david_gandy-book-02

Objectify Yourself

Mark Simpson on the (self) sexualisation of today’s male body & why straight young men crave gay adulation

(Originally appeared in Out Magazine, February 2015)

Male self-objectification is, as they like to say on social media, a “thing.”

There’s been a rash lately of so-called “gender flip” memes, in which people pretend to be impressed by male hipsters pretending to subvert sexism by ironically adopting the clichéd poses of sexualized women. Although sometimes funny and instructive, especially when it involves licking sledgehammers, the anti-sexism of many of these gender flip memes depends on a (hetero)sexist assumption that men just aren’t meant to be objectified — so it’s hilarious when they are.

Rather than, say, that the men adopting these cheesecake poses usually just aren’t very attractive.

It also relies on jamming your eyes shut in order not to notice how men who aren’t meme-generating hipsters prefer to stake their claim to our attention not on faux feminism but rather on sweat-soaked gym sessions, pricey supplements, plunging necklines, and general shamelessness. And as with sex itself, there’s nothing ironic about it. It’s a very serious, very profitable business.

At the multiplex, Chris Evans keeps blinding us with his all-American oiled bazookas. Channing Tatum and his bun chums keep whipping their pecs and asses out and — who knows? — may even finally deliver the man goods in this year’s sequel, Magic Mike XXL. Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy recently wowed the world by proving that even previously pudgy Chris Pratt (of Parks and Recreation fame) can be a Men’s Health cover girl. And Chris Hemsworth was named “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine on account of his long lashes, big guns, and huge hammer.

There’s even an MTV Movie Award for “Best Shirtless Performance,” which in 2014 went to Zac Efron for That Awkward Moment — but only after he stripped again, onstage at the ceremony, without being awkward about it at all.

Zac Efron suddenly feeling very hot.
Zac Efron suddenly feeling very hot.

True, Hollywood too often still feels the need to justify big-screen male sluttiness with CGI heroics, a kind of muscular Christianity in spandex — insisting, in effect, that this is virile activity, not gay/girly passivity. And as if to keep that sluttiness further in check, it often limits the nude or topless male scenes to one per 100-minute movie.

Perhaps because it caters more to women, TV is a relatively unbuttoned medium when it comes to the male body. Even TV superheroes such as Stephen Amell’s Arrow are often costume-optional. Maybe because their male characters are already damned, gothic shows like True Blood, Teen Wolf, and The Vampire Diaries are positively pulsing with appetizing boy flesh. It’s enough to make anyone grow fangs. And the young, buff men of reality TV — the Jersey Shorettes — are everywhere, wearing very little, and doing even less. Except demanding we look at them.

Dan Osborne gif

The “structure” of structured reality TV is usually unveiled male V-shapes. In the U.K., a voluptuously endowed, cheeky, straight(ish) guy in The Only Way Is Essex (the U.K. Jersey Shore equivalent) called Dan Osborne became a national hero in 2014 after wearing glittery Speedos on prime time on another reality show,Splash! — even upstaging his mentor, the perfectly formed Olympic diver Tom Daley.

The 23-year-old Osborne, like a lot of today’s self-objectifying straight men, loves The Gays. Really loves them. Last year he appeared in the U.K. gay magazine Attitude, very generously offering readers his shapely bubble butt across a double-page spread, with the strapline “Sex is fun. Be safe and enjoy it.” He told Attitude, “I’ve had a few bum pinches, and I don’t mind that at all. Maybe it’s because a guy knows how hard it is to train, so they appreciate it more.”

Underwear model and wounded Marine vet Minsky embraces the gaze
Underwear model and wounded Marine vet Minsky embraces the ga(y)ze

Here in the States, pumped underwear model Alex Minsky — the indelibly inked U.S. Marine Corps vet and amputee — is very happy to mercilessly titillate his many appreciative gay fans with naked naughtiness. And even a major film star like James Franco can’t seem to leave them alone, posting all those semi-naked selfies on his Instagram feed.

The way straight young men chase and hustle gay attention today represents a major, millennial shift in attitudes. Part of the reason that men offering themselves as sex objects were frowned upon in the past was that they could be objectified by anyone — including people with penises. They were queered by the penetrating queer gaze.

Now they beg and plead for it. They instinctively know that male objectification is about enjoying and celebrating male passivity, even — and especially — if you’re straight. So getting the gays proves not only your hotness, and coolness, but also your metaphysical versatility. It proves that you are a proper, fully fledged, all-singing, all-dancing sex object.

Blame the metrosexual, who was born two decades ago, outing male vanity and the masculine need to be noticed. In just a generation, the male desire to be desired, or “objectified,” to use that ugly word — which the metrosexual exemplified — has become mainstream: It’s regarded as a right by today’s selfie-admiring young men, regardless of sexual orientation. In a visual world, men want to be wanted too — otherwise, they might disappear. They also need to look a lot at other men in order to better understand how to stand out.

Second-generation metrosexuality is very obviously more body-centered and hardcore — or spornosexual. Young men today want to be wanted, not for their wardrobes, but for their bodies. Bodies they spend a great deal of time, effort, and money fashioning into hot commodities down at the gym, tanning salon, and designer tattoo parlor — and then uploading to the online marketplace of social media for “likes,” “shares,” and cutthroat comparisons with their pals.

It shouldn’t be so surprising. Today’s young men are growing up with a different idea of “normal,” in which European and Australian professional rugby players are happy to strip down and oil up. The highly homoerotic, highly provocative Dieux du Stade calendars of rugby players in the buff became only slightly less homoerotic when adapted by Dolce and Gabbana in their megabucks advertising campaigns starring the Italian World Cup soccer team. David Beckham and then Cristiano Ronaldo offered similar favors for Armani, followed by lithe Spanish tennis ace Rafael Nadal, who is currently filling out the Italian designer packet. And former Australian rugby league player Nick Youngquest is now the body and face — in that order — of Paco Rabanne.

Gays are no longer a despised or marginalized niche — they’re leverage. If you get the gays panting, you eventually get everyone else.

David-Gandy-Naked-Sexy-595x416

David Gandy, possibly the world’s only male supermodel who isn’t a professional athlete, has a darkly handsome, model-perfect face. But his sensual, athletic, beautiful body is his calling card. So it is entirely apt that he was “made” by Mr. & Mr. D&G, who cast him in their famous 2007 “Light Blue” campaign, in a boat off Capri, wearing scandalously abbreviated D&G swim trunks, glistening in the sun and lying back, hands behind his head, awaiting our attention. He was accompanied by a foxy lady (Marija Vujovic), but he was the unquestioned object of the camera’s gaze.

Seven years on, it’s still his trademark. In a clip for Gandy’s recent Autograph underwear campaign, the camera, in extreme close-up, licks down his naked torso towards his naked, shaved groin — then fades out just in time.

It’s clear to anyone who wants to notice that in the spornosexual 21st century, the male body has been radically redesigned. With the help of some “objectifying” blueprints from Tom of Finland, it is no longer simply an instrumental thing for extracting coal, building ships, making babies, fighting wars, and taking the trash out. Instead it has become a much more sensual, playful thing for giving and especially receiving pleasure.

Or as the young men of the Warwick University rowing team put it in a promotional quote for the 2015 version of their now famous nude charity calendar, dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports and rammed with arty ass shots: “Regardless of gender or sexuality, we are inviting you into that moment with us.”

Naked Rowers

GandyCoverx1000

'So Dan, what supplements do you use mate?'

From Metrosexual to Spornosexual – Two Decades of Male Deliciousness

‘Metrodaddy’ Mark Simpson on the evolution of male vanity

(Originally appeared in The Daily Telegraph June 10, 2015)

In a development which will probably have him running to the mirror yet again to search anxiously for lines, this year the metrosexual leaves his teens and turns twenty. How quickly your children grow up. Although it seems only yesterday, I first wrote about him in 1994 after attending an exhibition organised by GQ magazine called ‘It’s a Man’s World’. I’d seen the future of masculinity and it was moisturised.

‘Metrosexual man, the single young man with a high disposable income, living or working in the city (because that’s where all the best shops are) is perhaps the most promising consumer market of the decade,’ I predicted.

Two decades of increasingly out and proud – and highly lucrative – male vanity later, and the metrosexual remains the apple of consumerism’s rapacious eye. In a recent report HSBC drooled all over his ‘Yummy’-ness, breathlessly pointing out how mainstream metrosexuality has become.

This was of course old news to anyone with eyes to see the extremely image-conscious and product-consuming men around them – or in bed with them – frantically trying to attract our attention. Or the way that the glistening pecs and abs of Men’s Health magazine have been outselling the glamor breasts of ‘lad mags’ for several years.

Or indeed anyone who saw the news last year that UK men now spend more on shoes than women.

Hard to believe in such a fragranced, buffed, ripped, groomed, selfie-adoring and social ME-dia saturated world as ours now is, the metrosexual had to struggle to be heard in an un-tucked ‘no-homo’ early 1990s. Most people were in New Lad denial about what was happening to men and why they were taking so long in the bathroom.

Just as male homosexuality was still stigmatised and partly criminalised back then, the male desire to be desired – the self-regarding heart of metrosexuality – was still scorned by many. Narcissism was still seen as ‘essentially feminine’.

Or Wildean – and look what happened to him. The trials at the end of the 19th Century of Oscar Wilde, the last dandy who famously proclaimed that ‘to love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance’,  had stamped, like a steam-powered die, a Victorian division of sexual labour over much of the 20th Century. Male vanity was at best womanish – but more likely simply passive and perverted.

The arrival of a shiny new Millennium, the abolition of the last laws discriminating against homosexuality, and the arrival of the preening dominance of celebrity culture with its Darwinian struggle to be noticed in a visual, ‘branded’ world finally blew away the last remnants of Victorianism.

To illustrate this I only have to mention two words: David Beckham. The working class family man England footballer who became much more globally famous for his attention-seeking haircuts, unabashed prettiness and rampant desire to be desired than for his footballing skills. Once the sarong-wearing, gay loving, cheek-sucked male model midfielder was outed in 2002 (by me again, sorry) as flamingly metrosexual, everyone suddenly ‘got it’. All that Nineties denial turned into incessant Noughties chatter about metrosexuals and ‘male grooming’. Often to little purpose.

In fact, the momentous nature of the masculine revolution that metrosexuality represents has been largely obscured by much of the superficial coverage it got. Metrosexuality is, in a paradox that Wilde would have relished, not skin deep. It’s not about facials and manbags, guyliner and flip flops. It’s not about men becoming ‘girly’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves. Just as women have been encouraged to do for some time.

This uptake by men of products, practises and pleasures previously ring-fenced for women and gay men is so normal now – even if we still need to be reassured with the word ‘man’ or ‘guy’ strapped on the front, like a phallic pacifier – that it’s taken for granted by young men today who really have become everything. So much so that it can be really too much for the older generation of metrosexuals.

With their painstakingly pumped and chiselled bodies, muscle-enhancing tattoos, piercings, adorable beards and plunging necklines, it’s eye-catchingly clear that second generation metrosexuality is less about clothes than it was for the first. Eagerly self-objectifying, second generation metrosexuality is totally tarty. Their own bodies more than clobber and product have become the ultimate accessory, fashioning them at the gym into a hot commodity – one that they share and compare in the online marketplace.

This new wave of metrosexuality has hyped the ‘sexual’ part and become ‘spornosexual’ – the pumped-up offspring of those spornographic Ronaldo and Beckham lunch-box ads where sport got into bed with porn while Mr Armani took pictures. But unlike Beckham, whose attributes were possibly artificially enhanced, today’s baby Beckhams have photoshopped themselves in real life. Think Dan Osborne in a pair of glittery Speedos. (And then have a lie down.)

Glossy magazines cultivated early metrosexuality. Celebrity culture then sent it into orbit. But for today’s generation social media, selfies and porn is the major vector of the male desire to be desired. They want to be wanted for their bodies more than their wardrobe. And definitely not their minds.

I suspect Wilde, who famously enjoyed feasting with panthers, would have approved. I certainly do. Even if I’m a little bit frightened too.

Tom Daley

Reset the Gaydar – Tom Daley’s ‘Not Gay’

Tom Daley showering

(Originally appeared on Guardian CiF, 11/09/13)

Tom Daley isn’t gay. But the bronze medallist Olympic diver and presenter of celebrity Speedo show Splash! – recently voted ‘World’s Sexiest Man’ by the readers of gay mag Attitude – doesn’t mind if you think he is. Last weekend he told The Mirror:

“I think it’s funny when people say I’m gay… I laugh it off,” says Tom… “I’m not. But even if I was, I wouldn’t be ashamed. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest what people thought.’

Quite a few gay pals of mine know better. Not because of any special ‘inside information’ gleaned from the gay grapevine mind, but simply because they ‘can tell’. Because they’ve seen him on telly they seem to know his sexual orientation better than Daley does himself. Maybe it’s because he smiles a lot, takes care over his appearance, is well-mannered and loves his mum. Or maybe it’s because he doesn’t have a girlfriend at the moment.

But whatever the reason I suspect many of them might be rather less convinced – or interested in expressing an opinion at all – if Tom didn’t look hot in a pair of spectacularly abbreviated swimming trunks.

This kind of gay insistence about Daley’s sexuality (and other pretty boys in the public eye, such as the Olympic gymnast and Strictly star Louis Smith) isn’t malicious, in fact it’s meant very affectionately. But unlike Daley I’m not quite so inclined to laugh it off. In a sense it’s the ‘friendly fire’ version of the homophobic tweets Daley has experienced, and the bullying which made him change schools. Unintentionally it reinforces straight-and-narrow and increasingly obsolete ideas about what boys should and shouldn’t be – if they don’t conform to that then they ‘must’ be gay. Though in the snuggly sense of ‘one of us’ – rather than the phobic sense of ‘one of them’.

Perhaps, for the sake of argument, despite what he actually says Daley ‘really’ is gay, or bisexual. Perhaps he’s currently kidding himself, or us – or both. But so what if he is? He’s nineteen. People should be prepared let Tom be Tom and not project their own past onto his present.

Although gay people – myself included – often pride themselves on their ‘gaydar’, their ability to ‘spot’ another gay person, it’s a very imprecise instrument and getting more so all the time. Now that the streets are awash with pretty, moussed, moisturised, gym-toned young men in pastel colours that look like they’re auditioning to be in One Direction – and who, like boy band stars don’t mind showing physical affection for one another – the poor old gaydar is getting very jammed indeed. Perhaps it’s time to turn it off, or at least dial it down a bit. Particularly since Grindr is a much more accurate detection system.

In a world where being gay – or looking gay – is no longer such a big deal, a world that gay people worked hard to bring about, perhaps we shouldn’t make such a big deal out whether someone ‘really’ is or isn’t any more. Especially if they’re as generous with their fit body as Daley. (Who, by the way, was born the same year as the metrosexual.)

Like many lads today Daley clearly loves to be looked at – and he has way of showering after a dive in front of billions that is, shall we say, very sensual. It’s part of the reason he welcomes the gaze of gays. As he told The Mirror.

“I can understand why I have a massive gay following – I spend most of my life half naked in trunks on a diving board showing off my bare chest.

“I often joke I wear more to bed than I do to work.”

Being voted the sexiest guy in the world by a gay magazine (Daley’s aesthetic daddy David Beckham was runner-up) might result in your straight mates ‘gently taking the mick’ as Daley reports, but in this age of rampant male tartiness, in which almost every straight male athlete that doesn’t look like the back end of a bus has been on the cover of a gay mag in their knickers, they’re probably more than a tad jealous too.

 

Update – Tom Daley Comes Out – As Happy

The Perfect Mandate: Obama & Becks (& the Media)

David Beckham, global poster-boy for metrosexuality, sporting an Edwardian beard, had a hot date with Obama at the White House today.

Though he had to bring his team-mates along as LA Galaxy were being honoured with a reception after winning the Major League Soccer Cup, America’s equivalent of the Premiership.

After listing the soccer star’s achievements, introducing him joshingly as a “young up-and-comer,” and adding that, “half your teammates could be your kids”, Obama quipped (almost fluffing the line): “It’s a rare man that can be that tough on the field and have his own line of underwear.”

Or as rare as a GQ Commander in Chief?

Contrary to recent reports, Obama is not the first gay President. He’s the first metrosexual President. Or as I wrote in Metrosexy:

“A well-dressed mixed-race, poly­glot male who makes the Free World wait on his gym visit every morn­ing. A man whose looks are reg­u­larly praised – par­tic­u­larly by male jour­nal­ists. A man who won the Demo­c­ra­tic nom­i­na­tion in part because he was much pret­tier than his more expe­ri­enced female oppo­nent. His wife Michelle is very attrac­tive too, of course – but in some ways Obama is the first US Pres­i­dent to be his own First Lady.”

Which makes the Beckham and Obama’s hot date quite a historic occasion.

I can’t quite decide though whether Obama’s own rampant metrosexuality makes his bitchy remark to Beckham about his underwear funny or a bit… pants.

Metrosexual Smoothie

Burger King have come a long way from their ‘manthem’ anti-metro backlash days of the mid Noughties in which they literally sang the praises of fatty food.

Now their ads star the ultimate metrosexual smoothie, David Beckham, who is given the kind of soft-focus, mouth-watering treatment in this ad that used to be reserved for their ‘man-food’ Whoppers. Beckham is the ‘exciting thing’ happening at Burger King.

And he really does have a very appetising, seductive smile. Even his terrible acting is appealing. There is also something charmingly submissive about the way he pleads for his order. No wonder the female server is transfixed.

Like BK’s new menu, which includes freshly-made low-calorie fruit smoothies, chicken strips and ‘snack-wraps’ – or what might once have been called ‘girl-food’ – Beckham is part of a push to rebrand BK, whose sales have been plummeting. Even back in the Noughties, ‘manthem’ was an attempt to make a manly virtue out of BK’s accelerating obsolescence. Clearly even that approach isn’t working any more.

The ad rams home the rebranding of BK by playing up the omnisexual appeal of the metrosexual pin-up. The middle-aged male manager also finds himself captivated by Becks’ beauty midway through saying ‘I am sorry David we make them fresh every time with… fruit.’ It’s unclear whether the manager is actually a ‘fruit’ himself or just another straight man who finds himself strangely drawn by Beckham’s beguiling looks. Probably the latter as he seems genuinely surprised by his own response.

Beckham the equal opps narcissist isn’t phased of course and replies, with an indulgent smile: ‘No problem, John’.

The only part that mystifies me is why anyone, male or female, straight or gay, would fantasise that the be-jeaned and denim-shirted Becks before them was actually dressed as a 1960s undertaker.

Tip: Natty Soltesz

 

David Beckham’s Total Package – And his Fascinating Foot

On The Jonathan Ross Show last night David Beckham was the star guest. He looked great of course. But I kept finding myself staring at Mr Beckham’s foot.

Naturally, it was shod tastefully and expensively – in keeping with his John Hamm hairdo and 60s-style black whistle and flute. But that wasn’t what drew my eye. No, it was the way it was trembling.

The icon of the age had feet of jelly.

Or at least, a foot of jelly. David (I think we can use first names here; in fact, I’m sure he would insist on it) was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, facing Ross’ chins. His face was smiling radiantly, teeth and eyes flashing and laughing. His body language speaking of the casual grace and ease of beauty, celebrity, money. He was doing in other words all the things you’re supposed to do on a chat show sofa.

But his raised foot was shaking. Violently. And in doing so it succeeded in  saying much more than the other end. It made me think of the proverbial serenity of swans underscored by that furious paddling you know is going on beneath the water-line.

There are plenty of good reasons to be terrified on a chat show, even one not presented by Jonathan Ross and his unaccountable vanity. But Becks has more reasons than most. He has a lot to lose. If by chance, and much against his better judgement, not to mention media training, he were to actually say something or have, god forbid, an opinion it would cost him millions in corporate fees.

At one point he was talking about, I think (but can’t be sure because even when you try to listen to David it’s very hard to focus), the benefits of his football academies for getting kids away from their Playstations and outdoors. But then caught himself: ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with Playstation, of course,’ he added very hastily. And not that there’s anything wrong with another Sony endorsement deal, either.

Or maybe his foot was trembling because he knew that later Jonathan Ross would pull his pants down and shove his own Aussiebum   packaged groin into David’s famous face. (No, this actually happened and was even more disturbing than it sounds.)

In the ad break there was more David. David out of his expensive suit  and in his pants, spinning around, selling David, and selling his H&M ‘bodywear’.

In keeping with the trademark passivity of metrosexuality in general and uber-metro Becks in particular, the ad features much batting of long eyelashes, and arms held defenceless above the head, as the camera licks its lens up and down and around his legs and torso. Teasingly never quite reaching the package we’ve already seen a zillion times on the side of buses and in shop windows – but instead delivering us his cotton-clad bum, his logo and his million dwollar smile.

I’m here for you. Want me. Take me. Wear me. Stretch me. Soil me. But above all: buy me.

All, curiously, to the strains of The Animals: ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Is it meant to be ironic? What after all is to be misunderstood? Don’t the images tell us everything? Even what we don’t want to know. About the total commodification of masculinity.

Perhaps Beck’s foot could have told us, but alas it didn’t appear in the ad and was unavailable for comment.

 

Carelessly disposed shopping bags pose a real menace to defenceless celebrities.

 

Tip: DAKrolak & Mark Rangel

 

David Beckham’s ‘End Result’ – Can You Handle It?

Better order some industrial strength lip balm and practise suppressing the gag reflex.

Shameless sporno star and uber-metrosexual David Beckham is ramming his eye-popping lunchbox down our collective throats again. This time with a media ‘offensive’ for his own line of men’s undies – and strangely shapeless vests – from Swedish-owned high street fashion chain H&M.

“I always want to challenge myself and this was such a rewarding experience for me. I’m very happy with the end result and I hope H&M’s male customers will be as excited as I am.”.

It’s true, you do look very pleased to see us again, David dear. But I worry that my ‘end result’ might not look quite so excited/exciting in your pants.

But Beck’s own palpable, prominent excitement is entirely understandable. He saw the humongous wads of cash Mr Armani was covered in when he brazenly pimped Beck’s designer cotton-clad tackle to the world a few years back. Becks was paid very handsomely for his services himself of course, but seems to have decided he can make even more filthy lucre by designing his packet himself and flogging it to the global punter (H&M is the second largest retailer in the world).

Last year he explained:

“I have had the idea of doing a bodywear collection for some time now. The push to do something of my own really came as a result of my collaboration with Armani. They told me that their gross turnover in 2007 was around €16 million, and after the campaign in 2008 it went up to €31 million, in 2008. It proved to me that there is a real market for good-looking, well-made men’s bodywear.”


Whether or not his finished pants and vests are that kind of bodywear I’ll let you be the judge of. Bear in mind they are a lot more affordable than Mr Armani’s. I think proud-father-of-four Goldenballs is here going for ‘volume’. Metrosexy dadwear. Hence the emphasis he puts on comfort.

And as we’ve seen again and again in the last few years, there is definitely a real market for good-looking, well-made, famous, well-packaged men’s bodies. Advertisers, reality TV and Hollywood have practically had our eye out with them.

Regardless of his advancing years (he’s a frighteningly well-preserved, carb-free 37 this May) and consequently fading football career, Becks will always be fondly identified with that metrosexual revolution and will very likely get his money shot yet again.

He and his endowments, natural and Photo-shopped, always seems to wangle a way to attract the eye. Whatever you may think of his vests.