By Stan Stewart
Action men have changed shape. Recently, on a nostalgia binge, I have been enjoying some old movies. Then I noticed it. The action stars of 50 years ago are a different shape to the hunks of today. I am talking about Steve McQueen, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart (he’s skinny) and even Charlton Heston. Their upper arms, biceps are obviously healthy, but they are straight. The bulging muscles, so sought-after today and featured in today’s action heroes, are not there. This summer it is commonplace to see young men with bulging biceps. This is not the result of a normal fitness regime. Achieving this result requires hard work, and focussed gym time (and possibly bulking supplements).
The situation in women’s shape is even more marked. The glamour queens and femme fatales in these older films have a different body shape. I am not talking about the breasts, but the bottom - the glutes. They are scarcely noticed in yesterday’s movies, hardly emphasized at all. In the present I suppose the number-one exponent of the big bottom fashion is Kim Kardashian, and the gym culture has taken up the theme. On the internet there are many programmes setting out how women can lift, shape and enlarge their glutenous maximus to achieve a higher, supposedly more ‘beautiful,’ bottom.
In the affluent suburb I was living in, businesses whose products are to do with anti-aging, wrinkle removal and body shape are numerous. From memory, I think they are the most noticeable of all businesses. A few years ago I hardly saw any; doctors, dentists, physiotherapists have always been there. However, these anti-wrinkle, body sculpturing, anti-aging, sucking and injecting businesses are a recent phenomenon. This is big business. I had heard of botox in the early 2000’s but now there are many others. My wife tells me she can tell when women have had anti-aging treatment. I have no idea. I can’t see any difference.
I have always been interested in black and white photography. I enjoy browsing through the books of classic photos. One of the favorite subjects of these top professional photographers is old people. I have gazed at so many arresting photos of old people from all around the world and from many different cultures. To me, these lined faces speak of courage, dignity and endurance. Obviously, the photographer’s see striking beauty in wrinkled faces. I get it! Without them saying a word, without a caption, the faces of these old people tell a story - an inspiring and uplifting story. To my mind there is something heroic and epic to see in the lined faces of older people.
Prosperous westerners (us) are living longer. That means more wrinkles on more faces. Not if the booming anti-aging industry has its way! The aim there is to persuade us to spend our money on their products.
I am wondering if this growing emphasis on particular body shapes and removing the evidence of aging is such a good thing? I am all for as much health as we can get, but it’s the optional-extra, window-dressing that I am questioning.
I realise that this is a personal issue with me and here’s why. My daughter Michelle (deceased 1996) had partial cerebral palsy. One of the ways it affected her was that she could not close her mouth. This meant she frequently dribbled. In her teens, a heroic surgeon told us he would attempt to rewire her facial nerves with nerves taken from her leg; the aim being to enable her to close her mouth. This led to major, horrific surgery on her face. It did not work. The only result was facial scarring.
It is hard to imagine a worse scenario for a teenage girl. At best, her age group looked away from her. At worst they teased her. On one occasion at her request, I left her sitting on a seat in a shopping centre. When I returned she was weeping. Eventually, she told me what happened. Three teens had approached her. One of them leant over and stared into her face and said, “Your face is a disgrace. You should never have been born.” We wept together.
Around this time, I realized she was writing free-form poetry. No one had recognised this as her writing was so hard to read. I helped her write and publish a small book. I can never forget the poem she wrote on New Year’s Day 1982. I can think of no better way to conclude my ramble on body shape and physical appearance.
The New Year
The new year’s just begun
It will take me high
Make me laugh
It will take me low
Make me cry
With this I face the new year
The year’s ours