man in a romantic film. As movie goers, we expect to see a certain “type” of man in these roles. Hollywood is astute to our cultural standards; entertainment executives have become armchair psychologists. The silver screen is a sagacious representation of our values and dreams.
As a museum buff, I’ve never seen a rotund male body in a piece of artwork during my strolls through various galleries. From the Renaissance to Baroque periods (and beyond), alpha male bodies have been the subject of painters and sculptors for centuries. Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Tintoretto, Ruben, et al were famous for decorating canvases with iconic interpretations of the perfect male form. Their corporeal creations are unforgettable.
We value the alpha male body, but why? What is our fascination with this category of men? The answer is multifarious, both obvious and complex. Overtly, our values stem from these factors: strength, power, protection, attraction, and sexual desire. More intricately, our appreciation is derived from their capability to achieve the following: strong social value, increased economic status, improved health status, lifespan longevity, the ability to protect, and the ability to influence.
As beautiful as these bodies are, I’m not easily impressed. I don’t care how magnificent a man looks with or without clothes. An asshole is still an asshole regardless if he’s in his naked alpha body or an Armani suit. The exterior can not conceal discrepancies with the interior.
Alpha status aside, it all comes down to character.
Good men come in all shapes and sizes. The quality of a man is not determined by the flesh he lives in. A man’s character is determined by his soul and his beliefs, as well as his actions and words. A man who is kind, caring, compassionate, loving, loyal, honest, empathetic, authentic, and altruistic can inhabit a body with six pack abs or a beer belly. Beautiful attributes do not always live in beautiful bodies.
Weight will never determine the worth of a man. However, after centuries of established cultural values, it’s unlikely the average, nondescript form will be honored to the degree of alpha status. Yet, I remain hopeful. I look forward to the day when our culture can look beyond a man’s physical body and celebrate his soul.