Human Aesthetics: Taut and washboard

Once in a while I catch a television news program like 20/20. Last night was just such a night. The program claimed to expose “Myth’s, lies and downright stupidity.” One of the myths John Stossel’s program debunked was that the way to a washboard stomach for men — or taut tummies among women — was through exercise. The story claimed that great midsections start in the kitchen with good (low-fat) diets, instead of thousands of crunches or the latest late-night ab-tightening fitness machine.

One part of their sample ab-ulous diet was a fruit smoothie. Fruit smoothies have been my breakfast for more than a year: Orange juice, yogurt (low-fat) and strawberries in a blender.

I don’t have a GQ stomach.

If anything I’ve gained weight in my midsection over the last year. I did turn thirty this year. I also assumed a full-time desk job. But if diet is key to flat or washboard tummies, I suppose my love of dairy — the richer the better — is my downfall.

The cultural and social perception of the ideal human form is something that fascinates me. What is considered beautiful is different from place to place and era to era. My own idea of what’s beautiful (in a woman, since I’m a man) seems often to differ from the norm as visually described by the fashion media and most advertising. I can’t say exactly how; I haven’t ever sat down and tried to quantify my own preference in the female physique.

The term I use to describe my present preference is “healthy.”

I see things in proportions. The human form adheres to fairly strict proportions, and when things are out of whack it’s pretty obvious. People who are too thin (bulemics and most models, for instance) or obese (some of the middle-aged women I worked with in a call-center, for instance) are outside of what seem to my eye proper human proportion, besides being unhealthy. Towards the ends of both of these spectrums the effect is, simply, grotesque.

In-between these ends lies “healthy.”

I’m trying to decide how much my own subconscious is being lured into uncritically holding up society’s unrealistic ideas of beauty. According to the 20/20 program, chiseled stomachs are the new sex symbol in American culture. Is it unhealthy to possess a slight pooch? I don’t think so — for men or women — but I’ve found some dark corner of my brain wishing for the body I had during high school football practice. And I imagine if I was engaged in that kind of physical activity for two hours every day again I’d probably lose the love handles.

But how many of us really have time for that kind of workout? And how many of us (by “us” I mean people in my income bracket) can actually afford memberships at the gym? Further, if it’s OK to have a bit softer tummy isn’t it a better idea to put our time and energy into good works than a vain attempt to keep our 25 year old bodies until we’re 60? Just because someone looks 30 years younger than they are, how much healthier are they in reality?

Give those thousands you thought of spending on plastic surgery or hundreds spent on unused gym memberships to church or charity instead.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to Human Aesthetics: Taut and washboard

  1. I could spend ten minutes walking and in prayer and be better physically and spiritually. I think it was Paul who said that physical training had some value, but spiritual traing (godliness) has value for all things.

    I am one of the suckers who bought an AbLounge that sits unused in a corner.

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