Featherweight: on Muscle and Style

Terry’s post about working with your body type got me thinking about something I’ve considered a lot both pre- and post-testosterone: how I’ve worked to integrate my physicality with my aesthetics.

I’m not, by any means, muscle-bound — and that’s part of why I think the topic is worth discussing here.  My genetics have rendered me lanky, relatively short (5’5), and the recipient of very long arms. I’m also naturally pretty slim. Even if I could bulk up, the idea of looking like a body builder has about 0% appeal to me.




I want to look like this:


Oliver Kirk, featherwight/bantamweight boxing champion.


Just to be clear: the featherweight class requires a weight limit of 126 pounds; at 127, in fact, I sorta tip the scale. But that’s a detail I can live with. The point is, Kirk was a small fucking dude. And I got interested in boxer body as an ideal when planning my workouts because the result is trim, strong, and efficient without being showy. (Plus all you need is a jump rope, some heavy weight, and tenacity.)

In the ’50s, ’60s, and even early ’70s (the decades I look to for inspiration), a trim, muscular body worked well with slimmer styles:


Like so. Paul Newman! The most underrated icon of that time.


Notice that he’s not ripped, and then this is what happens when he puts a shirt on:


I would wear this outfit.


I’m not suggesting that any one body type is better, but if you’re interested/able to work out, but you are also a smaller dude who likes to wear tailored clothes and came of age when built dudes looked like this:



Then you, like me, may be relieved to know that there are alternatives that don’t involve pumping iron with a bunch of roided-out dudes at Gold’s Gym in a futile attempt to build a body that’s not at all what your body wants to be. You can work with whatever your personal ideal is, which probably has something to do with a combination of what your body’s capable of and what you find culturally and aesthetically appealing.

Point is, tailoring and muscles are not mutually exclusive; and neither are trim guys and biceps. Personally, I love the idea of challenging the notion that skinny, intellectual-looking dudes are somehow weak.

Size definitely does not matter:


Billy “Spider” Kelly.


Of course, being a boxer of any size requires agility, endurance, and grace alongside strength and willpower. Hence the many wise missives of Mr. Ali who, though am much larger man, appreciated the complexity of that combination which — in a lot of ways — is also a key to a dynamic life.



In other words: it’s not the body, or brain, or talent you have; it’s what you do with it. As true for style as it is for anything. However you relate to your body, I hope it involves respect and vision. At the end of the day, your muscle and skin and bone is all you’ve got.



About Thomas Page McBee

Gentleman first, always. James Dean is my patron saint, poet is my gender. More about me here: www.thomaspagemcbee.com


  1. Oh Paul Newman and that Star of David that I could look at ALL DAY EVERY DAY.

  2. I had no idea Paul Newman was such a babe, I always associate him with the salad dressing.

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