GQ and How Not to Talk About Men’s Bodies

Photo: AP

There’s not a moment in my life that I can remember, even going back to when I was a kid, where I wasn’t a fat guy. I was a fat guy when I was a kid playing video games for hours on end, and I was a fat guy when I played organized sports all throughout my childhood and through high school.

The first time I cracked 200 pounds, I was probably a freshman in high school. The first time I cracked 300 pounds was a few years ago. At the least heavy point in my adulthood years ago, when I was essentially starving myself on a diet plan and running every day in anticipation of a 5K, I weighed roughly 260 pounds. I was fucking miserable. I currently weigh quite a bit more than that, after a very long winter in which I essentially turned into a sad, shitty bear.

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It’s been a lifelong struggle for me to come to terms with the fact that this is just how my body is; that it can waver in size, but there’s always going to be a baseline of fatness that reads to some other people as laziness and unhealthiness and gluttony and ugliness. It’s an ongoing struggle to not only accept this, but embrace it. When I’m out eating with friends, I often still refuse dessert. The fat kid doesn’t want to be seen eating cake.

It’s no secret that the media reinforces our beliefs about our own bodies and other people’s bodies, and that it’s much worse for women and nonbinary people than men; our sister site Jezebel has been grappling with this for at least a decade, and is still grappling with it. As Atlantic writer Amanda Mull pointed out yesterday, however, men’s media is so far behind (with a few exceptions) that it doesn’t even know it has a problem.

On Thursday, GQ published an interview with its in-house fact-checker— a former male model named Mick Rouse whom GQ writer Alex Shultz describes as “an ancient Greek god incarnate”—interrogating the diet and routine of the man who apparently wears the badge of the “fittest man at GQ.” It’s part of a recurring series called Real Life Diet; other recent subjects have included Rev. Al Sharpton and Aladdin: the Musical star Ainsley Melham. 

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Here’s an excerpt, emphasis mine:

What were the beginnings of your workout routine?

I didn’t take it upon myself to start going to the gym until the second semester of my freshman year of college. I wasn’t playing sports 24-7 anymore, and I was just ordering wings and Chinese food and drinking a lot of Dr. Pepper, for some reason. And then I hurt my knee and put on some more weight. For the first time, my body wasn’t in a place that I wanted it to be.

Once I was cleared to exercise and work out, I really leaned into it to a quasi-unhealthy level, especially with my diet. I thought I needed something to discipline me. I started going to the gym seven days a week, obsessively, for an hour-and-a-half, two hours at a time. I didn’t know what the hell I was really doing. I was looking at food as the enemy. I would see my body lose some of the weight I’d put on, but I felt like I needed to get rid of it quicker. My diet did a 180 from where I was eating shitty foods to eating no foods. I’d have three bowls of oatmeal for each meal of the day. I definitely don’t recommend that. Everyone else was like, “What are you doing?” I dipped down quite a bit in weight.

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You don’t have to have had issues with food or body image to be, at the very least, disturbed by this passage, but neither Rouse nor his interviewer seem particularly troubled, with both treating it as just a bit of an overenthusiastic phase on Rouse’s path to finding a good diet and exercise regiment.

Rouse goes on to talk about a later period of his life when he was focused on micronutrients and macronutrients, which he describes as an “unhealthy obsession,” but waves this off as “trial and error.” And his routine now?

And now you feel like you’ve figured it out, in terms of a balance?

Yeah, my diet now is pretty much grilled chicken, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and rice. I’m just trying to keep things pretty standard. My philosophy has become, if it’s grilled, it’s okay. It’s not very exciting, but I’ll do sushi, and I’ll do a chicken burrito. What I realized is that I do like to obsess about my workouts in the gym, and if I’m also obsessing about food, that’s where it tips too much over the scale. My life becomes miserable and I’m a miserable person to be around.

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The relatively light tone of this could be attributed in part to the fact that the piece features one (male) coworker interviewing another. In all of the relationships I’ve ever had with other men, I can’t ever remember having an in-depth or remotely heavy conversation about our bodies beyond, “You look good,” or “You look like you’ve lost weight.”

But by highlighting Rouse’s routine and reveling in the punishment he’s had to put his body through in order to get to this point—the interview even features Rouse saying there’s “room for improvement” when it comes to the fitness of other fact-checkers—GQ is selling a brand of rise and grind bullshit that simply isn’t healthy; that you can change your body and sculpt it if you just deprive yourself enough and push your body past its physical limitations. For a lot of people, myself included, that’s just not true. I’ve been there, or close to it; admittedly, I was never able to limit myself to just four foods. And when I looked in the mirror at 260 pounds, I felt the same way I did at 300, only hungrier.

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Rouse’s body is his own deal, just like mine is my own deal. The idea that his is the ideal body, however, or something close to it, means there’s an opposite of that. And for people like myself, this is just another reminder that a body like mine is something to be avoided.

GQ (and other men’s magazines) should stop doing this. There’s got to be a better way to both gas up your buddy and offer advice to your readers on how to eat and exercise without glorifying malnourishment and exercise to the point of overexertion. There’s got to be a way to talk about our bodies like they aren’t either trophies or a stain. This wasn’t it.

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