September 14, 2006

Muscle Is the New Cleavage: The Male Body in the 21st Century

Admitting that American culture pressures men as well as women in terms of their body image is nothing new, but revisiting that idea is always worthwhile, especially as the cultural venues change. John Hanc of Newsday specifically notes the obsession with impossibly huge muscles in comic superheroes and advertising, among other places. But his look at the presentation of men in the latest fitness magazine is most revealing:

[T]hings have changed over the past decade: While the so-called “muscle magazines” have been a staple for bodybuilders and serious lifters for decades, the newer men’s health and fitness-oriented publications have become a major factor in what psychologists call the “objectification” (meaning to treat someone as an object, not a person) of males in today’s culture.

While considered revolutionary when they were introduced in the early 1990s, many of these publications – principally Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness – modeled themselves after the women’s service magazines that have long trafficked in the dream of the perfect female body.

St. James native Peter Sikowitz, former editor-in-chief of Men’s Fitness, admits that when he was writing lines for the magazine’s cover, his single best source of inspiration was the women’s service books, which had been doing it much longer. “We used almost the same verbiage – instead of maybe ’10 ways to lose 10 pounds,’ you’d have ’10 ways to gain 3 inches on your biceps.’”

This is obviously one of the few times I wish women didn’t lead the way.


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