With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
I’ve been chewing on how to broach this issue for a couple of days. I thought I had a pretty good read on the issue, even employing my back and forth dialogue technique:
That’s the push/pull, isn’t it? Because when we’re talking about physicality, we’re also talking about feelings and self-esteem.
And so you can find yet another way in which you don’t measure up. When exactly did you lose faith in yourself?
As I grow older I strive to shed the insecurities of my past. They are deeply imbedded and it feels right to try and deal with it in my way.
Well, it must take the pressure off, you know, having a wife who loves you as you are.
But even this exchange seemed forced, false.
Today on morning television, Taye Diggs, looking his usual gorgeous self, was asked about his attractiveness and stylish attire. To paraphrase, he responded that he grew up thin and insecure and what the public sees is an act. With the people he loves he’s just a nerd and a corny little dude.
Diggs is talking about several things here. Growing up with a different body and subsequent self-perception put him at a crossroads. Based upon his desire to act he might have recognized acting is a life in front of the mirror and the image, the act, must be flawless. He has insight into “performing” for an adoring public, completely secure at this time in his life sharing to the adoring public, not only is this not who I am in real-life but only a select few get to see the real me. The uncool Taye.
Even the humble bit is cool. Diggs knows the economics. The more appealing he is to the public, the more work he gets, and the more money he makes, the more he gets to do what he wants and be who he wants.
What does this have to do with manliness?
Given my underdeveloped, late blooming past, I have struggled with what persona of mine commands respect. Many times I looked to actors for inspiration. Actors behaving like grown men. The men of 70’s American cinema ( Elliott Gould, George C Scott, Steve McQueen, Donald Sutherland, Lee Marvin ) bringing sweat, action and heft to their roles, re-imagined in current cinema ( Clive Owen, Joaquin Phoenix, Tom Hardy, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Peter Sarsgaard, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo ). Men those men’s magazines proudly proclaim on their covers: At Last A Real Man!
All previous personas have been met with abject failure. The gutless friend, the stalker, the killer, the singer, the gay too-friendly, the secret identity, the jock, the flirt, the loner, the porn aficionado, the heathen Christian, the regressed, the snob, the asshole, the fake Brit, the pseudo intellectual, … a Breakfast Club of everyman in one man. Each one a new humiliation offered by my inner voice further imprisoning the voiceless man in his prison, further denigrating my self-worth.
One thing I know is whatever masochistic bent I have can never come close to what is perpetrated on girls and their own self-image. Girls are given detailed instructions every day on what is wrong with them and what product will make everything right. As my wife has said, it’s hard to be a girl.
It’s hard to be a Real Man. Actually, it’s impossible since the concept was conceived and lives in thin air. Like fear, we make it exist, we feed it, and we make it powerful. And that is what I have been for most of my life.
I used to look in the mirror searching for the Real Man. The mirror meant for others. I never thought to ask how the mirror can be for my benefit or what persona comes naturally.
These questions help to quiet the voice and loosen the chains of an imprisoned man.