The Marginalized Man
Last fall, GQ editor Jim Nelson told The New York Times, “The twink thing seems over.” Those five words sent the blogosphere into a frenzy as everyone from The Cut to Gawker reported that the decade of the skinny male model had come to an end. When The Huffington Post picked up the story, they slapped on the headline, “Male Models Get Manly.”
The men’s fall fashion shows just wrapped, and—surprise—we all jumped the gun. Manorexics still littered the runway. Of the four male models that The Times’ style blog, The Moment, named as ones to watch out for, all looked hungry for a cheeseburger. Many high-end staples brought back the good ol’ tricks. Prada’s boys all had one thing in common—concave cheeks. Viva malnourishment!
But on the other hand, what the media’s calling “manly” doesn’t resemble very many men I know. While the runway’s full of skinny zombies, television, film, and advertising promote only one image of men: the He-Man. A current movie star must not only have classic facial features—standard American structure: high cheekbones, strong jaw line, and brooding eyes—he must also carefully balance the tightrope between Neanderthal and present-day man. He must have muscular arms, but nothing too large. He must be relatively hairless, but can’t look like he manscaped. He should have armpit hair, but it shouldn’t be visible when his arms are down. His hair should look like he got up and took a shower, but it shouldn’t host any product. As for his stomach—if it’s not a pack of six, he might as well turn in the man card now.
I’m not the only young man who struggles with body image. At 6’4” I have a naturally slim build with a, let’s say, healthily large mid-section. I can’t think of a time when I’ve comfortably taken my shirt off in public, and I probably unconsciously chose the tundra that is Syracuse to avoid any remote chance of public undress. By society’s standards, I don’t look like a real man. Real men don’t have curves. Real men don’t spend their evenings reading—they devote two hours a day to the gym.
We’ve long been debating “curves” for women in the media, but men are largely overlooked in the size diversity dialogue. Think about it: last year the blogs lauded V for its “size issue”—putting women of all shapes in expensive clothing. The number of “curvy columns” in women’s magazines has exploded, with major players like Marie Claire featuring monthly updates. But men’s magazines—forget it. GQ and Details flood the pages with clones, albeit beautiful clones. If a man with a slightly “imperfect” body shape does somehow slither onto the pages of a men’s glossy, it’s for a token “makeover a fat guy in a bad suit” page. No men of size make their way into standard front-of-book pieces, let alone editorials. Women of curvature often lament the labels “curvy” and “plus-sized,” but at least they have awareness. All men have is a crappy retail chain called “Big and Tall,” which might as well be called “Fat and Cheap.”
America’s ready to embrace the male chub. Maybe Karl Lagerfeld needs to surround himself with pretty boys, but I’m fine with the real men in line with me at McDonalds. While the fashion industry and tastemakers fight this one out, I’m going to get some fries. Who’s in? JM