Is this actually becoming the new standard of male attractiveness? (If so, then I’m one attractive guy! [But I don’t have man-boobs (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and I’m a bit more endowed than that…])
Has the chiseled, buff look been so co-opted by gay men over the past several years that the chiseled, buff look now actually is considered to be effeminate?
How fucking pleasantly ironic if so!
I was delighted to see a recent piece on the New York Times’ website indicate that perhaps this is so — and that the potbelly (the “Ralph Kramden”) apparently is in. From the piece:
…[T]his year an unexpected element has been added to [men’s popular] look, and that is a burgeoning potbelly [that] one might term the “Ralph Kramden.”
Too pronounced to be blamed on the slouchy cut of a T-shirt, too modest in size to be termed a proper beer gut, developed too young to come under the heading of a paunch, the Ralph Kramden is everywhere to be seen lately…
Leading with a belly is a male privilege of long standing, of course, a symbol of prosperity in most cultures and of freedom from anxieties about body image that have plagued women since Eve.
Until recently, men were under no particular obligation to exhibit bulging deltoids and shredded abdominals; that all changed, said David Zinczenko, the editor of Men’s Health, when women moved into the work force in numbers. “The only ripples Ralph Kramden” and successors like Mike Brady of “The Brady Bunch” had to demonstrate were in their billfolds, said Mr. Zinczenko, himself a dogged crusader in the battle of the muffin top. “But that traditional male role has changed.”
As women have come to outnumber men in the workplace, it becomes more important than ever for guys to armor themselves, Mr. Zinczenko said, with the “complete package of financial and physical,” to billboard their abilities as survivors of the cultural and economic wilds.
This makes sense, in a way, but how does one account for the new prevalence of Ralph Kramdens? Have men given in or given up? …
“I sort of think the six-pack abs obsession got so prissy it stopped being masculine,” is how Aaron Hicklin, the editor of [the gay men’s magazine] Out, explains the emergence of the Ralph Kramden. What once seemed young and hot, for gay and straight men alike, now seems passé.
“It’s not cool to be seen spending so much time fussing around about your body,” Mr. Hicklin said.
And so guys can happily and guiltlessly go to seed.
Women have almost never gotten a pass on the need to maintain their bodies, while men always have, said Robert Morea, a personal fitness trainer (full disclosure: my own).
It would be too much, he added, to suggest that “potbellies are suddenly OK,” but as lean muscle and functionality become the new gym mantras, hypertrophied He-Men with grapefruit biceps and blister-pack abs have come to resemble specimens from a diorama of “A Vanished World.”
“When do you ever see that guy, anyway?” Mr. Morea asked, referring to those legendary Men’s Health cover models, with their rippling torsos and famished smiles. “The only time you really see that guy, he’s standing in front of an Abercrombie & Fitch store.”
Perhaps, he suggested, there is really only one of them. “It’s the same guy. They just move him around.”
I’m not advocating that the “Ralph Kramden” should be the new gold standard for gay men’s look and that thus those soon-to-be-extinct dinosaurs with the “grapefruit biceps” should stop lifting weights and start developing watermelon abs.
I advocate that we gay men learn how to love and appreciate each other as human beings rather than as mere pieces of meat and that we see the beauty in all kinds of physical forms.
And, as much as this “bear”* might love to see chunky become the new gold standard of gay male beauty and to see the gym rats fall by the wayside — it would seem like exquisitely rare poetic justice — I hate gay clones and I don’t want voluptuous to become the new buff. Clones are clones, no matter how much body fat they are packing.
Speaking of gay clones, I understand that the gay men of the Castro district of San Francisco in the 1970s all looked alike — ectomorphic (slim) to mildly to moderately mesomorphic (muscular) — so that the phenomenon of gay clones has been with us for decades, apparently.
When I attended the Castro Street Fair almost two years ago, it was apparent that the ideal gay look was chiseled and buff (i.e., extremely mesomorphic).
After the thousandth shirtless hyper-mesomorphic clone that I saw at the street fair, I saw some normal-looking gay guys (that is, ectomorphic to mildly mesomorphic, not too thin but not buff or fat, either) at a kissing booth. After all of the nauseating mesomorphic clones, who apparently think that they’re special by copying everyone else, the ectomorphs-by-comparison at the kissing booth were looking very appealing to me. Seriously; after all of those walking slabs of beef I just wanted to see some normal guys.
When I see an uber-buff gay guy, I don’t think: Stud! I think: This guy spends waaay too much time in the gym to have developed any sort of a personality. This guy cares way too much about what others think of his appearance to have any substance. And of course he’s going to judge me by the same superficial standards by which he judges himself. And I think: The aging process is going to chew this guy up and spit him out.
Not that you can’t take care of yourself. Not that I oppose healthful practices.
But the swarms of sides of beef that I saw at the Castro Street Fair almost two years ago weren’t about health. They were about vanity and about wanting to be at the top of the gay-looks pecking order. My guess is that many if not most of them were on steroids, causing long-term damage to their bodies as well as to their souls.
The buff look became the gold standard for gay men sometime in the 1990s. Maybe it was the economic plenty of the Clinton years that freed up so many gay men’s time to be able to live in the gym.
Gay porn, on which I am a bit of an expert, went from normal-looking guys in the 1970s to the early to mid-1980s to the buff look by the 1990s to the present.
Guys in 1970s mainstream gay porn rarely were fat, it is true, but they weren’t bodybuilders, either. Today, virtually no gay porn star can make it big unless he’s big because he lives in the gym.
Hopefully, the New York Times piece is correct and this is about to change.
Before I wrap this up, let me share a personal anecdote:
I attend a gay men’s discussion group once a week and a newbie named Albert (his real first name) came this past week. He’s about my age and he has a significant “Ralph Kramden” going on.
All that I could see (and feel) was Albert’s strong, positive energy. He’s newly out of the closet, says that he’s a construction foreman, and he looks it; you wouldn’t know that he’s gay unless he told you.
After group, when I remarked to another gay guy who had attended the group that I found Albert to be an attractive man (admittedly, it’s a contributing factor that Albert at least somewhat resembles a [slimmer] ex-boyfriend of mine whom I’ll always love), my peer stated that no, not with that belly is Albert attractive!
I saw Albert, and apparently all that my peer could see was Fat Albert.
We gay men want acceptance from the non-gay community when we don’t exactly have a shitload of acceptance within our own…
Yeah, you betcha, I sure in the hell hope that chunky becomes acceptable within the gay community. And that thin remains in.
And that it’s even still OK to be buff, too.
P.S. I stumbled upon a Slate article critical of the New York Times piece on potbellies.
I hate Slate. First of all, it’s owned by mega-corporation MSN, so I’ve always been suspect of Slate from the get-go. Secondly, the writers always seem to look down upon their audience.
Anyway, the Slate writer writes that the New York Times writer “names no leader of potbelly hipness and uncovers no evidence of hip potbellies in the cinema, the stage, the concert hall, the night club or elsewhere. It’s just these random guts strolling around New York.”
OK, it’s not like they’re going to do a scientific study on the critically important subject of the hipness of potbellies, but the New York Times writer might be correct. And if potbellies are just now becoming hip, it would take a little bit of time for that fact to be reflected in the popular culture (duh!).
It seems to me that in times of economic downturn, people might focus less on the extras, less on the cosmetic. If you can’t make your house payment, maybe the status of your abdominal muscles isn’t so important to you anymore.
Time will tell whether or not the bulge is the new black.
*I put quotation marks around the word because while physically I am a “bear,” I don’t partake of the bear subculture and I don’t think that I have the “bear” persona.