Being a woman, the words “body image” and “self-esteem” have been part of my vocabulary for a long time. Since most of the world’s focus, when it comes to these things, is on women, I found myself wondering how guys feel about it. Good thing we’ve got our Monthly Male, right?

If you’re like me, more often than not, you look…ok. Not stunning, not trashy; just somewhere in the comfortable realm of “That dude takes decent care of himself and dresses fine, but is nothing to write home about in the looks department.” …and I’m perfectly ok with that. My sense of ego is not wrapped up in how outwardly attractive I am.

I would be lying, though, if I said I didn’t put some value and some effort on the way I look, and the reason for that is very simple: A large part of my self-worth is based on what other people think of me. Not all of it, to be sure. I’m secure and comfortable enough in myself that I don’t require constant validation from others, but I am aware that perception matters, so I try to present myself accordingly.

Like many of you, I went through the phase where I convinced myself that I didn’t care what people think. “I’m my own person, and I’m going to do what I like, dress how I like, and act how I want!” This was clearly a lie, and in recent years I’ve come to realize how importantperception truly is. This doesn’t mean that I pattern my look and behavior on what I perceive to be the social norm, but I am at least aware that what I project out to the public is a huge part of my identity.

Lauren asked me to write about how I, as a card-carrying guy, deal with body image and self-esteem issues. While I haven’t covered that specifically, what I’ve described is pretty much what I think about it. Am I ripped out of my mind, with cut muscle definition, six-pack abs, straight white teeth and a perfect hair cut? Hell no. Am I ever going to be? Absolutely not. Am I ok with that? Totally.

However, are there times when I look at myself in the mirror and think, “Wow…that is NOTok.”? Definitely. Example: A few summers ago, two of my sisters were 4-6 months pregnant. Even though I was not with child, all three of us matched in the body shape department. That wasn’t enough of a kick in the gut to persuade me to join a gym or go on a crash diet, but I did start do a lot of walking, struggled through some pushups, and ate less bacon…because it is important to me what I look like.

I did think it was interesting how my desire to look presentable changed when I was in a relationship. When I was/am single, one of my goals is, naturally, to find a girlfriend and/or hook-up, so I want to look at least reasonably desirable to women. When I was engaged, though, it completely changed. I didn’t “let myself go” or anything like that, but here’s the deal: My ex-fiancee is very attractive, and I wanted HER to have a good-looking fiance too, so I put just as much effort (and often more effort!) into how I looked as when I was single, just so I could feel a little more in her league. (…so we’re clear, this was not a reaction to anything she ever said or insinuated…just me and my own neurosis)

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that I do put effort into how I look, because I do care about what people think of me, and I think everybody, both male and female, feels the same way, albeit to different degrees, and about different things. Some guys spend a lot of time gelling their hair just right while others make sure to have the perfect clothes. As for me, I just don’t want to look like a fat, lazy, out-of-touch slob. My sense of self-worth is wrapped up in different qualities, and while I want people to think that I’m decent-looking and ok-dressed, there are other, more important things that I want to exude: Intelligence, humor, comfort, logic, open-mindedness…these are the things that I value in myself, and the qualities that I want family, friends, and strangers to associate with me.

Make no mistake, though, I do enjoy those days when I see myself in the mirror and think, “You know, I really AM a pretty dashing fellow!” (Well, at least I would think that if I had grown up British) …and like anybody else, I like it when other people compliment how I look. Of course, my guy friends aren’t going to say, “Oh my GOSH, Paul, that new sweater is great!” or “Paul, your hair looks so CUTE tonight!” Full disclosure: my new sweater IS great, and my hair looks fantastic (and is way softer than yours!), so I don’t need the accolades of my troglodyte friends!

Ok, got a little distracted there. Yes, I like to look good, and yes, I like the attention that comes with it. Don’t we all? But that is not the end-all be-all of my existence. There are much more important things for me to be worried about.