Monday, February 11, 2008

A New Male Ideal?

Last week's New York Times had an interesting article on the changing look of male runway models.

Apparently, the Tyson Beckford body type (chisled muscles, classically handsome) has been replaced by the male version of "heroin chic," 6' tall guys weighing 140 lbs and measuring in with 28 inch waists. It took a while, but men walking the catwalk are now being held to the same freakish standards that female models have experienced during the last 15 years.

It's interesting to think about what kind of implications this trend may have for shifting ideals of male beauty and its effects on regular men. But first let's take a minute to think about how the skinny model trend affected women.

Hollywood takes its cues from the fashion world, and since runway models began shrinking in the mid-1990's, we've seen the average size of actresses, singers and starlets shrink as well. The media that perpetuate the celeb-crazed culture (which is strongest among young women) witnessed this and turned the weight gain and loss of a female celebrity into a news-worthy event. The message that thin=good is only further emphasized in the contrasting national debate over obesity. I think there's some validity to the idea that this constant discussion of women's weight and size has led to an increasing pressure among regular women to lose weight and meet a specific beauty ideal.

There are a number of reasons why we can't expect the this trend among male models to take off in the way that it did among women. The connection between the fashion world and Hollywood men is far weaker, and men's fashion trends change at a glacial pace anyway. Overall, there's far less interest in the fashion world among men than there is among women. And I think it's generally acknowledged that men are judged less on the basis of their looks than women are, giving them less incentive to starve to fit a certain ideal.

But there's a chance that this trend could have a trickle-down effect and have some permanence. Men connected to the fashion world are already feeling pressure to lose weight to fit the most stylish clothes (Karl Lagerfeld famously lost nearly 100 lbs in order to fit into a Hedi Slimane suit). I guess we'll just have to wait and see if regular guys across America ditch their oversized sweatshirts baggy cargo pants in favor of similar slimmer styles.


D'Rae said...

ok, ewwww. Guys who are tall and very thin just look gross to me. I don't like it when a guy just looks too skinny. I mean, some guys are just build that way, but most aren't. I like some muscle on a guy, they can't be all skinny looking. ick

Ally said...

My boyfriend is 6'3 and weighs 150 soaking wet. It wasn't my type and I was quite turned off at first. However, I'm so in love that it doesn't matter. It's sexy on him, to me, but I don't care for it on other men.

Considering how popular they said it is, it's ridiculously hard to find a pair of pants that fit! He wears a 30x36 jean. Impossible to find!

I have been on a mission since we started dating last year and he has put on a bit of weight...maybe I can get him into some 32s??

cat said...

I have to be honest...I never liked the beefy male model anyway. I always thought the slimmer men were quite beautiful. And, you know, I don't think that people generally look to models as the ideal. I don't think your average man or woman looks at a fashion runway and sees all of those freakish looking people in horrible clothing and goes, 'huh, well, I'd better get to the gym then'. Yes, we are inundated with images of thin people. Yes, Americans have a very unhealthy relationship with food. But in the end, really, it's on yourself to step up and say, you know, I can be happy at my size. Or, I don't like the size I am but it's on me to get where I want to be and stay healthy. Blaming other people doesn't change the way we are.

anastasia said...

I don't know if I agree, but I really admire this post, and have linked it here.

I'll definitely miss your blog when it's gone Meg, but I wish you the best of luck in everything.

Kate said...

Lol - reading the previous comments, I love how each of us have completely different views on male beauty.

To me, skinny guys are hot. The muscly guys just aren't for me. My boyfriend is exceptionally skinny (similar to Ally's post above, he's about 6ft and even with five layers of clothing is only just heavier than most girls I know!)

However, my boyfriend doesn't like his skinniness. He accepts that it is his bodyshape and there's little to change it, but he would definitely like to be heavier. Not even musclier, just a little less, y'know, boney :D He has no care for what other guys look like or the media's portrayal of the 'male ideal'.

I, on the other hand, am exceptionally hung up about it. I am easily influenced by women in the media and how I "should" look.

I guess it's all down to individuals - some people are comfortable in their skin, others aren't. Some can see images of apparently 'perfect' people and not be phased, others need to try to achieve perfection to feel content.

Isn't life fun ;)


lisa said...

Interesting post, Meg, but I'm surprised it took the NY Times this long to pick up on a trend that's been building up for the past few years. The male style columnist for the Globe and Mail, Russell Smith, has written extensively on the slimmer cut of men's suits and clothing in recent seasons. The 12/13-year old son of a former employer also served as a barometer of sorts for trends among men: he was very brand-conscious and clothing-conscious, and would say things about how he was afraid of getting fat. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's been building up for a while and it will continue building up, but as you pointed out, once it gains momentum it could stick around for quite a while given how slowly things change in men's fashion.

Anonymous said...

That looks like my 15-year old son...

Jen said...

i read that article in the times too, and i found it very interesting as well. i personally prefer leaner men, but i thought the recent david beckham ads were sort of leaning more towards the older trend and who knows what will happen in the near future?

as we know, in fashion one day you're in and one day you're out!

amanda said...

I, too, have a tall and thin boyfriend. He's about 6' and weighs a whopping 117 lbs. He wears a 29x32 with a tightly cinched belt, only because we can't find waists smaller than that. He's naturally this skinny; his max weight was 130, and that was because he was weight-training 5 days a week, and was bulking up.
But, just like Kate's guy, he hates the fact that he's so stick-thin. He has done, and continues to do, anything he can think of to gain a few extra pounds.

Men have the same self-image issues that women do, but, in my experience, are much less vocal about it. It's definitely interesting that people are becoming more aware of the ever-shrinking male model; perhaps this will jumpstart a slightly tangential discussion about self-esteem issues in men.

Anonymous said...

I have a cousin who, at 6' tall, wore 28x38 (!) pants. He's now over 40 and has since recovered.

Karen said...

All I can say is I'm a mom of two toddler boys and I hope and pray that they don't struggle with weight issues and body image issues as they grow older. Since I understand this from a woman's perspective hopefully I can teach them about these things just as I would a daughter. I'll encourage the boys to be strong and healthy and confident in themselves regardless of how they look. And I'll teach them to value themselves and others based on their innate human dignity.

We'll skip the fashion mags, too.

Anonymous said...

Every time I see that photo, I shudder. I think it looks gross, on a man or woman.

Anonymous said...

I think it's all about sex, to put it bluntly. Most designers are gay men who seem to prefer bodies to be boyish. First the girls had to be slim and boyish without female curves, now the boys have to look like, well, thin boys.
It's all about what one considers to be sexy and appealing.

ModernGear TV said...

Geez! Formerly the purview of only female models, this manorexia trend is startling. Now we have to worry about the outside influences on our sons?

I am all for healthful slimness over obesity, but this is going too far. It's just another ideal that normal people can't live up to, and yet will get sick trying.

My hubby, thank god, loves good food too much!

Tamara - ModernGear TV

JSN said...

I always thought there was a "skinny=starving=poor" thing going on with female models. Also skinny=powerless. Starving people mentally let the non-model think they are helping feed the model.

For men(now women) who want to control things, there's no need to feel threatened by someone with body mass, if an alternative is available.

Now, to go crazy, this is a quote from the bible of American political philosophy, one of the two books (along with Blackstone) George Washington studied for the 2nd Constitutional Convention (the one that produced our current Constitution):

Book XIX, Section 8: Effects of a sociable Temper.
The more communicative a people are, the more easily they change their habits, because each is in a greater degree a spectacle to the other and the singularities of individuals are better observed. The climate which influences one nation to take pleasure in being communicative, makes it also delight in change, and that which makes it delight in change forms its taste.

And, yes, I'm normal weight and would prefer to be on the thin side, luckily I have a countervailing desire to not appear weak to men. It's a balancing act, now.

Anonymous said...

Aside from the issue of this being the current "designer beauty ideal", my first reaction to the boy in this photo is wanting to sit him down and feed him a good meal or three. He looks so young, so immature, so much a lanky, underfed teenager... I really wonder sometimes, perhaps this look appeals to girls and fashion designers, but it can be so far removed from the reality.

Perhaps it's a different ideal in Australia (where I live), but the local 'beautiful gay boy' ideal is slender but buff. Not a body builder, but a surfer/life saver type. They won't fit into the designer samples, true, but they look so good, even to a straight woman like me. :)

My partner doesn't fit into the skinny boy ideal and I am glad for that. He has a classic male build (6ft, weight 165, wide shoulders with narrow waist and hips) and I find that deeply masculine, sexy and beautiful - and so do all the girls on the streets who check him out! He certainly doesn't look like a teenager.

Maybe the issue here isn't a new male beauty ideal, but (putting it bluntly) a new model-mannequin shape? Can you really imagine that young boy on a bodice ripper cover or the semi-naked-boys calendar? Cos thats what *really* sells, not the cigarette jeans...

P.S. I love reading your blog, have been doing it for months. Thank you for keeping it up! :)