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 cliche 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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