Maybe it’s because my doctor raised his eyebrows during the weigh-in portion of my last physical. Maybe it’s because I’m planning a beach vacation. Maybe it’s the profusion of perfect abs that’s co-opted pop culture over the past few years — from music (see LL Cool J) to sports (see David Beckham) to reality television (see “Jersey Shore”) to movies (see any of the “Twilight” flicks).
But for whatever reason, I was tuned in a few weeks ago when I walked into Dick’s Sporting Goods at the FlatIron Crossing mall, and for the first time I noticed the massively muscular mannequins — I mean, freakishly muscular mannequins — hawking the kinds of clothes that I, a not-freakishly muscular person, had gone there to purchase for my treadmill sessions.
Massive arms. Tree-trunk legs. Tiny waists. Sculpted calves. Glutes big enough to support a steam-table buffet. Shoulders as round and grand as bowling balls. These were not representations of any men that I cross paths with in my daily life, but of the titanic heroes of ancient Greek myths. (Or WWE wrestlers — choose your own image.)
Boy, would I love to look like that.
Only, I don’t. And won’t. That window closed long ago — actually let’s be honest, it was never really open. I’m a 40- plus beanpole with an age-appropriate paunch, long past the age when I could aspire to a physique like that.
I was shopping for workout clothes because I had been told somewhere that I could stave off my exercise ennui with some shiny new gym duds, the kind that “wick away sweat.” (To where is it “wicked,” I’ve often wondered. Connecticut?) The abs I want were only a few threads of Lycra away.
Disclosure: I hate shopping. For one thing, I hate spending money. For another, I’m not a natural browser. I hate the hunt. And I resent all those posters of exactingly touseled, hairless and perfectly toned supermodels in tight jeans and tank tops staring down at you from department-store walls, daring you to spend money to try to look as good as they do. As if.
I figured that shopping for gym clothes at a sports shop, I would be safe from all those taunting Abercrombie & Fitch-sters.
Wrong. Those mannequins. Those colossal, improbable mannequins. They chased me straight out of the store.
I tried Niketown on the 16th Street Mall, only to discover that its floor space was occupied by similarly intimidating goliaths, posed in the kind of square-shouldered stance I associate with facing down a charging mountain lion (not that I’ve ever had to do that). Sports Authority Elite in Cherry Creek mall? Beautiful store, behemoth mannequins.
I get it. I understand the idea behind these plaster muscles. They are meant to be inspiring. Designed to tap into that part of your brain that — when it’s not being overruled by petty nuisances like reality — wants to believe that you, too, can look like that, if only you buy those shorts.
It’s a basic rule of 21st-century marketing: You entice people by showing them what they think they want to be, rather than what they actually are. When the clothes don’t change their lives, they’ll salve their disappointment with a return trip to the store. If only, if only, they can find just the right gym shorts.
Of course, we’re all in on the shtick. None of us actually believes that purchasing this season’s workout gear will transform us into champion bodybuilders any more than we believe that a pill purchased off a late-night infomercial will melt away the pounds as we sleep. But, logic aside, consumers are attracted to improbable promises. Even if the shorts don’t turn us into Olympians, we’ll still somehow be part of the club. The lure of transformation, however unreasonable, punches our id-buttons, and we buy.
I described the muscled mannequins to a female friend: “Can you believe those things? No one looks like that! They’re unreal! Outrageous!”
She showed no sympathy. “Welcome to my world,” she said, holding up the Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Tucker Shaw: 303-954-1958 or firstname.lastname@example.org