Sunday, May 30, 1999

Can we learn anything from opposite sex?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Some women — and I'm embarrassed to point this out — are still saying, “You've come a long way, Baby.” Aloud. In public. They must have forgotten that this slogan came from a cigarette manufacturer, basically urging women to challenge male domination in the area of lung cancer and heart disease.

        Another more recent television commercial, shot in bleak black and white documentary style, shows men in a bar discussing their bodies. “Do these pants make my butt look big? I hope not,” one says mournfully, his moon eyes looking directly into the camera.

        “I have my mother's thighs. I'll have to accept that,” another declares manfully.

Hair plugs and love handles
        It's very funny, but I can't remember what they are trying to sell. I asked some of my friends. One thought it was breakfast cereal. One was sure it was an ad for hair dye. Somebody else thought it might be a come-on for a diet plan or health club. I myself seemed to remember a pitch for orthopedic shoes.

        (Note to advertising client: Ask for your money back.)

        In any case, my friends and I all remembered the message, aimed at women: “Men don't obsess about these things. Why do we?”

        Well, there is compelling evidence that men do worry about these things. Otherwise why are they drinking lite beer and working out on the Nautilus ab machines? I do not think this is because they are concerned about cardiovascular health. If fat didn't show, they wouldn't care if they had it.

        Men want to look good.

        According to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the number of men having cosmetic surgery has increased 64 percent since 1994. About 99,000 men underwent cosmetic surgical procedures in 1998, about 10 percent of all such operations performed last year.

        And it's not just hair plugs.

        Men are having love handles liposuctioned, noses bobbed and eyelids nipped. They're going under the knife to have male breast-reduction surgery, known as gynecomastia, and the new shorter hairstyles have increased the number of men seeking otoplasty, which is medical-ese for having their ears pinned closer to their heads.

The buff doll conspiracy
        Some of them are having pec implants. A Harvard psychiatrist thinks action dolls are to blame, much in the same way that Barbie has been accused of encouraging girls to believe they should have tiny waists, enormous breasts and pathologically high arches.

        Dr. Harrison Pope said the beefy GI Joe Extreme doll, if he were calibrated to human dimensions, would have 26-inch biceps. That is eight inches bigger than Barbie's waist if she were similarly scaled. The doctor suggests this could encourage boys to devote themselves to a dangerous quest for ever more bulging lats and delts and pecs.

        “Before the 1960s, people weren't using anabolic steroids, so men would lift weights and stay within their natural body size,” said Dr. Pope, “but now the unnatural is possible.”

        Speaking of which, a British fertility expert said male pregnancy is less than 10 years away. The next thing you know, men will be forming support groups to be allowed to nurse their babies in public. They will be on the Mommy track and bumping their heads on a glass ceiling.

        Women, I suppose, will be viewing these antics from the corner office. They'll be knotting useless scraps of fabric around their necks and refusing to ask for directions. They will be workaholics who never see their children.

        And men will be buff, barefoot and pregnant.

        We can look at each other and say, “You've come a long way, Baby.”

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

PULFER ARCHIVE