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January 10, 2008

Gym Observations

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A couple of general rules about life that I've learned from visits to the gym:

  • From the locker room: The darker-complected the guy, the more likely he is to wear bikini underpants.

    Latin and Jewish guys are far more likely than the Northern Euro set to like 'em tight and small. As for black guys ... Well, let's just say that they seem to find the words "Italian" and "silk" amazingly hard to resist.

    Can these preferences be explained by biology, do you think? It does seem that guys from certain backgrounds are much more eager to present themselves as hot and desirable thangs (in a physical sense) than guys from other backgrounds are. I know that if the fair-haired, small-town guys I grew up with ever caught you wearing tight, tiny undies, they'd razz you mercilessly. Feeling scrumptious, let alone presenting yourself as an object of desire ... Well, that's for girls and gays.

    What might be the explanation? Do the bikini-underpants crowd grow up on the receiving end of lots and lots of an extra-special kind of mommy-love?

    And a crucial question: Do many women actually get a kick out males presenting themselves as hunka-burnin'-love dreamboats? (My guess at an answer: "Sure! But only when the magic is present. Otherwise it's ridiculous." Chicks, eh? It's always about the mood.)

    Before you laugh me out of the club: Remember the "Latin Lover" phenomenon of the early 20th century? It hit America very hard. Come to think of it: Wouldn't a history of the Latin Lover archetype make for a terrific academic study? I'd happily read a long review of such a book.

  • From the hot tub / swimming pool area: The older the guy, the more likely he is to wear Speedos.

    And why should this be? Is it a generational thing? Perhaps for guys d'un certain age "men's bathing suit" automatically means "nylon," "small" and "tight." How things have changed. But maybe there's something about having a big belly, moobs, and a lot of grizzled, salt-and-pepper trunk-hair that drives the aging dude to tug on a teeny swimsuit.

Do these rules hold out where you live? As usual, lots of exceptions duly noted.

Best, and quite content being a baggy-boxers kinda guy,


posted by Michael at January 10, 2008


The mommy love thing certainly resonates with me. I sometimes watch the Italian cooking show featuring Lidia, and she just moons over her son. The kid is fat, soft and looks to be about 35 and the type to live in the apartment above the garage. My heritage is German, Welsh and Irish. Moms from my background pride themselves on cold detachment... "prove that you're worth it" seems to be the motto.

Filipino culture is definitely a momma's boy affair. Also not uncommon for the boys to live at home well into their 30s, spending their money on drinking, whoring and gambling. You can bet they're wearing the tiger striped bikinis.

The Speedo thing... whew! It's exacerbated by the reluctance of men to increase the waist size of their clothing as their body expands. At a Christmas party, a 75 year old man showed up in jeans that must have had the same waist size as when he was 35 years old. He crushed himself into these jeans, and his beach ball of a belly was pushed up, out and over. In his mind, he will be a 36 forever.

I confess to the same vanity. The Karaoke Queen wants to buy the next waist size up in slacks at Costco, but I insist that nothing has changed. There is a way around this, and she's discovered it. Some of the slacks have adjustable waistbands. So, even though the label reads 32, the elastic expands up to about 38.

The Queen's town in Jersey will be getting a Sports Center type gym in a few months, and I will be deserting the YMCA for classier digs. The Y is pretty evenly divided between incredibly old men and teenage boys. The teenage boys never display their bodies. The old men, almost all of them crumbling into wreckage, walk around the locker room completely naked.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 10, 2008 1:18 PM

What's up Michael, are you a pecker checker? Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Just kidding!

The banana hammock, for the gym and the pool, is most prevalent in this neck of the woods (the Northeast) among Euro expats (skin tone seems irrelevant; the French are the worst), Middle Easterners (with the Israelis, or as my Jewish buddy calls them with some embarassment, the Puerto Rican Jews, the biggest scofflaws), and the aforemention blacks and Latins. I kind of cut Latins some slack; if you look at the jeans a lot of Latinas wear, you worry about the seams giving way in some sort of explosive cataclysm, so it may be cultural! The group you left out is the hyper-narcissistic bodybuilders, who would prance around in their posing bikinis and spaghetti-strap tank tops all day if they could. Your average white guy is a boxer or tighty-whitey wearer, or they split the difference like me and go for the boxer briefs. For the gym and the pool, the basic gym short worn over boxers or briefs should be the uniform.

The only problem I have with your post is that it violates GYM RULES, which specifically prohibits below-the-neckline looks from the other guys in the locker room.

Each gym has its own set of rules. YMCAs (I've been a member at 4 different Y's) are packed with families, so you get a lot of dads and teenagers dressing pretty normally. Curves and places that have "fitness" in the name are mostly old and/or fat women, so baggy t-shirts and sweat pants are the most prevalent. Places that have "gym" in the name have a lot of the posing-wear sorts with a sprinkling of power lifters wearing the Superstar Billy Graham baggies (which most erroneously credit to MC Hammer).

GYM RULES also dictate that Spandex is a privilege, not a right. Most women seem instinctively to know this, but the older guys do not. The rule of thumb is certainly as you described-the more out of shape and hairy the old guy is, the more likely he's wearing something tight sewn from man-made materials. He's also got his lifting belt pulled as tight as possible in a failed attempt to make his stomach look smaller than his chest, which only results in the dreaded Muffin Top. Besides being unsightly, as my girlfriend points out, it smacks of desperation for woman's company. We have a couple older guys at our gym that are all 180+ lbs. wearing Spandex, and I wonder if they see the women averting their eyes when they happen by. I've never met a woman who thinks that Spandex/Bikini Man is oh-so-hot, though the girlfriend would take Tom Brady in a bikini in a heartbeat!

What gives rise to this? I once read that women look in the mirror and see something about 20 pounds heavier that the reality, but men look and see someone 20 pounds lighter.

Posted by: Brutus on January 10, 2008 2:00 PM

Another gym locker room rule: if a man walks around the locker room in his birthday suit for more than the absolute minimum length of time, it is a near-certainty that he is over 65 or 70 years old. Younger men just aren't into the communal-nudity scene.

I have heard, by the way, that it's pretty much the same in women's locker rooms.

Posted by: Peter on January 10, 2008 4:00 PM

When I was in Barcelona, I noticed that the old men who wore inappropriate swim gear were old, obese Germans. Elderly Spanish guys aren't obese, so I never saw one in inappropriate gear.

Wearing "sexy" underwear or swimwear is an amplifier of your underlying quality: makes hot guys look hotter and out-of-shape guys even more out-of-shape. So if a guy has a nice body and chooses not to show it off at the beach -- hey, his loss to the guy with similar build but better choice of brief-like trunks, and who likely has more balls (since it takes a pair to wear speedos in the US).

Posted by: agnostic on January 11, 2008 1:21 AM

"I never show myself naked to a man of my own gender."

Woody Allen in Annie Hall.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on January 11, 2008 3:46 AM

I agree with the girlfriend who said she'd be OK with seeing Tom Brady in bikinis. Otherwise, I just don't think they are that sexy. You know how guys always say women shouldn't get rid of all the mystery? Well, neither should men. And the men who tend toward teeny speedos and bikinis--regardless of age, they aren't always in the best shape. It's like they think they are so intoxicating that extra pounds don't matter for them. They do.

Posted by: annette on January 11, 2008 10:30 AM

Feeling scrumptious, let alone presenting yourself as an object of desire ... Well, that's for girls and gays.

Isn't this just Mediterranean/South American culture vs. Northern European culture? Mediterranean cultures are at least as macho, probably more so, than Northern European ones, but they have a much more *expressive* version of masculinity. So fancy colorful clothing, dramatic expressions of emotion, dancing, even crying, aren't necessarily just for the girls. Comes off as annoying and fake to the Northern European types, but the stolid Northern European masculine archetype is wooden and boring to the southerners.

Posted by: mq on January 11, 2008 5:03 PM

This is really a generational thing. The old guys, like myself, grew up when there was no such thing as homosexuals ... as far as we knew. No problem being nude in the locker room ... no one was interested. No problem sharing a room on the road. What could possibly be wrong.

When I was young and you were a competitive swimmer ... those were the racing trunks. They fell out of favor when it was realized that gays thought they were sexy. Since then straight guys fall all over themselves not to wear them. That's where those long baggy basketball shorts come from, I think.

Posted by: Robert Hume on January 12, 2008 2:34 PM

Okay, I have to admit that this odd conversation intrigues me. Though I'm an outsider to men's locker room, I am very familiar with women's changing areas where modesty is the norm. Most women seek a dark corner or hide partially behind an opened locker door rather than display full-frontally. It is rare to see a woman comfortably naked among other women. Very rare.

I find it more interesting to watch women help their children dress into street clothing after swimming. Little girls are more often allowed to dress, at least partially, in front of unrelated women, but little boys are usually pushed into a toilet stall or other private area. I've seen several mothers hold up a large towel for her children to hide behind while changing. Usually, though, mothers push their daughters into one stall, their boys into another, and then stand sentry while they change their clothing within.

Being of Scandinavian descent, I'm far less modest with my children who have toddled around on the beach naked, swam in rivers in their underclothing, etc. In spite of my "looseness," they're all growing up to be exceedingly modest. Sigh.

Posted by: Kris on January 13, 2008 10:58 PM

Wish I could credit the source, but I just read a men's magazine piece about women's preferences in men's unmentionables.

The winner. by far, was the boxer short. The gist was, whatever you got going, underwear comes too late in the game to help.

So, Michael, you're pleasing the ladies. Or so I hear.

Posted by: glenn on January 14, 2008 12:13 AM

I can vouch for the age-skimpiness correlation: On a recent visit to Noosa in Australia, I was impressed by the number of aging, overweight & sunburnt men in "speedos" walking through the middle of town.
They obviously hadn't seen this NZ ad about summer ettiquette:
The younger men wore very long shorts, very low on the hips.

Posted by: peter on January 14, 2008 3:53 PM

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