Darrick E. Antell, M.D.
850 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10075
Belly Roll Blues: Do You Buckle Your Belt Below That Overhang?
Belly Roll Blues: That Fat Stomach Can Be Embarrassing. So Try Aerobics, Liposuction, Dieting and Italian Suits; Levi's With No Waist Size.
It was enough to make a man squirm. On a Times Square billboard, in city bus shelters and glossy magazines, the image loomed: a beautifully sculpted male body clad only in Calvin Klein briefs. The long-runninig ad campaign gave banker Steven Mainzer the willies. "The guys with those bodies make you feel pretty bad," he says. Mr. Mainzer is six feet tall and hardly over the hill. But the years have robbed him of his 32-inch waist, and he no longer jogs shirtless. "Now I'm 38, and so is my waist," he grumbles, pinching more than an inch after a two-hour workout at Crunch, a Manhattan health club. "I don't like the way it looks."
Women Do Notice
Neither, it appears, do women. They talk ever more openly about men's bodies. TV talk shows are full of cheeky comments by women, turning the tables on the men who whistle at them on the street. A now very famous Diet Coke commercial shows women gawking lustfully from their office windows at a hunky construction worker shedding his shirt.
Men, like it or not, have become sex objects, too. And when they compare themselves, to hulks like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, many obviously feel inadequate. The standard square torso is out of style: today's fashion calls for a broad-shouldered, V-shaped upper body narrowing to a trim waist.
The lazy ones just try to suck in what they used to let hang out, especially when somebody good-looking is watching. Or they resort to such products as Belly Buster Contouring Gel, a $29.95 cream that promises to melt fat cells. Sales of Belly Buster, introduced earlier this year by Nobel Pharmaceuticals L.L.C., in Houston, are far outpacing those of the company's Thin Thighs Contouring Gel for women. Users rub a teaspoon on their stomachs every day, and some people swear by it. The Food and Drug Administration is currently evaluating the product's safety.
Equal Opportunity Ogling
Women are delighted to see all this male vanity. "Sexual liberation has allowed us an equal opportunity to ogle," says Ellen Levine, the former editor of Redbook magazine and the new editor of Good Housekeeping. The October issue of Redbook has a photo-spread of 10 run-of-the-mill guys in their underwear, bemoaning their body flaws.
Feminist Gloria Steinem says that women's growing financial independence has freed them of certain inhibitions. Time was, she says, when women noticed men's bodies but were very forgiving. "You would see these attractive young women going out with potbellied men who were 30 years older than they were, just because they had money," she says. "The old men thought that they were irresistible."
Such couplings obviously still happen, when wealth and power and force of personality are in the mix. But aging baby boomers today worry more about their waistlines than about losing their hair or even about impotence, according to readership surveys conducted by Men's Health magazine. Whenever the monthly runs a cover line such as "Gut-Buster Exercises," newsstand sales shoot up, says Michael Lafavore, executive editor.
The dreaded spare tire is mostly a guy thing. "For biological and hormonal reasons, men tend to get fat in their guts, while women get it in their thighs and buttocks," says William McCarthy, a physician at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Santa Monica, Calif., where $7,000 buys a spartan, two-week regimen of exercise and very low-fat food.
Aerobic exercise, perhaps a Jane Fonda tape, would help others. But the most sedentary fat fellows rely on camouflage. Some try to cover belly rolls by hiking their trousers up above their waistline, Tweediedum and Tweediedee style. Others persist in buying pants a size too small, then buckling their belts below the overhang. A big fashion mistake. "It makes their legs look short and emphasizes their paunches," says Robert Marklin, national sales manager at Rochester Big & Tall, a menswear chain whose customers, he says include guitarist B. B. King and comedian Sinbad.
Fashion is bowing to demographic reality: the burgeoning population of older men with bigger belts. Designers now push the concealing “relaxed” look: fuller jackets, oversized sweaters and pleated pants. Even President Clinton — whose midsection is a repository of Big Macs and state dinners — has defected to the drapey, Italianesque lines of Donna Karan suits. “He likes to wear clothes that are comfortable and American-made. “The change in the style of his suits accommodates his lifestyle."
Levi Strauss & Co. now markets a "Signature Collection" of fuller-cut jeans to older men, pants that don't have that telltale patch on the back with a waist size printed on it that men have been known to scratch off.
More Call for Corsets
Even the elastic corsets known in the retail trade as "potholders" may be poised for a comeback. Mr. Marklin of Rochester Big & Tall is getting more customer requests for them, and says "we're now trying to track down a manufacturer who still makes them."
Some men still regard a big stomach as a point of pride, a sign of virility, evidence of wealth. They've got it and flaunt it. For wealthy industrialists of yore, portliness was proof that they could afford good food and avoid the heavy lifting of laborers. "Potbellies used to represent CEOs: the executive class," says Richard Martin, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Well into the 20th century, beefy remained somehow manly; Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso never had any trouble attracting women. Matinee idols of the '40s and '50s tended to be softer and flabbier overall than stars are today. They didn't depend for their appeal on pumped-up pectorals and washboard stomachs.
A Debt to Richard Gere
Shirtless screen stars came into their own in gladiator movies and fan-magazine photo spreads. But the Metropolitan's Mr. Martin credits the 1980 movie "American Gigolo" with cementing today's beefcake ideal in the public mind. In that film, the cameras voyeuristically followed actor Richard Gere as he worked out and dressed up. The movie "made screen audiences really aware of the sexualizing of the American male," Mr. Martin says.
Today, when actors of various shapes do steamy bedroom scenes, it taxes the artistry of production crews. "If a guy has a stomach, the director usually shoots him lying on his back or on his stomach, instead of standing up," says Richard Valenza, a Hollywood costume designer. But men who can't fall back on cinematic tricks, including the ordinary fat man on the street, increasingly are turning to plastic surgery. By its latest count, the American Societ of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, Inc. Estimates that about 13% of liposuction operations are performed on men. Patients typically spend between $2,000 and $3,000 to have up to two inches of fat vacuumed from their stomachs. If you can't suck it in, suck it out.
Darrick Antell, a plastic surgeon at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York, does several liposuctions a week on men ranging from Chippendales strippers to bankers and attorneys. Dr. Antell also carves ridges in the abdomen to simulate muscle definition. He says: “I try to create the illusion of an alligator belly.
By TERI AGINS
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL