Our tuchas, ourselves
What shapes a man's life? To begin with, mom, dad, little Jenny Harrison in the third grade, adolescence, acne, heartache and the jockstrap. And then there comes the real trauma, age 60 or so: loss of gluteofemoral adipose tissue, a condition also known as gluteofemoral ptosis. As in sagging of the butt, collapse of the "gluteo-pecs" and even disappearance of the "back package."
You know what I'm talking about.
It's that age-related reworking of your once trim physique, when we replace pecs with moobs, six-pack abs with a two-litre jug and slim-leg Levis for old-time, beltless wear.
Here is how I found out about it.
Tailor: "What is going on back here? Looks like ... diapers."
Me: "What do you mean?"
Tailor: "It's all baggy back here. You're too flat."
Me: "Oh come on, can't you just…"
Tailor: "Okay, I'll try to pin it anyway …"
Tailor: "Sorry, there's so much excess material I can't tell where the …"
Me: "Ow! Goddamn it!"
Tailor: "I don't think I can do it. You won't be happy. Can you wear a smaller size maybe?"
My wife Erminia has always said: "Babe, you get fat, I can deal with it. You lose your ass, and you're in trouble!"
The ancients, when confronted with the inevitability of decrepitude, had a favourite method to counter male decline: sleep with virgins. Or so advised Cicero, a nice Roman boy, some time before being slain. Seneca advised positive thinking, a classical version of Tony Robbins without the fire-walk thing. Galen put it all down to the humours – a first-class hormone nut if there ever was one. Yet, under their tunics: no tuchas!
And so a basic ignorance about the fate of the male caboose has left us with a legacy of lameness. No one cares until it's too late, and then your tailor's cracking jokes, female students are giggling when you write on the blackboard and, all of the sudden, almost every chair you sit in has the comfort of a church pew.
But what about your health? It has been known for many years that fat deposited around the hips and butt is better for you than the classic male beer belly. Hip fat (women have a lot of it) acts differently to gut fat. It makes fewer "bad" chemicals and more "good" chemicals, contributing less to diabetes and heart disease than does beer-belly fat.
In the International Journal of Obesity, some authors threw a wrench into the diet world by asking if loss of butt fat in a weight-loss programme is worse for you than just remaining fat.
Meanwhile, in the United States, giant billboards announce, alongside a predictable bubble butt, a new product: Underbum! Which looks like a kind of falsie on steroids. Calvin Klein offers a Body Boost Butt Trunk. No kidding. And the "squat" – the cross-fit exercise almost anybody can do – is now often billed as a "butt booster".
In a world of war, poverty, climate change and obesity, butt sag is a superficial concern. Me, I went shopping.
I found myself at websites such as Butt for You. There you discover that these seemingly superficial products are outgrowths of a health crisis of our time: Aids, which can cause a wasting disease, most apparent in the face and around the hips. For Aids sufferers, gluteo-prosthetics like ass falsies are a balm to social self-consciousness, stigmatisation and poor clothing options. You can, literally, strap on a new butt.
I decided to try one. Colour: blue. Okay. Size: medium. Okay. Style: briefs. Okay. Stop with the mental pictures! When it came to picking a "contour", on the order page, I was asked to make a choice: quarterback, halfback or fullback. I clicked the small one.
A week or so later, my buns came in the mail. Erminia was sitting in the reading room with the newspaper when I came in and announced my experiment.
"I got something you might like …"
"A Hawaiian vacation?"
"A new puppy?"
"Later. No! ... Just wait here."
I went upstairs and quickly changed, then swept in.
"Notice anything different?"
"I'll turn around."
"Oh. My. God."
"What? You notice the change?"
"Uh ... yeah. You've changed ... races!"
Actually, I was now, in the bummische world, a "fullback."
I'd subconsciously ordered the wrong size! After I reordered and received a "quarterback" in the mail, I went for a trial spin.
My pants fit a lot better. I didn't need to use the seat-heater in my car. And on a flight to New York I was very comfortable – a miracle that, in itself, shapes a man's life.
Greg Critser writes about medical science, aging and public health