On superheroes

I have all these aphorisms on post it notes stuck to the back of my computer. I use them as prompts, but these days they have a way of shutting down my memories as though the person whose words I admire has the last say and I am left with a mind that closes. 

Facebook is filled with the bold lettering of other people’s favourite quotes and aphorisms, usually in the form of an exhortation on how to live a better life. We do this a great deal, exhort others and ourselves to be better while we have a hard time acknowledging our own struggles. 

At a seminar recently on the topic ‘Boys and their Muscles’ Tom Wooldridge addressed the topic of muscle dysmorphia with an emphasis on men and boys.

The audience, a zoom audience of some thirty people consisted almost entirely of women. The presenter Tom and some five other men I counted. The other twenty-five all women. At discussion time not one man spoke. You might think this not so extraordinary, but I sensed the men were fearful or relucent to speak even to one of their own.

What happens when we discuss the possible underlying causes of someone’s troubles, in this instance young boys who hit puberty and decide they must build up their muscles and become ultra-strong and big as a way of gathering protection from the world. It seems they can’t tolerate their vulnerability. Feeling weak is feeling bad. Feeling small is unacceptable.

Tom Wooldridge used an expression about the importance of being a winner not a loser.

I think of my three-year-old grandson, who ever since his sister was born likes to remind people he is not a big boy. He is still a small boy. And he is right. Why now as a three-year-old is it okay for him to insist on his size, to let himself be a three-year-old child who is small? Despite the exhortations of those around him to be big.

When I was six years old, and my older brothers still lived with us at home, they devised a game where they took it in turns to roll us little ones individually into a blanket and then each of the two oldest take one end and swing us high off the ground as if we were a skipping rope. The sensation of being cocooned in a dark army blanket suspended off the ground but held at either end by my brothers was one of the great joys of my childhood, even as it did not happen often. 

You can imagine, they tired of this game fast while we little ones, the ones who had the pleasure of safe suspension, pleaded for more. One person’s pleasure becomes another person’s chore. And the worker, the older one must put aside their desires for the pleasure of the smaller one coming up the ranks as part of the order of life. 

Only trouble is sometimes the bigger one can’t tolerate the little one inside and instead of helping the small one outside they take sadistic glee in keeping the small one even smaller to make themselves feel big. 

The essence of bullying, which Tom Wooldridge suggests is the cornerstone of why some boys decide they must grow the biggest muscles known to humankind so that no one will ever mess with them. To keep them safe from feeling small and vulnerable. Only trouble is to grow such muscles they must become obsessed exercise junkies on restricted diets who avoid all other pleasures in life.Their time is dedicated to making themselves strong and blocking out every other human need and desire.

They become a one-dimensional superhero, lonely fragmented and set apart from others. A dangerous fate for a small boy for whom life once held out so much promise.