Dressed only in my underwear, I'm eight years old and sitting on the pediatrician's exam table, waiting for my checkup. My mother points to the two mounds of fatty flesh between my chest and belly. She asks the doctor, "Could they be tumors?"
"No," he says, "it's just fat."
Since that day, my fat has absorbed more darts than the back wall of a bar.
When I turned 14, my new doctor asked me, "Do you get embarrassed on the bach because of your femininely shaped hips and chest?" (He said I had an "extra gland.") In high school, locker-room jokesters composed a song about my love handles. And in college, a friend analyzed my body shape by explaining that I have "a low center of gravity and those childbearing hips."
At six feet two and 215 pounds, I'm not huge. I just carry my weight where women do—in my hips, butt and thighs. And I hate it. I hate the way clothes fit. I hate that friends say I use the "big-butt defense" in basketball.
But I'm not the only man who wishes his body looked more like Michael Jordan's and less like a vat of pudding. A recent survey showed that only 18 percent of men are happy enough with their physiques that they wouldn't change them. "Men used to see their bodies as functional objects—to lift things, to play sports, to do something," says Roberto Olivardia, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School and coauthor of The Adonis Complex. "Over the past 20 years, the tide has changed. The idea of men's bodies as sexual objects has intensified."
So while women get there first, they don't have a monopoly on stressing over looks. Here, eight fundamental truths about men:
1. We have more body angst than you realize, but we'll never have a serious conversation with you about it.
Look at the standards we have to measure up to: If we're fat, we're labeled as beer-guzzling couch potatoes. Too thin, and we're deemed wimpy. We can have too little hair on our heads or too much on our backs. And maybe worst of all, we can be too big in the backside of our pants yet too small in the front.
Now add the fact that our mental struggle has two layers. "A man thinks, 'Not only does it bother me that I'm fat and my hair is thinning. It bothers me that it bothers me, because I'm not supposed to feel this way,'" says Thomas Cash, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. "The thinking is that it's like a woman to worry about looks."
So we won't talk to you about our insecurities. Nor will you ever catch us ever asking a friend for advice: "Hey Bill, do these pants slim my beer gut? Do I need to trim my chest hair? Which accentuates my triceps, the blue shirt or the red?"