Mens Health Magazine – How Gay is It?

Mark Simpson probes Men’s Health and finds it in pain­ful denial (ori­gin­ally appeared on Guardian CiF)

Isn’t it about time Men’s Health, the world’s biggest-selling ‘men’s life­style’ magazine, came out to itself?

I couldn’t get to sleep the other night and so resor­ted to flick­ing through last month’s UK issue: I find the pic­tures of semi-naked men’s per­fect, sweat­ing muscles and the dron­ing nar­ciss­istic hypo­chon­dria of the copy in this notori­ous met­ro­mag strangely soothing.

Then I happened across a five page cringe­mak­ingly earn­est art­icle about ‘het­ero­pol­it­ans’ (com­plete with a deathly ser­i­ous ‘Am I het­ero­pol­itan?’ ques­tion­naire), which MH wants us to believe have replaced met­ro­sexu­als. Apparently met­ro­sexu­als were too gay and too vain. HETEROpolitans on the other hand are just per­fect: they’re really, really hetero, really attract­ive, really buffed, really rich, really styl­ish and really suc­cess­ful. What’s more they also find the time to be really great hus­bands and dads, and are not in the least bit gay, vain, or even single.

Did I men­tion that they’re not gay already? And guess what? Men’s Health read­ers are all goody-two-shoes ‘heteropolitans’!

Now this single, child­less, beer-bellied bum-bandit REALLY couldn’t get to sleep.

Who do they think they’re kid­ding with this guff? Their mother? Men’s Health, with it’s front page pin-ups of studly six-packed shirt­less men and pages and pages obsessive-compulsive advice on how to get the per­fect pecs/skin/low-fat soufflé has long been one of the most nakedly metro of the men’s met­ro­mags. You might be for­given for think­ing that the only ques­tion­naire MH needs to run is: ‘Am I Gay? Or Just Bisexual?’

It looks like we’ll have to wait a while for that one. Of course most of its read­ers are not card-carrying homos like me (though most of them prob­ably have a Boots Storecard). Or closeted. Or even par­tic­u­larly bisexual. Though I’d take a wild guess that a fair per­cent­age of them are. But even the major­ity hetero read­ers of MH and other men’s shop­ping and gym­ing ‘men’s life­style’ mags are not that hetero – they’re clearly metro. Even if MH is in massive denial about this.

The prissy pre­tence that that any sug­ges­tion of gay­ness is utterly incon­ceiv­able between their pristine pages can lead to hil­ari­ous res­ults: such as the recent MH sex guide which encour­aged read­ers to get in touch with the hid­den pleas­ures of their pro­state gland by ‘get­ting your girl­friend to mas­sage it for you with her fin­ger’. Or maybe your boy­friend could do it with his penis? (In fact, it’s MH and con­sumer­ism in gen­eral that is really ‘mas­sa­ging your pro­state’, no vaseline.)

I haven’t been exactly what you’d call a devoted reader over the years (the UK edi­tion of MH was launched in 1995), I tend to dip in when I’m feel­ing in need of mas­ochistic motiv­a­tion at the gym or just some eye-candy, but I don’t recall MH always being so com­ic­ally keen to insist on its Totally Het cre­den­tials. Yes, like almost all men’s glos­sies, the copy didn’t openly acknow­ledge any of its read­ers might be homo­sexual, bisexual, bi-curious, or even just straight but-not-narrow. But then, with those cov­ers it didn’t need to.

Obviously there’s been a rethink at MH Towers. MH is pub­lished by Rodale, an American-owned com­pany and I sus­pect they’ve been influ­enced by all that men­dacious ‘menas­sance’ mar­ket­ing twaddle in the US last year in which manly man­li­ness and old-time real-guyness sup­posedly made a comeback knock­ing that faggy metro back into the closet. ‘Reclaim your man­hood – go shop­ping for mois­tur­iser in a Hummer’, that kind of thing.

Maybe this faux-macho Hummersexual over-compensation works in God-fearing, Bush-voting, fag-baiting America – after all, as Gore Vidal once observed, Ernest Hemingway was a joke that only America couldn’t get. But it just looks as camp as a row of cam­ou­flage print tents over here. When it doesn’t come across just plain creepy.

Every month gets more sur­real in the flaw­lessly worked-out world of MH. In addi­tion to the usual advice on how to achieve the most desir­able body on the dance-floor, the May issue of MH includes an oh-so butch ‘Spartan war­rior workout’ based on the Chippendale epic ‘300’, ran­dom expres­sions of dis­gust at male homo­sexu­al­ity in the Dining Out sec­tion, and a ‘wel­come aboard’ piece on the Contributors Page in which the editor chas­tises a new boy from Total Film for spend­ing too much time review­ing films ‘in darkened base­ments with other men’.

Not to worry though lads, noth­ing queer about the new groom­ing editor: he’s a fan of Rocky movies. (I kid you not.) ‘We’re now ensur­ing he spends as much time in day­light and in the com­pany of women as pos­sible,’ smugly assures the – rather gay and grey look­ing – editor. Which means, I guess, that he won’t be spend­ing much time in the gym. Or read­ing Men’s Health.

After tak­ing rather a lot of paid advice from MH over the years, I have some advice for them I’ll offer gratis. The edit­or­ial staff at MH should give some ser­i­ous thought to all those nasty stress hor­mones released into the blood­stream by hav­ing to live a lie, and the ter­rible things they do to com­plex­ions, hair and muscle tone.

Not to men­tion look­ing abso­lutely bloody ridicu­lous by being so nancy about man­sex and so coy about some­thing as nat­ural and irre­press­ible as good old male vanity.

Especially when your busi­ness is built on it.


This essay is col­lec­ted in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story

12 thoughts on “Mens Health Magazine – How Gay is It?”

  1. Your sus­pi­cion has been con­firmed. They claim Jennifer Aniston the sex­i­est woman alive at Mens Health? She goes on to say that she thinks the hot­test woman is Gloria Steinem? This says it all

    Aniston spoke with the site about the sexy honor — and names her own “hot­test woman” pick.
    “It’s a tie between Bridgitte Bardot and Gloria Steinem,” Aniston says of the French screen siren and the fem­in­ist hero. “But if I had to choose one, I’d say Gloria because, well, she’s the full pack­age. That’s sexy.”

  2. Although I’m a sucker for ads/mags where semi-naked young men are wrapped around the product, it does seems as if some­thing else is going on with this kind of Foxy Laydee Drapery cliché other than just ‘selling sex’ or draw­ing the male eye. The Foxy Laydee is there to sig­nal the phal­lic and sup­posedly virile desirab­il­ity of the thing. She’s there as a kind of totem that allows boys to get their cocks out, meta­phor­ic­ally speaking.

    Cars, motor­bikes, gui­tars, guns, rap­pers and Second World War bombers are typ­ical examples that spring to mind. It’s also not uncom­mon of course for body­build­ers and Men’s Health cover mod­els to have Foxy Laydees wrapped around them too, though in this instance it’s also about using them as magic charms to ward off, not very suc­cess­fully, The Gayness.

    I’ve come across quite a few men who have the same atti­tude towards swinging.…

  3. hahahahaha

    I noticed women’s magazines fea­ture women.

    Men’s magazines fea­ture women with less clothes on.

    I’ve read Guitar World…

    Also Mayfair and Barely Legal.(Well, not so much read as look at pics.)

    Hustler always scared me off cause there were soooooo many dicks.

  4. Male health is one of the most import­ant issues of men regard­ing the prob­lems like impot­ence, low sperm count, low libido, pros­trate prob­lem, pre­ma­ture ejac­u­la­tion, erectile dys­func­tion, over masturbation.Really good MH gives great inform­a­tion about food, exer­cise, style & fash­ion and career…Look at more

  5. I chose closeted MH over the in your face gay mags because at least MH gives great info in food, exer­cise, style and career. Those other mags just have advert­ise­ments of things i cant afford and porn guys with no per­son­al­ity. If MH has to be closeted then so be it. Its the best thing we have.

  6. Nice to hear it from the mouth of one of male vanity’s main sup­pli­ers: Though I sus­pect you mean ‘met­ro­sexual’ not ‘het­ero­pol­itan’. According to Men’s Health et al there’s noth­ing remotely vain or gay about het­ero­pol­it­ans, so Tom Boy can’t be het­ero­pol­itan. Metrosexual is the truth — het­ero­pol­itan is the mar­ket­ing beard.

  7. Love your art­icle ‚as a Beauty ther­ap­ist in a Big City, every­day of the week I serve Male Beauty it’s Beauty Cocktail.And I can say that Yes Heteropolitans do exist,they are sexu­ally attrac­ted to “Themselves”.Women only serve as the Mirror.Tom Cruise being the clas­sic American example. Don’t let it bring you down it’s only male ego.Great to watch,more fun then any­thing on T.V. Claude

  8. Repetition is the nearest to tra­di­tional het­ero­sexu­al­ity that the spor­no­graphic ‘Mens Health’ (or ‘Men’s Fitness’) comes to.

    Those 20 WAYS TO DRIVE HER WILD IN BED!! head­lines have, I’m sure, saved a lot of blushes. Though they prob­ably don’t ward off the newsagent’s fish-eye — they just give it an arched eyebrow.

    I sus­pect more of their sub­scribers would be inclined to actu­ally read them if they were titled: HOW TO DRIVE HER WILD BY REMOTE CONTROL WITHOUT LEAVING THE GYM!! Or: HOW TO MAKE HER APPRECIATE YOUR PECS ALMOST AS MUCH AS YOU AND YOUR MATES DO!!

  9. Mark,

    Men’s Health’ and ‘Men’s Fitness’ are sporno sine qua non. So far as I can tell, each issue of ‘Men’s Health’ fea­tures vari­ations on the fol­low­ing three art­icles: ‘gain muscles and lose fat’, ‘get ripped abs in two weeks’, and ’20 things you can do to drive her wild in bed’. Even when I was a tor­tured, closeted teen steal­ing sur­repti­tious glances at the beef­cake on the magazine racks next to the super mar­ket check­out, I sus­pec­ted that this last cat­egory of art­icle was the least read. In fact, I think it is put there so that guys like me could pur­chase inspir­a­tional mater­ial without sub­ject­ing ourselves to the fish-eye of the Pakistani owner of the newstand.

  10. I dont know any­one who buys those mags that isnt using them as a less embar­rass­ing ver­sion of a gay porno.
    Maybe amer­ic­ans, who have had the gay ‘crossed’ out of them cant see it, but in the UK they are as obvi­ously gay as its pos­sible to be!

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