For the past week or two, my tumblr dash has featured a steady parade of .gifs of Olympic male swimmers and gymnasts, plus male athletes photographed mostly nude for various publications. That’s a change from a normal week, when the women I follow post revealing .gifs of actors. Once, an individual shared a shirtless, headless photo of the guy she was going to hook up with later.
I don’t think the ladies on tumblr are particularly shallow, and I think this is happening everywhere. Movies, TV, and advertising are more often serving up men’s bodies as eye candy.
I’m not arguing this is comparable to the objectification of women’s bodies. Everywhere we look, girls and women are bombarded with images of the sexual objects they are supposed to be. Moreover, I get that many girls and women have grown up feeling like they’re supposed to be the ones who are lusted after, rather than the ones doing the lusting. In this context, posting a photo of a half-naked man may seem downright empowering.
It still makes me feel bad, though. As our own Dr. Deah Schwartz noted in “Get the Picture,” more men are worrying about whether their bodies look good enough. Eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders are becoming more prevalent among men, and they often feel more ashamed than women do about seeking treatment. (You can read more about it in this interview with Dr. Roberto Olivardia, author of The Adonis Complex.)
Meanwhile, I doubt fewer women are worrying about their bodies. More people feeling inadequate isn’t progress. I see images of “ideal” male bodies as just more contributions to a belief that doesn’t do any of us any good: that how you look is really important.
Humans have always thought this, I guess, but I’m sure it’s much worse in our era, when mass media, entertainment and fashion industries with a global reach, and photoshopping all combine to create more unattainable ideals. People can argue that being attracted to certain physical characteristics is natural. Maybe, but so what? We transcend biology all the time, through birth control, and not giving into the primitive impulse to punch somebody in the face, and things like that. Anyway, we can admire good looks without making such a big deal about it.
My perspective could be skewed because I’m honestly not all that moved by “perfect” physiques. In my romance writing, I create hot scenes, I hope, but I don’t go on for paragraphs about the hero’s body. If I did, everyone would know I was phoning it in: “and then she drank in the sight of his massive manly shoulders and blah blah blah and his abs chiseled like granite or whatever.”
I’m way more likely to be turned on – and not just in an intellectual way, but in a “I could use a change of panties” way – by a certain kind of smile, a look in the eyes, a kind gesture, a witty remark, or someone saying several intelligent things in a row. I would love to write a steamy, emotional love story about two “ugly” people, and maybe some time I will, though I suppose it won’t be shelved in the romance section.
There are bigger issues than male objectification, and I fully a sarcastic response somewhere along the lines of, “But what about the poor menz?!” I don’t care. (I care a little.) The cult of beauty is expanding when I want it to shrink. Conventional standards of attractiveness only matter because we think they do, and we would buy way less crap, making better dating and hiring choices, and feel about a hundred times better about ourselves if we didn’t care about it quite so much.