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.
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”).
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.