Pinterest “Hunk Boards” and Male Objectification

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Oliver Lee Bateman considers the weighty implications of Pinterest “hunk boards.”

 

Until I read Sally McGraw’s “Male Bodies and Objectification,” I assumed that Pinterest was good for little beyond the uses to which I had already put it:  uploading photos of pizza and obese cats.  But it is apparently also a place where men, or at least heavily photoshopped images of certain men, are swapped in the manner of circa-1989 Garbage Pail Kids trading cards.

This is problematic, largely for the reasons outlined by McGraw.  Male and female bodies can be attractive at any size, and anything that smacks of a Joe Weider-ian “house style”–even one partially selected by women–ought to be challenged and criticized.  For a host of (mostly) selfish reasons, however, I found these “hunk boards” to be a tremendous relief.

Doubtless internalizing various social prejudices in the heterosexual community regarding male unattractiveness, I came to view my appearance as a hindrance that could be overcome only with supreme effort.

Allow me to elaborate.  Over the years, insofar as I considered my appearance at all, it was mostly to gauge my body’s fitness as an instrument for performing various exercises and sports movements.  I never viewed it as something that was worthy of praise as a beau ideal of human development.  If pressed, I’d remark that I was “average” or “below average” in terms of looks, though I’d sometimes add that I “worked at it” (whatever that meant). There were a handful of inarguably beautiful men–the Zac Efrons and Ryan Phillippes and That Guy from The Hills-es–but I sure as heck I wasn’t among them. Despite being grade-obsessed throughout my lengthy academic career, I had received only two marks in this particular subject: a female acquaintance once remarked that I was a “solid 6″ (out of 10, one hopes) and my fellow Abercrombie & Fitch managers had awarded me a “B” (on a scale where a B meant “not completely unacceptable”).

Thanks to the existence of these boards, I could dream of a world where people might like me for who I appeared to be and who I appeared to be was who I actually am.

In a memorable sequence on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David encountered a supposed “oral sex teacher” and was struck dumb by the notion that anyone of either sex could find the male anatomy even the least bit desirable. Having internalized various social prejudices in the heterosexual community regarding male unattractiveness (the male homosexual subculture, I would later learn, was much better if no less exacting and irrational on this score), I too came to view my body’s appearance as a hindrance that could be overcome only with supreme effort. If a woman consented to date me, that was due entirely to the extraordinary focus I had demonstrated in my dealings with her. Jobs I landed, even jobs tied partly to how I looked, were won by dint of extreme overcompensation and high-level obsequiousness.  The idea that I might be perceived as attractive was a joke, a schoolboy fantasy no more worthy of being entertained than writing sophomoric love letters to an unrequited crush (a huge waste of time, especially if your name is Oliver but the girl in question keeps calling you Oscar) or memorizing the lyrics to an emo ballad (lawlz).

But as I considered these “hunk boards,” it occurred to me that men who looked like me–moderately beefy but reasonably well defined, if hardly Zac Efron-gorgeous–could be found attractive solely for their physiques. Their minds, beautiful or otherwise, didn’t factor into the equation.  Although this was a stupid and fleeting thought, it was also a strangely comforting one. It allowed me to dream of a world where the start of each horrifying new day didn’t mark the beginning of yet another underdog redemption narrative, where I didn’t have to try so damn hard to be something I wasn’t, where people might  like me for who I appeared to be and who I appeared to be was who I actually am.

Then I pinned a few more hot pics of obese cats, and it was back to business as usual.

Photo–Flickr/JefferyTurner

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About Oliver Lee Bateman

Good Men Project contributing editor Oliver Lee Bateman is a columnist for Al-Jazeera America and Made Man Magazine. His writing has been featured in Salon, The Atlantic, Johnny America, Stymie: A Journal of Sport and Literature, the U.S. Intellectual History Blog, STIR Journal, Mic.com, and NAP Magazine. He is also one of the founders of the Moustache Club of America and Penny & Farthing, two blogzines specializing in flash fiction and creative nonfiction that he co-curates with web developer Erik Hinton, medical consultant Nathan Zimmerman, and freelance writers Christie Chapman and J. R. Powell. Oliver is a lawyer as well as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Follow him on Twitter @MoustacheClubUS or on Google+.

Comments

  1. N.C. Harrison says:

    I’ve almost–almost–stopped worrying about being attractive at all. It seemed counter productive for me since I’m not under 200 pounds and don’t have hair that does winsomely weird things that girls enjoy. Even though they’re aimed at gay men I’ve found similar solace, too, in tumblrs like “Bull Boys Blog,” or the bulk appreciation threads (visited by both men and women) on the T-Nation forums and their like since SOMEONE out there, at least, seems to find the otherwise “too large and in charge” look, which I can’t avoid without absolutely starving myself, attractive. Mostly I guess I’ve just embraced Jim Wendler’s advice of “train to be awesome and let the rest fall into place” and Mark Rippetoe’s reminder that “strong people are harder to kill” and hoped for the best.

  2. Oliver Lee Bateman says:

    Those two are right, of course: properly trained bodies will look whatever way they’re supposed to look. Although I guess it’s understandable to be outraged by “objectification” in all forms, there’s also something reassuring about knowing that someone (or several someones) finds “your type” attractive (as you noted in your earlier piece on a similar topic).

  3. Alyssa Royse says:

    This both broke my heart and kind of opened my eyes to a weird sort of privilege in the otherwise disgusting sexification of women. I am so sorry that media contributed to a feeling that your body in and of itself isn’t desirable, beautiful and even delicious. But I can see how it did. In the same way it does for women all the time, though different. We are told that our bodies are all powerful and the only thing men want from us. So even when imperfect (perfect being an absurd standard that is used to sell everything from cars to cheeseburgers) the sight of a breast would be enough to satisfy almost any man. I never worried all that much about what response I would get once naked. I mean, a naked woman is the goal, right? (Even writing that I get sick, thinking about the statement that sort of thinking makes about men!) But there are so many “hot” women to choose from in media – geeks, nerds, jocks, hippies etc…. But you are right that for “hot men” in media, there’s really just two options: built like a god or filthy rich. I can see how you would be left thinking there was no place for you to be “hot.” And it’s sad.

    Thanks for sharing this. Gives me a lot to think about, and hardens my resolve to fix this. A great example of how the Prince Charming myth, and general patriarchy, fucks us all. And not in the good way.

    • OirishM says:

      My take on this is that we’ve actually spent a couple of decades now publicly deconstructing the idea of conventional female attractiveness. Still got a long way to go, but that conversation at least has started.

      We’ve not even done remotely the same thing with conventional male attractiveness. And it’s not like the same problems aren’t lurking underneath – male body issues and eating disorders. I feel like we haven’t bothered because in part we think women don’t objectify in this way (and this is why I love boards like this, because they totally do – it is not something men do to women).

      • Did you ever notice that when speaking of female objectification , men are blamed, but when speaking about male objectification, we’re told it’s the MEDIA’S fault!

    • BASTA! says:

      THIS opened your eyes to that “weird sort of” privilege? Newsflash: it is as old as human sexuality, and it is privilege simply and straight, not “weird sort of”.

      “I mean, a naked woman is the goal, right? (Even writing that I get sick, thinking about the statement that sort of thinking makes about men!)”.

      No. A simple, factually correct observation about male sexuality doesn’t make any kind of damning statement about men. It simply doesn’t. The negativity comes from elsewhere – and it comes back.

  4. So some men want to be objectified? Or at least, lusted after with no thought to their other qualities? Am I right in saying that men can feel objectified for being picked on other qualities that they feel women largely focus on and being picked based on their looks is a welcome reprieve?

    It’s funny how things can affect us so differently. I was pretty confident in my body when I was younger and in less good of shape and less aware. But there was a turning point when I focused on wanting to learn about men and discovered some things men enjoyed media-wise, in regards to women’s bodies. It was after that point that I didn’t really know how I fit anymore and had a serious dose of low confidence because I didn’t fit in to what was held up to beautiful and feminine in the eyes of male-centric media.

    • I know some of us would like to feel attractive. I’ve never been told I’m attractive. I’ve never had a woman tell me I’m hot or sexy or handsome. In fact, I’ve never had a woman act in a way that implied I am good looking or she finds me attractive. I have never felt desired. What does a person with too much attention say to the person with none at all?

      • Do you think that women simply don’t express their physical attraction to a man the same way men do? Or do you believe it’s social conditioning? Sometimes I feel like men want me to be more like them.

        I don’t know what someone with a lot of attention would say to the opposite,I don’t get a lot of attention from men. It would actually be really nice if men celebrated more average girls more while also oconsidering our other qualities.

      • John Anderson says:

        @ James

        You’ve never flirted with a woman and had her flirt back? It seems to me that most men have similar standards of beauty, which is reflected or dictated in the media depending on your politics. Women on the other hand seem to be across the board. I knew two women, both attractive, who seems to prefer any guy that paid them attention. One was a model, who actually had pictures in print magazines. I knew another woman, who was turned on by the smell of male sweat. She liked scruffy, unkempt men and she was a head turner.

        There’s a guy at work who women have admitted having sexual fantasies about. The reason, he’s British and they love his accent. I can almost understand that one because I was talking to an Irish woman living in Canada and almost went out to see her because we loved each others accent. That’s probably why we spoke so long. I never knew that Irish women thought the mid west accent was hot.

        I’ve had a lot of female attention when younger. I don’t have that much now, but don’t really miss it. I’ll admit that it largely due to it being attention I didn’t want. Here’s something that hopefully cheers you up. On occasion my mom will call and tell me that she was chatting with a lady at some store she frequents. My mom mentioned to her that I’m single (I’m easy to remember because she’s Asian and I look white so she’s the Asian woman with the white son) and if I’m interested in her, she gave my mom her number. I have no freaking clue what this woman looks like let alone her personality (except the details of her life mom told me), but she’s obviously noticed me and this was within the last year.

        Women rarely walk up to guys and tell them they’re hot. You’ll only find out by talking to her first.

    • OirishM says:

      Well, I would say men are objectified often in terms of their utility – but physically/sexually objectified? I’d KILL to know what that’s like. Maybe this is why women aren’t selling the idea of objectification being bad to men – many of the men would love to experience it themselves, so they’re not going to believe you when you speak of it as this inherently bad thing.

      And it isn’t, mind. An excess of appreciation for one quality over another, I could see how that would be a problem. But that doesn’t mean it’s wholly bad that you are appreciated for the quality you’re appreciated for. It seems like a large part of female attraction to men is they have to be doing something (unless you’re superhot) – I’m kinda struggling with that at the moment, currently being not-very-employed and pretty down after realising my degree isn’t going anywhere. I’d love to just be a pretty face and a hot bod and have that be enough at the moment. Instead I just feel useless.

    • Theorema Egregium says:

      Yes, for sure. To know I am desirable and desired for what I am would be such a relief. I would bask in it. It would be glory. As it is I am (like all men) only desirable for what I do, which means that my attractiveness vanished in a heartbeat if I stop maintaining it. This is why there are adolescent “proofs” of manhood, this is why “man-cards” can be revoked, this is why gender theory speaks of performative masculinity. It all fits together.

      I realize that being valued for your very existence comes with drawbacks — all the drawbacks that women experience. I know that if I turned into a woman they would grate my enthusiasm down eventually, until I cursed that state of affairs. But here and now, the drawbacks are not my own experience, today it looks all rosy. Ah, to be objectified for a year! Ah, if there only were a female gaze!

      This is why gender-swapping awareness-building campaigns do not work all that well. On an intellectual level men grasp the idea that being objectified feels bad and therefore should not be done to women, but emotionally it feels like a breath of fresh air.

  5. PursuitAce says:

    Hmmm…One of the percs of not being attractive is you don’t obsess about whether you’re attractive enough. My sympathies for those caught in this harmful cycle.

  6. That’s funny because my take on O.L.B.’s piece was that these “Pinintrest Hunk Boards” and the like was that there you don’t have to be a clone of Channing Tatum or have the bank account of a Bill Gates to be considered ‘Desirable’. It’s kind of ironic that women and men have both been constricted , although in different ways, from expressing diversity in what ‘Turns them on’ for a very long time. Men through society pressure that their supposed to desire a specific type of women (Physically) and women not being to express ANY type of desirability, lest they be considered ‘Hormonally driven Sluts!’ I personally consider ‘Hunk Boards’ and other such devices made possible by the Feminist movement to be quite liberating for BOTH Men and Women!

  7. John Anderson says:

    Do we know whether the pictures were consensual?

  8. OirishM says:

    Nice piece Oliver:

    I too came to view my body’s appearance as a hindrance that could be overcome only with supreme effort. If a woman consented to date me, that was due entirely to the extraordinary focus I had demonstrated in my dealings with her. Jobs I landed, even jobs tied partly to how I looked, were won by dint of extreme overcompensation and high-level obsequiousness. The idea that I might be perceived as attractive was a joke, a schoolboy fantasy no more worthy of being entertained than writing sophomoric love letters to an unrequited crus

    This made me think back to this other related and awesome piece :)

    http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/brand-men-must-be-needed-because-we-cant-be-wanted/

  9. Theorema Egregium says:

    I occurs to me that there would be a lot less grief all around if woman gauged their own attractiveness by what men find attractive and men theirs by what woman find attractive. It is women’s standards of women and men’s standards for men that produce so much devastation. It is them that are largely to blame for crazy dieting, body image issues, plastic surgery, gym addiction and steroid abuse.

  10. John Anderson says:

    To some extent, I’m surprised by the number of guys who must not have had sisters or at least didn’t have sisters who admitted to having a crush on a celebrity or ever said a boy was cute. Is it really a feeling that men are sexually undesirable or that they don’t match the level of what they think women find sexually desirable. My nephew spends a ton of time in the gym getting “ripped” and he changes girlfriends every couple months. He doesn’t earn much money yet and a lot of it goes towards his supplements, diet, and gym membership. He can’t be spending that much on the women.

    • OirishM says:

      For my two cents, I’m an only child – I don’t think I claimed that women never express such things or never objectify. But it does only seem to happen with a certain class of men. If the man is (to the extent that these things can be generalised) exceptionally attractive, then women, in short, behave openly like men do around women they consider attractive.

      I said that I’d personally like to feel objectified because I don’t have any experience of that I know of. At the moment, I personally feel I’m attractive – which is admittedly a step up for me, but I feel like I’m the only person who does so it has its limits.

      The whole other aspect of this that rustles my jimmies is that when I do the same sort of thing as a guy and look at / appraise attractive women, it’s “male gaze!” this, “objectification is bad!” that – blahdeblah. So not only do I feel shut out of the system, to add insult to injury when I engage in the same sort of behaviour I’m treated like a threat because of my gender.

      I believe that men and women aren’t that different when it comes to this – I don’t mind the brutally honest approach in terms of people talking about what they like. In fact, I’d welcome it, because at least then we’d all know where we stand and could work from there. I am sick and tired however of men getting shit for doing the exact same thing women do – and they’re practically cheered on for doing it these days with this pinterest stuff.

  11. I compliment my men. I tell them they are beautiful. I tell them they are pretty. I tell them they are soft. I tell them they are sweet. I take out the trash. I change the brakes.
    Two things stand out to me here – Men aren’t hearing that they are beautiful, and men are stuck in “service” roles that they may not enjoy. Some people like these roles and chivalry – others don’t. My husband’s and my roles are not gender based – at all. I did not nag him when he got layed off when our son was two months, nor when he was again layed off three years later. I never asked him tow wrk full time because I know he wants to be a stay home dad. I don’t think there is anything wrong with gender roles – if both people agree to them, but a lot of us are stuck in them without an honorable escape route, and, as a woman, I know they can be sould crushing, so I am sure they can be for a man.

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