I’m not gonna lie; I've never been the biggest fan of Batman. A billionaire playboy with terrifying gadgets and a somewhat fascist outlook is not my cup of tea. That being said, it was refreshing to hear the DC Universe’s current caped crusader, Robert Pattinson, discuss the role in his interview with GQ this week.
It wasn’t the revelation that R Patz is worried about "being, like, arrested" while out running that caught my attention, however. It was the admission that, despite urging from his personal trainer to exercise, he had made a rare choice for a Hollywood leading man: to refuse to work out at all.
Why? Because actors who do "set a precedent”. He said, “I think if you’re working out all the time, you’re part of the problem,” the problem being a relentless bombardment of a very specific, pretty-much unattainable body type.
I’m an unashamed fan of superhero films and from a narrative perspective, a less chiselled Batman makes sense. Bruce Wayne doesn’t need to be a gym rat when he can just throw money at his enemies. But Pattinson’s comments speak to the very real pressures surrounding body image for men.
As part of my pledge to be productive during the pandemic, I’ve re-visited the Marvel Cinematic Universe, studiously watching all the films in chronological order. This is a universe where fierce physiques are ubiquitous. Even Paul Rudd’s Ant Man, a hero who shrinks himself to the size of an ant by virtue of a special suit, displays his washboard abs in a textbook shirt-off scene. No wonder steroids are becoming increasingly popular, if all we’re seeing are impossibly ripped Hollywood stars, you’d understand why those who want to look the same would reject regular methods of getting there.
The pandemic will deprive us of another equally muscle-packed universe this summer; Love Island has been cancelled. Despite doing my upmost to avoid watching the show, with every season came the guarantee of impossibly sculpted men flooding my social media feeds, and the impossible-to-resist comparisons I’d make between those lads and my own reflection.
It’s hard to argue much has changed since my childhood, where I spent an impressive amount of time flexing my humble biceps in the bathroom mirror while humming the Gladiators theme, or emulating my favourite wrestler by dropping the "People’s Elbow" move on my little brother’s face. Even the Action Mans and Street Sharks lining my shelves were seriously stacked. Can someone please explain why cartoon animals need to have six-packs, please?
So it makes sense that I believed an athletic frame was an essential facet of manhood. And despite now being the wrong side of 30, I still find that belief, and the pressures which accompany it difficult to shrug off.
A consequence of these pressures is a wildly unbalanced relationship with both exercise and food. When I’m on it, and by on it, I mean on getting absolutely ripped and posting nothing but topless thirst traps on Instagram, I’m training several times a week and fuelling those workouts with chicken breasts, creatine capsules and black coffee. Then I inevitably hit a wall; my body and mind violently reject the very idea of a workout and I go to the supermarket to buy myself a week’s supply of birthday cake, doubling down for a prolonged bout of comfort eating. Moderation is not an option when you’re chasing the dream of being built like Thor. It’s all or nothing.
It’s telling that when I’m on it and feeling bloody great about my physique, the women in my life generally express worries about the changes to my body. While they are concerned, my guys are impressed. From them, it’s all "I’m trying to be like you, bro" and bicep-flex emoji comments on my Instagram posts. What does the fact that I’m so dismissive of women’s concerns, while greedily lapping up the approval of my guys say about me? Who sets the expectation of how my body should look? Who am I trying to impress?
Perhaps the pressures surrounding body image for men revolve around acceptance and wanting to belong, rather than wanting to be desired or even physically fit. If we’re keeping it real, when I’m busy receiving compliments from my guys for looking cut, I’m actually dehydrated, hungry and weak.
So Pattinson's decision to shun excessive working out is absolutely a good thing. If he goes all the way in with it and swoops across our screens in a regular-fit Batman suit next year, it will be a great thing. Brave, even. It will show us that while some heroes wear capes, not all heroes are ripped.