Stuck Between Hating and Loving My Body | Crooked Media
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June 01, 2022
Stuck with Damon Young
Stuck Between Hating and Loving My Body

In This Episode

Damon talks to Jay Ellis and Robert Jones Jr. about our bodies, and why men are so reluctant to admit to experiencing body shame.



Damon Young: So it’s really funny now to compare my Zoom talks from the first year of the pandemic to the Zooms I’m on today. Cause, man, it was rough. Dark rooms, fuzzy features, strange noises. I was truly on some Blair Witch type shit. Like I was using book talks and virtual panels as a Trojan horse to haunt niggas’ dreams. 


But the upgrade in production value now is understandable, cause it’s happened with everyone. Those first few months were the wild wild west of virtual pandemic work. We now know which rooms in our homes have the best lighting and sound quality, we’ve curated our backgrounds to fit whichever aesthetic we wanna convey. And some of us have even copped high quality recording equipment. 


Yeah, but my personal upgrade journey is a bit more complicated. Sure, I also invested in a better camera, and my background is full of curated art and pictures instead of pizza boxes and dirty laundry. But my shitty videos from back then were less about my equipment and more about my teeth. 


I’m less self-conscious about them than I used to be, but I don’t know, I still feel some anxiety when they’re prominently displayed – as they are when doing Zoom talks. The shitty lighting and bad camera angles, that was me just trying to hide them. 


I mean, so I’d either place the laptop mad far away, so that you couldn’t really see them. Or I’d have the light shining so brightly that all you saw when I opened my mouth was this bright ass, indistinguishable white. My wife said it looked like I was broadcasting from the bat cave. 


So why is my video content better today? I mean, the equipment upgrades matter, sure. But … I also got a bag and fixed my teeth, so they upgraded too.  


[Music Transition]


This is Stuck with Damon Young, the show where we keep our zoom cameras off. Today we’re going to talk about how we feel about our bodies – the pride, the self-worth, and even the shame – and how those feelings affect our behavior.


Robert Jones Jr.: My first check from summer youth employment when I was employed at 14 went to buying pinstriped Lees, suede Adidas black on white, a name belt that said Bobby. I had a 24 karat gold rope chain that I should not have bought because he got snatched. Like second day of school. Gone. 


Damon: So that’s Robert Jones Jr, author of the award-winning novel The Prophets, and the creator of the “Son of Baldwin” blog. And I wanted to talk to him about why we – and by we I mean Black men – are so reluctant to talk about our fears and our shames with our own bodies. 


Robert: Where it begins is with respectability politics that come out of the newly freed enslaved people who feel as though in order to be seen as a full human being by these white people who used to own them, they have to dress as nicely as they possibly can so that they can be seen as part of the human family. In addition, particularly for Black men, there was this idea that we had to always appear neat and clean so as to dissuade any fear of the Black maleness. Because, you know, the country had told the entire world that Black men were brutes, and that white women had to be protected from us because we were inherently rapists, that we were violent and cruel and crude. One of the ways in which our ancestors combated that stereotype, that idea was to be impeccable in our style of dress. The same thing for Black women. They were seen as loose and so forth. And so they had to dress in a particular way so as to be impeccable. And I think that is where it begins in terms of the anxiety that’s associated with how we look in terms of our fashion and our presentation. 


Damon: And then there’s even, there’s even the reality, you know, like, okay, so I also, you know, had all the J’s from the time that J’s were a thing. 


Robert: I have never owned a pair of J’s. 


Damon: Never owned? Ok. I, I had all the J’s. I would walk in them, I would hoop in them. You know, Jordan was my man. I had, I had the full Jordan outfits, like two Jordan shirts, the Jordan sock, the Jordan sneakers, the Jordan shorts, all of that. The Jordan hats. Yeah, I was I. 


Robert: I just couldn’t afford it.


Damon: Yeah, I was OD.


Robert: I couldn’t afford it. 


Damon: Well, my parents couldn’t either. Right? My parents couldn’t afford it either. But they, they still would do it for me. And, teachers, administrators, adults are going to treat you better. 


Robert: Human beings respond to aesthetics.  


Damon: Yeah, if you’re dressed more presentabley, if you wearing nicer clothes than the kids who, you know, might have cheap things on, might have holes, might be dirty. And I think I’ve seen it even as a teacher. 


Robert: Right. 


Damon: How, you know, subconsciously people respond differently to the kids who don’t look as presentable. 


Robert: And what do we do about that? Like, is it something intrinsic to being a human being that we respond to what things look like before we even assess their value or we assess their value by what they look like? 


Damon: I think that there are things that might be inherent to humanity. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the right things. You know, and I think that people who are cognizant of this feeling are actively, some of us are actually doing that work because we recognize what respectability does to us. We recognize what this focus on the aesthetic does to us and how it impacts us, and particularly how it impacts, you know, Black people. 


Robert: Yes. 


Damon: I feel like, and and I’m talking about Black men specifically in this context, are are having more, there are more conversations about mental health. Right? That that used to be more taboo than it is now. But I think it is still somewhat taboo. But there is more conversation that’s happening out loud. But I feel like the one thing that we still don’t talk about is our relationship with our bodies, all our physical bodies. And it could be body dysmorphia, body shame, how our bodies are hypersexualized. And I’m curious, like, if you’ve noticed that. Why do you think that that our bodies are like the third rail? 


Robert: I have noticed it, and I think one of the under-discussed aspects of patriarchy is what it does to men. Because, you know, patriarchy is the system created by men to benefit men. So we don’t think about the ways in which it is actually detrimental to men. And one of the ways in which it’s detrimental to men is that it cuts us off from ourselves, such that when we are talking about or thinking about our bodies, we almost treat our bodies as though they are machines. We have to have a certain musculature, we have to have a certain penis size. And then we don’t think of ourselves beyond that. We don’t really think about our health, the things that we’re putting into our bodies. We don’t think about that because patriarchy says men are tough, so nothing can hurt you or nothing is supposed to hurt you. And if it does, then you’re weak and you cannot be weak. That’s horrible. That’s the worst thing you can be in a patriarchal society as a man is weak, so we don’t afford ourselves weaknesses even when we can feel it. Our hearts, our our minds, our our, our constitutions. We do not afford ourselves the right to be ill, which is, you know, ties into like this thing with disability. We don’t even, even when we are disabled, we don’t think of ourselves as disabled because we think disabled is weak. And so well, I remember seeing this meme of this Black man who was using a crutch. He had one leg and he was using the crutch as the other leg to continue shoveling in this mine. And people were like, see, you have no excuse. Look what this man is doing. He he wasn’t even allowed the permission to be disabled. He had to still show. Look, I’m still working. I’m still a laborer. I’m still a soldier. I’m still a protector. I’m still an earner. I’m still a provider. Even though this thing has happened to my body, which is to say I’m not weak, even when the body is saying I need a moment of weakness. So I see this all the time, and I think this is the way a patriarchal society defines manhood. You can’t ever be weak. And that in itself causes so many problems for us. 


Damon: Yeah. You can’t be weak. You can’t be small. 


Robert: You can’t be small. 


Damon: You know, smallness is also still like if you’re a male and you’re small, then that’s also like a, I don’t know, that that that that that’s also a no no. Right. Even if you have literally nothing to do with that, that’s just, you know, you’re just maybe not tall. You just maybe have small features or maybe you’re small down there. And again, that’s out of your control, but you are made to feel like you’re less than if you are small or if you’re weak. 


Robert: And you’re not allowed to talk about it, you’re not allowed to say, I’m a smaller man, and as a result of that, people treat me as though I’m less than, whether that is in the dating pool or if that’s when I’m with other men. Whatever it is, I’m made to feel tiny in a spiritual sense and and in a psychological and emotional sense, I am made to feel tiny. And you can’t, you can’t say it because people will make fun of you or they’ll gaslight you, and say you got a Napoleon complex. 


Damon: Yeah. I feel like we have to, you know, declare that as far as the pressure to fit a certain aesthetic, we all have it bad, women probably have it worse, definitely have it worse. Right. You know when you spoke of the gaslighting that I see that happening online too where people who, it’s surprising like people who are otherwise progressive, who who are sensitive to the body, body trauma, body horror, body dysmorphia, you know, and all these things that humans experience have a blind spot when it comes to men in terms of men’s, you know, and saying certain things about a man’s weakness, physical weakness or man’s physical stature, that again, it’s just like, yeah, this just doesn’t fit with the rest of your politics. But there is this blind spot. But I think that’s partially due to, again, this patriarchal idea that that one that men, you know, are supposed to shrug everything off. Right? And that a man’s only value, that that a man’s, you know, main value is through his size. 


Robert: Yes. 

Damon: Through his body, through his ability to protect or to dominate. And if he’s not able to do either of those things, then he is valueless. 


Robert: Yes, that is that is absolutely right. I’m thinking about, for example, there was a conversation on your your Facebook page where you brought up the Jesse Williams photo leaks and video leaks, and you were having a conversation with the person on your thread. And that person said, well, I don’t, this this is a gray area because he did decide to get up on a stage and be naked. And what I was thinking was, yes, he consented to getting up on that stage and being naked. He did not consent to people taking photos or videos of him and sharing them. That, you know, so I found it really problematic because I know that if if that was Vanessa Williams instead of Jesse Williams, the response, there would be no gray area. It would be clearly labeled as rape culture. When you do not receive consent and for taking nude photos of somebody and you share them or you consume them, those are the building blocks of rape culture, whether that person is a man or woman or non-binary or whatever. When you talk about this gaslighting, this sort of it’s different when it’s a man, it seems as though in ways that I want to be careful here because I don’t want to make it sound like only Black men face this because Black women, Black women face this, too. But there’s a certain idea that the Black male body is accessible always, that the reason why the penile size of Black men is worshiped is because we’re supposed to be showing it. We’re supposed to be proud of it. So if we’re showing it and proud of it, then, then it should be accessible to everyone. And there’s there’s no way in which, there’s no place in which a Black man can ever be the victim of rape culture because the body, his body is accessible and strong and available all the time. 


Damon: Yeah. There’s a phrasing that people have, you know, when a thing like this happens, it’s like, Oh, he has nothing to be ashamed of. And it’s like, Well, does that matter? I mean, does that matter? But the blind spot happens when it happens to be a man who who is considered attractive. 


Robert: Yes. 


Damon: Particularly a Black man who is considered attractive, when when when his photos are leaked or his nude images that were taken in private exists on the Internet, then it becomes a free for all. Where all of the conversation, all the sensitivity just disappears. 


Robert: It reminds me of the auction block that our ancestors had to stand upon and be sold where the the auctioneer would inspect his body, lift his mouth open, to look inside his mouth and lift his lips and spread his butt cheeks, grab his balls. Like, that’s kind of what that reminds me of. It makes me think about how the physical specimen of a Black man is so attractive that it can never be offensive to admire it, whether you want the admiration or not. 


Damon: This is a dynamic that is largely out of our control because this is a socialized thing that is that has been passed on for centuries. Right. But but I also think that we do ourselves no favors by embracing it. 


Robert: None. 


Damon: By embracing the, quote unquote positive stereotype. And I’m I’m having this conversation with you because I’m thinking about this. And I’m also still having to work to unpack this and myself because, you know, I despite all of my learning, but all my reading, despite all that I know, there’s still a part of me that still wants to embrace that positive stereotype, to want to be considered that way, too. 


Robert: I love that you admit that and share that level of vulnerability, because there is one thing that I still find myself comparing myself to other men. I feel like I’m not tall enough. I think I’m somewhere between five-seven and five-nine. And that, to me, feels too short. And I’m trying to figure out why I feel short. And I think it’s because I feel like if I was taller, then people would be less likely to be violent toward me, would respect me more because of the height, would find me more attractive and all. And I’m married, you know. So, like, why am I even worried about these things? But there’s something in the indoctrination of being in a patriarchal society that, like you said, even though you’re conscious of all of these things, it’s still somewhere in there. And so I sometimes catch myself. I’ll be on a train and be like, am I taller than him, am I taller than him? You know, am I the shortest dude on this train? And then I’ll catch myself and be like, Why does that matter? Who cares? You know? 


Damon: I feel like it even connects to why I’m wearing Invisalign right now. Like, I’m having, like, cosmetic teeth work done. Literally right now, this is not something I necessarily need it. Like, my teeth were fine. They weren’t perfectly straight or anything like that, but they weren’t unhealthy. They, you know, they weren’t discolored. They, none of that. Right. But I made a decision last year because I, I felt I always felt like a self-consciousness and it’s like, okay, well, why? You’re grown ass fucking man. And now with a family. So why do you still feel this? 


Robert: That that’s the that’s the million dollar question. Like I have, I’m a bit subconscious about my teeth too, because I have a gap and like, I always feel like that gap should be closed. So I always wanted braces when I was a kid, but we couldn’t afford braces. So I just I resigned myself to live with this gap. But if I had my way, if I had the courage, I guess I would fix it. And I don’t know why, because there’s really nothing wrong with my teeth the way that they are. But but then when I think about it, it’s because I, I internalized anything negative someone said about my appearance when I was growing up. So I used to get teased because of the broadness of my nose, because of the fullness of my lips. So you’ll see pictures of me as a pre-teen and teenager with my lips tucked in because I was so ashamed of the way I was teased. I used to even hate my complexion because people kept telling me I was too dark. I don’t, I don’t even understand what that means today. But, like, you know, I, so much emphasis and we don’t really talk about this is put on how boys and men look. So little is being talked about in regard to what it’s doing to boys and men. I’ve seen like these people work out to the point where their bodies don’t even look human anymore, like it’s just like a mass of muscle. And, or these men who are like having these surgical procedures to look a particular way and we don’t, we don’t attribute that to you know, we don’t really call that body dysmorphia in the way that we would call it if it was somebody other than a man. And it’s almost like we expect the man to do these things in order to fit this patriarchal paradigm. So what do we do, Damon? How do we first get brothers to acknowledge whatever insecurities and talk to each other? Like, can we, like, how do we make space for each other to talk about these things? And without judgment. 


Damon: I mean, I think we got to we have to start we got to just do it ourselves, you know, and we got to we got to amplified the niggas who were doing it already. I mean, Kiese, you know, obviously with Heavy. Heavy, you know, is the standard for, for, for talking about, for for for digging as deep as you can go about about your body and feelings about your body, a body dysmorphia, body shame, body or body trauma. But there has to be more of us doing it. There has to be more of us who are brave enough to to just actually say, I don’t I don’t like how this feels or I don’t I don’t like this part about me. And that’s that’s okay to admit that, know it’s okay to actually say, hey, you know, I wish I were taller. I wish I were better looking. I wish, I wish my dick was bigger. Like, I feel like those things are ok to admit if you are feeling those things. 


Robert: Wasn’t there a rap song? I wish I was a little bit taller. You remember that? 


Damon: I remember that. I remember that. 


Robert: He was articulating some things. 


Damon: He was man, I wish I were baller. I wish I had a girl who looked good. I will call her. [laughs]


[Music Transition]


Damon: So the homie Kiese Laymon has this writing prompt where he asks his students to apologize to one of their body parts, and I definitely need to apologize to my head. I mean, to say I have an egghead would be misleading. I have the egghead. My head is a template. A mold for other eggheads. The one true egghead. I was teased for this as a kid, and that made me deeply self conscious about it. But then one day when I was like 22,  I just stopped giving a fuck. I’m glad it happened too, because I’m a big fan of my brain – and my head is the vessel for it. I mean shit, if I had a smaller brain, and a smaller head, I wouldn’t be doing this podcast. I’d be Jason Whitlock. Anyway, I just wanna apologize to my head for some of the ridiculous hats I’d put on it when I was ashamed of it. The army fatigue hats, the fishermen bucket caps, those tiny hats from the Gap that made me look like a hot air balloon, and especially those awkward headband things that made my head look like a dick with a condom on it. 


Producer voice 1: When I was ten, I remember watching Barb Wire with Pamela Anderson. I went to bed and prayed, like did a lap around the rosary type of prayer that I would get big boobs like hers. And if God has ever heard any of my prayers, it was that one. But growing into a more mature body at a young age is traumatic because people think they have agency to comment on your body or to touch you. So I spent several years feeling shame for something I couldn’t control and wishing I could undo my prayer. I’ve accepted my body and I love it now. The only prayers I pretty much have for my boobs are just for them to be healthy, happy and perky. I do. I have my boobs there forever, under my chin for life. I’ll get them fixed if they don’t. 


Producer Voice 2: I would like to apologize to the skin between my eyebrows. I’m so sorry, skin. I am so sorry for all the years of waxing followed by the seasons of pluckings. Skin, I am so sorry for the years of threading. For the times when you rebelled by breaking out in acne. Skin, skin between my eyebrows. I am so sorry. Sorry that I’ve scarcely been gentle with you even when you scar over. Skin, I am so sorry for covering you up in fenty beauty instead of letting you just heal skin. I am so sorry for not drinking enough water because, skin, between my eyebrows. You look thirsty. And I’m so sorry. 


[Music Transition]


Jay Ellis: It’s like all of a sudden I went from being a seventh grader who just felt, like, comfortable or whatever, at least as comfortable as a seventh grader could feel in their skin. And then all of a sudden, I felt like an alien had just jumped in my body, like I just didn’t know what was going on. 


Damon: So that’s the homie Jay Ellis, who most of you know as Lawrence from Insecure, and I wanted to talk to him about whether there are different aesthetic expectations for Black male actors than non-Black actors. 


Damon: So have you ever had, like, an awkward stage? Where maybe you felt uncomfortable with your body work. Maybe you felt, you know, I don’t know, like you needed to get comfortable in your own skin, as a as a youngster or even as an adult?


Jay: Hell, yeah. I remember when… Hell, yeah. When I was in, I grew like six inches in the summer of eighth grade, like literally from May to the start of the school year, from May to September, I grew like six inches. And all of a sudden I was into this long, gangly, skinny body. Like, my feet were huge. I felt like Bambi. Like I was just on ice all day long. Every day in eighth grade. It was the worst possible time to not, you know, be in your body because every kid in middle school was going to call it out. When they see how awkward you are. 


Damon: Everyone has jokes. 


Jay: Everybody got jokes. But yeah, I feel like, but you know what? I was really, really interested, and I played basketball at the same time. But one of the things that I remember, like immediately just trying to do was, I was like, Oh, I’m going to put on muscle so nobody can make fun of me. Like immediately I was like, I’m going to be the like, I’m going to be the six three like, like strong dude in my class. And I, you know, I couldn’t put on muscle for nothing at all. I couldn’t put on muscle for nothing. 


Damon: So you were tall, early. You didn’t have, you didn’t keep, you didn’t necessarily continue to have growth spurts after like eighth, ninth grade, you were that high and then you just filled out. 


Jay: Yeah, I did. I had this crazy, crazy growth spurt. And then after that, I was just six three and some change, you know, and maybe got like another half an inch, a quarter an inch or something like that along the way. But like, I mean, since for sure, since eighth grade and, you know, didn’t understand how to use it in basketball. I didn’t, all of a sudden I was a big man and I didn’t know what that meant. I was a big man, but I was crazy skinny. So like, you know, I couldn’t, I couldn’t post nobody up. I was getting posted up nonstop. I couldn’t get in front of nobody. It was crazy because it was like all of a sudden, it felt like I’m not, you know, and I was young. So it’s not like I knew my body. My knees was aching all the time. That was a very weird feeling. 


Damon: I guess a lot of people noticed throughout the the recurring seasons of Insecure how the male character’s shirts got progressively tighter because it’s like if you look at season one, you know, you look at like season four or five, it’s like oh these niggas been in the gym, right? 


Jay: But some of that has to do with, you know, Insecure only shoots three months out of a year. So that’s nine months for them to go do other jobs. And some of that comes out of those other jobs like, you know Neil is on SEAL team, that’s his regular, Neil who plays Chad who plays Lawrence’s best friend. He’s on SEAL team, you know. So yeah, he went in, got in the gym for SEAL team. It looked like he was actually a Navy SEAL. He couldn’t walk around Bird chested, you know. But then, you know, yeah, you are, you know, you start to, I went into Top Gun at a certain point. So that was a big pivot for me. Physically just the training that went into that. But, you know, for some of the other guys, yeah, you’re right. Like shirts did get tighter, you know, we went to the gym a little bit more. You know, when you know you going to be naked, you know you’re going to be shirtless. You know you do, I think you pay attention to it a little bit more. I don’t think they obsess over it, but I do think it becomes something that’s like, oh, am I going to do this? Or Am I not going to do this? And and if I am doing it, does it does it lead to like a bigger thing in my career? Or is it just for this one thing and for this one character? And does it motivate this character in any way? Like, why would I do it for this character? 


Damon: Yeah. What you said about the nude scene reminds me of that, William H. Macy had a quote. He was in his movie The Closer, and he had a naked, he had a sex scene in that movie. And he told himself, like, I’m going to stay in shape, you know, for my entire career, just for if I happen to get this one opportunity to do like a sex scene in the movie that I look, that I look right while on camera. But that oh, that point you made about the actors on the show actually kind of extrapolates out to a larger point. And if you look at like the Black actors who are working today, who are popular, who are, you know, in stuff today, unless you’re on Atlanta or unless you’re British, I feel like there is like this expectation to be built basically, like you could go into an Avengers movie. Right. Because if if you just look at all the American Black actors around around your age, you know, a little bit younger who are working a day, you know what I mean? Michael B, you, I mean, you could you just go down the line and everybody is like like 


Jay: It’s just one gym. We all go to the same gym. Y’all don’t even know it, but we all go to the same gym. It’s like 30 of us in the gym everyday. 


Damon: Oh word? [laughs] And and I’m wondering, you know, because these expectations of aesthetic have have, you know, obviously been something that that that women have had to have had to maintain. Right. And I think that, you know, male actors have had to maintain it, too. But there is more variance with like white actors where you have different body types. You know, I mean, with white actors, like you have like a Jonah Hill, you have a Timothee Chalamet. Whereas I feel like with us there is more of like a, like a certain like aesthetic that a lot of the working actors do they seem to fit. And I’m wondering if you had, if you’ve noticed that, or if you have noticed that, if you felt any sort of pressure in that regard? You know, I mean, because, again, this is something that I’ve talked about. Other people have talked about, you know, just seeing like this shift within like the last like 15, 20 years. 


Jay: There are more variances and options and existences for white male actors on screen than there are for Black actors. Right. And I think that is a big difference. So, yeah, you’re showing different slices of life on one side. But on the other side, you’re showing like the five or six same different slices of life over and over and over again, which doesn’t allow for actors to be able to take those Christian Bale like swings from, you know, The Machinist where he weighs like 140 pounds to Batman where he’s, or American Psycho, where he’s, like, jacked. Like we don’t get that same range of roles. So, you know, I think we are also partially training to what’s available to us. 


But my last thing, I think that my generation, my generation of actors and this this younger group of actors, you know, what we grew up with was, you know, Will Smith in Independence Day, Will Smith in iRobot, Will Smith in I Am Legend. We grew up with, you know, Denzel in Hurricane. We grew up with Denzel in Man on Fire. I think what tends to happen and I think it was interesting, too, because a lot of those actors that you’re talking about, like we all aspire or or at least have participated in action films and have wanted to be a part of action films. And I think that aesthetic that you’re talking about to me feels more like it’s like people training themselves and putting their bodies in a space that fits into that genre of filmmaking as opposed to the pressure of having to look a certain way. Right. I don’t think, at least not for me anyway. But. And I don’t want to speak for my brothers, but I do think that, like, it’s more out of an appreciation and it’s like wanting to be a part of and be in this genre of film. Because I do think you see actors completely swing the other way when you know they do something different. 


I’ll just use my own example, you know, on The Game I was a football player and I wanted my body to look like a football player. I didn’t want someone to look on a screen and be like, Oh, you know, he ain’t no football player, look at this dude. He like 162 pounds, he’s six five, 162, like he all bones, right? But then when I got on Insecure, Issa and Prentice, they were all like, Yo, you’re too big, like, you got to stop working out. And it was true because I literally had just finished The Game and I was 215 pounds, right? So I didn’t literally start trying to lose weight until about the middle of season one. And my purpose in that, so I actually gained a ton of weight, grew my hair out, didn’t shave like didn’t…Right? But my purpose for that was like I wanted to show that like this dude, for Lawrence, his, the way that he felt like he was going to get his life back on track. Part of that felt like, Oh, well, I got to go to the gym because I can, that is one thing that I can control every single day. And so that was something that like I wanted to like put on, that I thought the character would do and I thought it could inform, you know, his his trajectory and his growth. And in season one, I think on the other side, you know, again, as an actor and again thinking about like, you know, that crop of actors that you just talked about, I doesn’t, a lot of them are former athletes. A lot, like I can literally run down a list of dudes who played basketball or football all the way through high school or college. So I think you already have some of that built in. And then I think it is again like the aspiration to be in a certain type of project. Often leads you that way. 


Damon: Yeah. And the point about, you know, I guess staying ready to be ready, you know, I mean, getting your body in shape so that you could be, you know, be a part of a certain project. And I guess that even speaks to, you know, a larger conversation about the sorts of roles that are available for Black male actors. You know, even even, you know, watching Love Life Season two, and you had William Harper Jackson in that show. And it was, that was a recurring joke in that show. It’s like, Oh, dude you’re like a book editor, but you’re built like a CrossFit instructor. I think one of the women he hooked up with, even made that joke. Right. And again, it’s a thing that you see even though people were supposed to be quote unquote nerdy, more bookish, also have that same aesthetic. 


Jay: Again, I think if you ask a lot of that generation, you know, they’re going to say they a want a career like Will. They want a career like Denzel. 


Damon: I mean, but you got Samuel L.


Jay: I don’t know, Sam. I don’t know. Sam look like he got a natural just kind of his shape body, like I’m trying to think, you’re right, like I don’t think Sam. Sam looked like he hit a treadmill and just get a good walk in. 


Damon: I mean, he might do some he might do some heavy walking, like, maybe get his 10,000 steps in. But he’s not doing, like, the CrossFit. He might be hooping, but, you know, he’s not going to the weight room. 


Jay: But I just think that, you know, when you look at like what we got to watch on screen and what we got to see on screen when we were younger, it was a lot of that, right? So I think in a lot of ways, a lot of us would say that we want careers similar too, right, and I think that’s changed obviously as we’ve gone through this renaissance of film and television. And there was there is a lot more out there than what there was. But I do think that you still have that aspiration to be in those types of films, and that aesthetic looks a certain way, right? From the superhero stuff to the action film stuff to, you know, the romantic interests, you know, the typical, you know, Rom Com. It tends to be an aesthetic that I think was already in place. A lot of us just realized like, Oh, okay, this is what is in place in what you’re looking for. I want those types of jobs. So, and some people just do it because they want to do it. And you know, there’s that part, too. 


Damon: Yeah. I mean, I mean, I’m 43 years old. I’m still in the gym right now, doing the gym. I’m still doing all the stuff, too. So, you know, me asking these questions is also coming from a place of, okay, why why am I like this? Because it’s not just about being in shape, right? It’s not just about feeling good. There’s also like I want my clothes to fit a certain way. 


Jay: You’re also a former athlete also. 


Damon: So I have that. 


Jay: You’re like when, when you’re an athlete, you’re like, I’m not going to let it go. Like, I’m not going to, I’m not going to be the athlete who stopped and just ballooned. Like you’re like nah, I’m still going to keep, you know, I was there like I’m still going to keep some of this. 


Damon: And if you stop you will balloon because the eating, like unless you make a drastic change to like eating habits, like cause I still kind of eat the same way I did when I was 18, 19 years old. And so I don’t want to stop, right? So I need to stay in the gym. I need to stay hoopin because, again, I don’t want to have to buy a whole new wardrobe. 


Jay: Right, right. Right. And I do, the last thing I will say is I do think there’s also been this like just lifestyle, and what leads to a better lifestyle, especially as you age, like what is better for joints, what is better for muscles, what is better for heart health? What is better? And I do think that like some of that probably, I think the advances in science and in workouts, I think to some degree play in that as well as like people like you. I still want to be mobile when I’m in my seventies. Like I still want to be able to, you know, I mean, you know, Denzel is a perfect example, them Equalizer movies, you know, he’s moving. And I think people are like, I still want to be able to do that when I’m at that at that age. And I think that means you have to you know, you got to start a little bit younger and nurture that and maintain that. 


Damon: Denzel be power walking in those movies, like he doesn’t run, but he’d be walking real heavy. And he does a lot like, in like the wrist and the elbows. He’s doing a lot of elbow work. But he’s not, he’s not, he’s not running. He ain’t running after nobody unless it’s part of his contract. Like, I will not run. But you’re gonna get this wrist and elbow work. 


Jay: Now I’m gonna go get in the gym. I’m literally going to work out right now. 


Damon: I mean, me too. 

Jay: You’re literally sending me to the gym right now. 


Damon: I’m going to do some push ups as we done with this. 


[Music Transition]


Damon: So it’s been a year since I first got Invisalign. The gap that existed between my two front teeth has closed considerably, and I’ve noticed myself acting…different too. 


The days where I’d try to hide my teeth in pictures and even during conversations have been long gone. But there was still some anxiety when first opening my mouth around new people, or if an unflattering picture was posted online. 


So that anxiety is gone now with my new teeth. But of course, that anxiety was replaced with a new anxiety – why did I care so much? What’s inside of me that made me want to get cosmetic work done on my teeth at 42? 


Sometimes I see adults with less than ideal smiles, and I watch them joke and laugh and move through the world with no apparent self-consciousness about their teeth, and I wonder how they’re able to not give a fuck. What’s the difference between them and me?


And, I don’t know, maybe they care too and know how to fake it. Or maybe they truly honestly just don’t give a fuck. I don’t know, maybe I need to learn how to fake it, too. 


[Music Transition]


Damon: Stuck with Damon Young is a Spotify Original Podcast from Gimlet and Crooked Media. It’s hosted and written by me, Damon Young. 


Ruben Davis is our Executive Producer. Our producers are Ashley Velez, Morgan Moody, Carlton Gillespie, Priscilla Alabi, Stephen Hoffman, and Corinne Gilliard.


Mixing and Sound Design by Jesse Naus, Charlotte Landes, and Veronica Simonetti. 

Theme Music and Score by Open Mike Eagle.


From Crooked Media, our Executive Producers are Tanya Somanader, Sarah Geismer, and Katie Long. From Gimlet, our Executive Producers are Rosie Guerin, Krystal Hawes-Dressler, Collin Campbell, and Lydia Polgreen.