About 15 years ago I went to a gym with my wife. We tried side-by-side stair climbers. Seeing our puffing, sweating, beetroot-coloured cheeks in front of the full-length mirrors sent us into hysterics. We never went back to the gym, and took to playing tennis instead.
In the past, I found I could cut back on calories and within a few days the excess weight would drop off, motivating me to carry on with a diet until I’d reached my target. Now as I approach 50 I find it harder. But is it even worth the effort? Can I fight off Anno Domini?
Writing in the Spectator recently, the editor of the Today programme, Sarah Sands, observed that weight loss had become a preoccupation of men – particularly those in the public eye. Huw Edwards, the 56-year-old BBC newsreader, has lost three stone, prompting the tabloid headline “From Flab to Fab”. Journalists are not immune, replacing dough-ball byline pictures with newly svelte versions. Features are written about “How I transformed my dad-bod”, with before-and-after photos: beer belly and sagging moobs turned to gym-toned Adonis. To my mind, the effect can be unnatural, making a middle-aged man look like a 12-year-old. But in a way that’s the point, because what we desire more than anything is to defy the ageing process.
In Britain (and France, and Canada, and Italy, and Austria) we seem to like ever-younger politicians, and newsreaders. So people who do those sorts of jobs are terrified of looking old. (This is true even as our population ages and public spaces teem with “active retireds” – go to an art gallery or stately home outside the school holidays and you feel as if you’ve accidentally stumbled into an old people’s home.)
The fashion for male weight loss is changing the human landscape. Generously cut clothing designed to conceal middle-aged spread, once the norm, is being replaced by “slim-fit” shirts, specially tailored to highlight rippling musculature. All the presenters in the BBC’s lavish World Cup studio wear this style of formal shirt.
Is there no room in the commentary team for a veteran of the game with a pot belly? At Victoria station last week I overheard this phone call: “He’s 31. He needs to get married. But all he does is work and gym. Work and gym.”
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