Mens Health Magazine – How Gay is It?

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

grey Mens Health Magazine – How Gay is It?

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

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