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Perspective | About finding empathy for the men undergoing leg lengthening surgery

For a period of 2½ days, in the summer of 1984, I wanted to be white. I was watching the Olympics and the events I’d seen – swimming and gymnastics in particular – most of the athletes were white, so the 5-year-old I thought you had to be to join.

That feeling faded as quickly as it came, but it was replaced in 1987, when I wanted shoulders and a neck like LL Cool J had in the “I’m Bad” video. And then, in 1988, when I wanted to be fair-skinned, like Al B. Sure and Christopher Williams, because all the girls I liked in fifth grade liked that. And then in 1989, when I wanted a juicy fade with half a dozen enveloping parts like MC Hammer. And then in 1991, when I wanted to be as tall as my classmate Ron.

I would also, over the years, yearn for jumping skills such as Harold Miner (1992); flawless skin like my friend Omar (1993); a little head like Usher (1994); perfect waves like Nas (1995); lanky, effortless swag like Method Man (1996); the ability to slide easily off one foot like Allen Iverson (1997); giant hands like Michael Jordan (1997 to present); perfect white teeth like Kevin Garnett to contrast with my skin (1995 to present); and the kind of high-cheeked beard that Black Thought from the Roots always has (2006 to present).

When I think about my body and the things I wish I had in my life were different physically, it’s harder to name the things I’ve always been good at. (My arms and my legs. My ears too, I guess.) I grew out of most of those desires to change, but they were real. And if I could have taken a pill to fix what I thought needed to be fixed, there would have been no hesitation. No second guessing.

I try to be careful not to assume unanimity with something as arbitrary as human behavior. But I’m going to take a leap of faith here and say that everyone reading this has, without exception, ever wanted to change something about their natural body. Sometimes it’s harmless and only noticeable to you, like less hair on a forearm. And sometimes it’s a 45-year-old man who wants to be two inches taller, so he flies to Las Vegas and pays a doctor $75,000 to break his femur and put titanium screws in it.

When I first read Chris Gayomali’s recent piece in GQ magazine about leg lengthening surgery, my immediate visceral reaction, even before curiosity, was disgust. It reminded me of something from one of those demonic horror movies from the 70s and 80s, like “Phantasm” or “Hellraiser,” which fuse the surreal with the grotesque. And when Gayomali, who I’ve known since he was my editor at GQ, described the actual procedure, I had to stop reading.

“Using X-rays and a guide wire, [Dr. D] begins to drill a hole in the center of the femur. The sound of hot spinning metal making pulp is no different than the sound of installing drywall anchors. Severing the femur only takes a few seconds.”

The circular road of what constitutes ‘appropriate’ masculinity is not just a roundabout. It is a chainsaw, with serrated edges on each end.

No, I was curious why it bothered me. The desire to change, whether something small or something big, is universal. So why did it feel wrong to me when a man spent the money—and put up with the excruciating pain (and risk) it took to make it happen? And yes, it’s important that they’re men, because I don’t feel that way about women who have cosmetic surgery.

I think the answer is that the same set of societal constructs that make little men feel, to quote Gayomali (who is six feet tall himself), as a “physically incomplete version of who we should be,” men also matter. to keep silent about our physical insecurities. If they exist, we’d better just swallow it, because saying it’s less masculine too.

If you’re not into this, fine. That just means you’re healthy. It shouldn’t make any sense. The circular road of what constitutes “appropriate” masculinity is not just a roundabout. It is a chainsaw, with serrated edges on each end. As a result, things like leg-lengthening surgeries will continue to exist. And I will try to save my judgment from the heartless world that created that desire.

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