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Isn’t He Lovely: The Beauty Myth…for Men

Ryan Reynolds Sexiest Man in the World People magazine coverOnly one highlight from year's MTV VMAs ceremony piqued my interest.

No, it wasn't Lady Gaga's questionable performance as Jo Calderone. Or Beyoncé's earthshaking pregnancy announcement. Not even Britney Spears' hollow gaze provoked any afterthought. For me, the moment of the night came from Jonah Hill, who delivered a not-all-that-funny joke about public reaction to his recent weight loss.

Co-presenter Nicki Minaj asked Hill if he had dropped some pounds, and he explained that, indeed, he has but not all of his fans have taken kindly to his slimmer figure. Apparently, some have (bizarrely) criticized that Hill can only deliver effective punch lines when he's portly. Then he delivered a tired "why did the chicken cross the road?" joke that ended up with this:

"He did it for fitness… It's not funny that the chicken wanted to change his lifestyle, become a little healthier? Is it funny instead of getting a pat on the back, the chicken gets a bunch of jerks tweeting that he's not funny anymore?"

Granted, it wasn't Hill's finest comedic performance, but the comment stood out to me because it's rare for celebrity males to publicly talk about body image—whether it's cloaked in humor or not. In pop culture, comments and discussions about beauty standards and body image are often directed at women. Same thing often goes in feminist commentary as well—we constantly receive messages about the "beauty myth" and the unrealistic, destructive and exploitative messages about what cisgender females "should" look like (and thereby cordoning off anyone who doesn't conform to heteronormative gender roles as the abnormal "other").

But men aren't immune to the "beauty myth" lies, either, as Hill's faux tirade indicated. And his was an interesting example of that since fans lambasted him for losing weight rather than gaining it, which is what typically incites tabloid public shaming. Perhaps, in that case, pop culture's image ideals for men come with their own complications and double standards, which are worth addressing as thoroughly as those leveled toward women. Just as Western female beauty ideals are modeled around straight, white women, Western male beauty standards worship at the altar of the straight, white, six-pack ab-toting man. And both are equally problematic.

For the next eight weeks, "Isn't He Lovely" is going to explore beauty and body image standards—and double standards—as they apply men. Let's talk about the race-based sexualization of black men in mainstream advertising (hey, Old Spice Guy!). Let's talk about the perpetuation of the "real man" myth that more hammers home lies about what real men aren't (i.e. queer, trans, non-white, short, sensitive, curious) than what they are. Let's examine the established standards of male personal hygiene, wardrobe, and physique and deconstruct the detritus that is "the Axe effect," among other things.

And why do I personally care to jump down this rabbit hole of male beauty standards? This issue has been percolating in the back of my mind ever since I recorded an episode on beardedness for my podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You. While researching the psychology and behavior patterns behind male facial hair growth and removal, I ran across this nugget in a sociology journal essay on beards:

The whispering wisps of men's beards contribute to a symbolic system which acts in contingency with cultural implications about masculinity as a concept and male subjectivity as a construct.

Who knew so much was riding on a five o'clock shadow? And judging by the effusive feedback from male podcast listeners whose emotions ran the gamut from intense pride in flowing, Walt Whitman-esque beards to genuine insecurity in baby-smooth, hairless chins, that observation about those "whispering wisps" wasn't an overstatement.

Oh, and did I mention that "Isn't He Lovely" will cover body hair, too? And if there's any male beauty standard-related topic you'd like to start a dialogue about, just let me know in the comments!

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Comments

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There's always the

There's always the nerve-wracking ordeal of the early stages of going bald in various forms.

Yeah!

No suggestions to make (those will come to me in the middle of the night), just excited to see Cristen Conger blogging at Bitch. Worlds collide! In a good way!

Oh, and I just thought of one...very interested in the short/tall masculine complex, being of the shorter persuasion myself.

Great!

I think this is awesome! I know my boyfriend makes comments about his body all the time (being a short man, having a bit of a belly, having chest hair that he thinks is too much) but he also makes them in a joking manner; I think he's afraid to sound too much like a "girl" by complaining/worrying about his body. He's even a fairly forward thinking, feminist man, but his socialization to want to be "masculine" definitely comes out with his body. Anyway, I think is an awesome idea to explore. Thanks!

My beard

The beard thing is interesting for sure. I personally keep a "chin strap" style beard. The reason is because though it may be an easy to see through facade, it is the closest thing to a jaw line that I have at the moment. Without a beard I look like a portly boy with a receding hairline.

I'm gonna like this feature.

I'm gonna like this feature. :) I still want to jump Ryan Reynolds' bones though, not going to lie.

Yay!

Really looking forward to this series-looks like there'll be lots of great topics to discuss.

Can't wait!

This is great. I think it should be part of feminism 3.0 (or whatever "wave" we're in now) to address issues that affect ALL genders. I'm definitely a feminist, but having mostly guy friends means I've seen the social injustices and discrimination they suffer as well. I've been a big Mom Stuff fan for a while, and I can't wait to read your series.

Feminism by its very

Feminism by its very definition cannot and will not address all genders. I don't think personally we should be approaching things from a feminist/masculist point of view. People should be looking towards an Equality movement and working against all forms of discrimination. The Feminist values do not jive with this. Therefore you are not a Feminist.

Yeah...

Thanks for telling a person how they should self-identify. That's very nice of you.

P.S. The definition of feminism is extremely contested, and there is hardly a universal set of feminist practices. There are many different types of feminism, each with a distinct focus. Something to keep in mind before making claims about what all feminists supposedly stand for.

This is the definition: The

This is the definition:

The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men

There is nothing contested about this.

Feminism is mainly focused on

Feminism is mainly focused on women's issues, but because feminism seeks gender equality, some feminists argue that men's liberation is therefore a necessary part of feminism, and that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles.

Ooh!

I'm really excited for this topic. I don't usually think Jonah Hill is very funny at all, but I'm glad he's not going to take body-shaming BS.

A few months ago I did a series covering the online series "Genuine Ken," which was a Mattel-sponsored show (on Hulu) (hosted by Whitney Port) which was supposed to be looking for "America's Perfect Boyfriend" and a model for the next Ken doll. It was absurd, but had a lot of really interesting things as far as masculinity on a show that was more or less about looking pretty was constructed.
http://our-turn-feminism.blogspot.com/search/label/genuine%20ken
If you feel like losing some brain cells, as far as I know it's still on hulu.

I shall be reading with

I shall be reading with interest!

Race

I think it's important to address how race plays into the male beauty standard.

Planning on it!

Planning on it!

This is an important topic to

This is an important topic to those trying to raise/guide/care for boy children, too.

Agreed about looking at this from a parenting perspective

Boys get messages early in life about how the "ideal" male looks. Just watch any cartoon and you'll see that the hero characters are always bigger and stronger and speak with deeper voices than the "lesser" male characters. Speaking of heroes, the bodies of superheroes are just as distorted as Barbie. I wrote a post for Adios Barbie about this subject that might be of interest to readers of this post. (http://bit.ly/pJOTiQ) Thanks for opening up this discussion! I look forward to reading more.

What about George and Newman?

Hey Cristen, you may want to keep a list of other spotlight men that got flack for losing weight... George Costanza and Newman both lost work after they lost the weight. I remember watching some interviews with Jason Alexander on the box set of Seinfeld and he was complaining that no one wants to cast him without the weight. Same went for Wayne Knight despite both actors being very proud of their weight loss objectives. That's the first time I heard about this and it was quite disturbing but Hollywood is based on these strict casting desires which are in turn based on what society demands... I listened to yours and Molly's facial hair podcast on Mom Stuff. Love the show, long time fan. Good luck in your writing. All the best.

Looking forward to it!

I'm looking forward to this series! I know you will definitely bring up the "six pack ab" subject. I had a discussion with my brother once about body image and he admitted that guys can feel bad because they don't resemble the men in 300. Maybe you could also mention how the trend in the fashion world/acting world several years ago was very tall, skinny men and how it has shifted to buff, muscley men? I also think that Taylor Lautner should be brought up, or any actor who has to gain muscle or lose weight for a role. I look forward to your series!

Black Men

As a Black Man, I'm interested to see how the topic of race is covered. I mean, isn't the Old Spice Guy supposed to be a parody of narcissism as a whole?

I go back-on-forth on whether the sexualisation of Black men is a positive or negative: one the one hand, I can see how it's reductive to be thought of as one-dimensional horn-dogs; on the other hand, it's flattering to be thought of as sexually appealling.

And then there's this recent interview with Idris Elba (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WggBgIb2QeQ) in which he states the following:

"Black Men, we're never called 'Sexy' [...] We're described as being 'the strong type', 'the silent type', but you're never described as 'Sexy' [...]
In a script, they won't say 'a sexy Black man', they'll say 'a muscular Black man', 'an intense Black guy', but they won't say 'Sexy'."

essential topic--thank you!

Super excited for this! I feel like this is the next step in the beauty myth--examining the commodification of the bodies of the modern leisure class. (Working-class men have long been fetishized, and while the polished "feminized" man has also been looked at longingly for a while--see also Rudolph Valentino--it's taken a different turn with the promotion of the self.)

Speaking of promotion of the self, I wrote at Feministe about the messages cosmetics companies send to men; it's here if it's of interest to anyone: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/08/03/welcome-to-the-dollhous...

I write on my own blog about personal appearance and beauty, and I definitely keep an eye on how products are marketed to men as well. From what I can tell it's still pretty heavily skewed toward the he-man side of things; a lot of companies rely upon traditionally masculine tropes as their overriding message. It's the repackaging of it that's shifting, I think.

Maybe bring to light/discuss

Maybe bring to light/discuss how masculinity is performed differently depending on culture/nation factors. i don't necessarily think masculinity is a one dimensional term and yet when we discuss it we talk about it in only white, western terms (when we have broad, general conversations like something naomi wolfe would do). Anyways, excited for your blog!

My boyfriend is about five

My boyfriend is about five inches shorter than me, and he's massively insecure about that. He's got a very stocky build (he's a self-proclaimed imp and hobbit) and he's pretty hairy. I think he's gorgeous. I know most of his female friends think so too. So it stuns me every time he tells me that he sees himself as an ugly f-er. :(

The Beauty Myth = Being Healthy

The Beauty Myth... it really could just be called "being healthy." Which is a good thing... for anyone! Jonah Hill should be working to improve his health and therefore his weight; I commend him. Anyone who bellows, "gain weight" doesn't care about that person, they only care about what that person does for them [being overweight].

First of all, the Beauty Myth

First of all, the Beauty Myth is about a lot more than weight, it's about body shape, features, skin tone, hair...pretty much everything involved in appearance. I highly recommend the book The Beauty Myth if you're interested in learning what it is and how it works. Secondly, oodles of research has shown that thin =/= healthy. Losing weight in an unhealthy way (the way most diets instruct) is actually a lot worse for you than being overweight, and haven't we all known someone who lives on pizza and fast food but never gains an ounce?

I didn't remember the source

I didn't remember the source the first time i read this post, but i think this

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2009/12/03/guest-post-in-the-land-o...

would be an interesting post. Perceptions of attractiveness of women towards men and men towards women. Most notably people making a big deal out of the fact women rated 80% of men as less than average in attractiveness and equating that to looks, which i don't think are necessarily the same thing.

Male Beauty Standard.

As my username suggests,though a short,muscular and somewhat beefy sort-I'm 5'8",214 lb.,sporting 181/2" biceps,though like most dudes my age,I'm attempting to shed 25-30 lb.,I'm a boyishly handsome 59-year-old
black Canadian lad who,even today,is approached in bars by hot babes who seemingly can't wait to tell me
they think me "exceedingly handsome," in one lady's admiring words,before we become boyfriend and girlfriend.
Two thing,well PERHAPS MORE.First,I am coal black in hue,but am NEVER approached by black chicks,only white and Hispanic girls.Of course,I STRONGLY prefer buxom blonde and Latin ladies-WHAT LAD WORTH HIS TESTOTERONE DOESN'T?-but of course,chesty black lasses,especially those who,like me,are into hard rock and Country and are curvy rocker babes and cowgirls,are irresistible to me.So why don't black babes seem interested?
Second,because I am as far from stereotypically urban (read:"a consciuosly "keepin' it real brotha") as a black man can get in job-financial planner-music tastes and casual-sometimes cowboy garb-I see nobody like me on either the big or small screen.I'd like some advice on how to catch reality TV producers' attention-after all,we life-size Brad dolls-from 1970-'72,Brad was Barbie's then-beau Ken's handsome black buddy-are absent from reality TV-see "The Bachelor/
Bachelorette" franchise-with my good looks,and could you advise me about another career to which I can aspire in which I can utilize my handsomeness to its full.