Advertisers have long used handsome men to hawk their wares. In the 20th century, marketers who realized that women did a majority of the household shopping created dashing spokesmen, such as the Arrow Shirt Man, to appeal more to the ladies than the menfolk. And certainly advertising has played an integral role in the male beauty culture that has skyrocketed in the past 20 years, too. In fact, some scholars and experts trace men's heightened attention to self and—more importantly—how they appear to others back to a single, revolutionary image from 1982.
Talk to a group of teen boys, and they'll probably tell you that, sure, they'd like to have the swoon-inducing sex appeal of Justin Bieber, Taylor Lautner, or whomever is playing the newest iteration of the Degrassi High heartthrob. But do they want to look like them, immaculately styled and toned to the max? No way, bro.
While mulling over the male quest for muscularity a few posts ago, I brought up the notion of the "sanitized ideal" that has recently become de rigueur for the mainstream masculine body image. We’re talking hair-free, sweat-free, odor-free; in other words, the same unrealistic standards peddled to women for so long, à la leg and underarm shaving. And like the hairless female ideal, it isn't just the most visible fur that men are tending to these days; statistically, men groom their pubic hair more than any other type of body hair (sans beards).
Before I got too much farther in "Isn't He Lovely," I figured it would be a good idea to chat with a male about this whole "male beauty" business. Hugo Schwyzer is a proud feminist, the Gender and Sexuality Editor over at The Good Men Project, and a professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College. Schwyzer fielded questions about how the beauty myth applies to young men these days, how body image standards affect non-white and non-straight men, the intersection of male grooming and dress, and the modern male's latent fear of developing "man boobs."
While I’m dubious that the Western female body ideal can be reliably found within in the pages of Playboy, a similar evolution has occurred in the sister (?) publication, Playgirl. A team of psychologists calculated the body mass index (BMI) and fat-free mass index (FFMI) of 115 Playgirl centerfolds and found that, lo and behold, the supposed male body ideal has changed as well. But instead of getting thinner, the boys have bulked up.
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.
With the whole world watching, it’s understandable that Kate Middleton wants to look her best on her wedding day. But her recent weight loss has provided the press with its favorite topic: deconstructing women’s bodies.
Many of the ways we've talked about to combat dominant societal beauty standards and, in the process, boost your self-esteem/self-image, are subjective in nature. They involve presenting in a certain way to elicit the desired results: a new way of looking at fat sexuality. There's nothing particularly wrong with subjectivity in this sense, but when you take subjectivity to the personal level, the one-on-one level, it presents a problem. One commenter pointed this out in a roundabout way by complaining about women who say things like "Well, my boyfriend finds me attractive so that's good enough for me." Whether or not that attitude is annoying, it is certainly dangerous. Using perceived attractiveness (to a partner or potential partner) as a means to maintain your positive self-image is cheating on doing the work necessary to promote self-love.
In so many questions submitted to Ask a Fat Girl, I was asked how to start loving your body. I gave many suggestions, but I want to touch on something that I think is integral to truly loving your fat body—taking responsibility for it. What I mean by taking responsibility is not denying culpability in your fatness to ward off judgment. You can't love your body and at the same time view it as being outside your control. I recognize that a main party line of many in the fat acceptance movement is often that fatness is not a choice. And I also recognize that when you're oppressed, it's easier to take the path of least resistance, which in this case would be the denial of culpability. To enjoy sex you must LIVE in your body, and living in your body means accepting the state it is in and the choices you make that affect it.