Sunday, December 12, 2010

Suck it in

Actor Burt Reynolds once retired from acting, and replied thus when asked why: “I’m tired of holding in my stomach.”

We’re an affluent country, and we tend to be, well, let’s say “large.” But often we have thin, young and muscled celebrities looking quite different from us. That tends to make us normal (as in not sculpted) people want to suck in the tummy, no?

I’ve always held in my stomach. Almost always, anyway. Until the 7th grade I was painfully skinny, so when I first started showing some tummy, I happily distended it to the fullest, paunch-proud.

Since then, though, all the time … almost. If I really held in my stomach all the time, it might actually create some muscle tone. That’s not the goal. Hiding is the goal.

To state it precisely, I hold it in whenever anyone’s looking. Or seems to be looking. Or could begin looking.

There’s something of an art to that kind of hiding, you know. If you stand casually, with your tummy hanging out at full flop, you can’t quickly suck it up when someone glances your way. That’s so obvious that it looks ridiculous.

No, the way to do it is this: When the other person begins to glance your way, turn your head, as if being almost startled by something off to one side, stand up extra-straight and rein in the ole tum-tum at the same time. The head can serve as a complete misdirection, which is good. Even if it doesn’t, the change in posture makes the abdominal suck-in seem almost natural, as if that part of your body naturally belongs in there anyway. Try it.

A middle-aged friend and his wife go to the beach a lot, and a common activity is comparing their bodies to others that are displayed there. The goal always is to discover people who are even larger than they themselves are.

His concern, of course, is the stomach; hers is more generalized, in that women often care about things other than just their stomachs. (Men have other body parts they’re obsessed with, but this is a family newspaper.)

They set up beach chairs, lie back with an opened book or magazine and pretend to read as they peer through sunglasses at the parade of bodies. “How about this one?” is the usual code, meaning look at this person approaching and tell me if I’m fatter than that. The best answer is, “Be serious,” and the worst begins with “Ummmm …”

Many people joke about the middle part of the body, of course. The urban word “dunlop” is popular. It means that the belly is so big, it done lopped over the belt. And comedian Bill Cosby used to do a routine that pondered why men with 40-inch waists still wear 32-inch underwear. He might have used different numbers, but the idea is valid: We men often continue to buy the size we used to wear, even when that size is too small. Is it frugality, lack of awareness or downright self-delusion? Don’t ask.

Here’s a question I do ask … every day. When I see someone, let’s say a male, happily living with a really huge middle, I always wonder: Is he completely at ease with his size — a very good thing from a mental, if not physical, health standpoint — or, and this is the scary part, is he holding that sucker in right now? After all, it might be twice that size if I look away.

Whichever, I’ll bet he’s wearing 32-inch underwear.


Mike Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Greensboro and provides daily language tips on Twitter ( He can be reached at

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