Last week, I took my kids to Coney Island. As we walked along the boardwalk, we passed what Spongebob calls "Muscle Beach." My son asked me why anyone would want to work out where everyone could see.
"The same reason you see girls walking around in bikinis," I said. "They have nice bodies, and want to show them off."
He looked at me in shock. "But it's what's on the inside that matters. They shouldn't care about that."
I laughed. "Look," I said, "There's a huge difference in the world between the way people 'should' act, and the way they do. You have to deal with people they way they really are, not how you think they 'should' act, or who they claim to be."
He got that stubborn look on his face that said this went against everything school, TV, and movies had taught him. "But it's who you are inside that matters."
"Right," I said, "and being kind and honest are important. But I want you to seriously consider this: Even though some people have more inherent athletic ability than others, no guy is born with a Schwarzenegger body. It takes discipline to eat right and work out every day. It's not easy for anyone. It takes hard work to care about yourself, to make a real commitment to improve in any field, and see it through. Self respect comes after you do something to respect yourself for- not before. It goes for anything: writing, drawing, playing an instrument, coding, schoolwork, or your job. What you're seeing is the end result. If girls are attracted to them, it's because their bodies are showing them who they are on the inside: they're men with those qualities."
I know I'm fighting years of media indoctrination, but hopefully the seed will settle and grow.