All things considered: Tough times as men tackle insects and toenails

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Are you a man? Do you want to be fitter? Healthier? Sexier? Smarter? Know how to prevent illness? Live younger? Look younger? Understand your relationships and emotions? Be more in control of your whole life? (Get off the sofa.) Then get ready for Men's Health. The biggest-selling men's magazine in the US is finally published in a British edition, which is available this week.

MH readers, it seems, are very, very butch. The first feature is a report on the Raid Gauloises, a macho challenge involving 10 days of hacking through dense jungle, white-water rafting, mountain biking and potholing - "a test of endurance that bordered on the criminally insane". (Strangely, no British team has so far volunteered for the 1995 event.)

Then there is the exciting readers' competition, which invites readers to "Be Top Gun for a day" by winning a flight in a MiG29 Fulcrum fighter - Soviet-built but, hey, you can't have everything. Don't forget to rip out the accompanying feature on how towin a dogfight - simply a question of seeing more than your opponent sees, flying the bullet and using all four dimensions. And if the G-forces go to your head, don't panic: you'll already have learnt the dangerous procedure of ejecting from a supersonic fighter in mid-flight.

Naturally, Top Gun has a Kelly McGillis somewhere in the background, but MH urges readers to get out if the going gets tough. "You know the kind of thing - the way her legs are more often stubbly than smooth, her habit of leaving dirty knickers on the bedroom floor, how she never bothers to park the car properly, and how she doesn't put the CDs back in their boxes." It's tough, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Meanwhile, the problem page carries a letter from one "C.O." complaining about the amount of ejaculate he produces second and third time round. What a downer.

Oddly enough, the MH guy is also, well, nerdy. The journalist who got to fly the MiG29 is middle-aged with a bad haircut and unflattering spectacles: Superman in his day job. The cover model - who resembles a weedy alternative comedian - is looking with horror at the bee parked on his forehead. Don't Top Guns bat such distractions into the stratosphere?

Well, actually, no. He turns to the aches and pains guide on page 45, which kicks off: "Burnt your tongue with some hot food? Sprinkling some sugar on it may ease the pain." As Top Guns like to say, I feel the need, the need for Demerara.

Other useful tips - straight outta Good Housekeeping - include bathing insect bites in diluted baking soda; pressing a cool, wet teabag against a minor cut; and "borrowing" some clear nail varnish and dabbing it over painful paper cuts. And how about thetip for curing hiccups: "Tickle the roof of your mouth with a cotton wool bud." Or the definitive advice on correct toenail trimming: "Wait until your toenails grow to the end of your toe, then cut straight across with toenail clippers." Way to go! MH man is, of course, deeply sporty. He thrills to news items that begin: "If you have a torn anterior cruciate ligament ..." He loves to know about Michael Schumacher's interesting winning diet: muesli and yoghurt for breakfast; pasta, tomato sauce and salad for lunch; lean meat or fish with vegetables for dinner. He is not remotely bored by all those tiring features on how to get rid of your gut/ the 12-month fitness plan/getting fit to ski in just four weeks/learning the perfect sit-up. MH man doesn't justeat broccoli - he Goes For Broccoli.

At the same time, the magazine also include lots of short cuts for armchair musclemen. For example, if you drink ice-cold water, you burn calories as your body warms it. (Four quarts a day equals one pound a month!) Shifting in your chair, pacing around the office, and getting excited about a good idea are all fabulous exercise too.

Tough but nerdy, sporty but lazy - such contradictions are the stuff of successful women's magazines. Good Housekeeping alternates recipes for double double chocolate gateau with features on how to lose weight after the birth of your fourth child. Cosmopolitan devotes half its pages to encouraging readers to be independent babe feminists, the rest to recommending ways to find and keep their guy. Marie Claire masquerades as a serious and caring showcase for photojournalism, when most people read it for the voyeuristic thrill. We call it having our cake (double double chocolate, please) and eating it.

Men's magazines have tended to be more straightforward. Arena is for self-confessed fashion victims who are indeed self-confessed fashion victims; Loaded is for sexist, lager-drinking idiots who admit to being sexist, lager-drinking idiots. Men's Health,however, is all over the place - tips from Woman's Own c.1953, backlash paranoia straight out of Michael Crichton's Disclosure, and a non-stop improve-your-life prescription borrowed from Cosmopolitan.

Do you want to be fitter? Have straighter toenails? Die coming in the back seat of a Soviet jet? Eat more broccoli? Be more in control of your anterior cruciate ligaments? Have a girlfriend who leaves only clean knickers on the floor? Know how to be tough with wasps? Borrow nail polish while staying butch?

We know it's confusing being a guy in the Nineties. But surely not that confusing.

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