His exceptional musical talent and humanitarian goodness notwithstanding, Prince’s fancy presentation was more common than society would have us believe.
The 1980’s was the decade of my coming of age and young adulthood. I was a non-conforming, late-blooming, free-love flower child of the sexual revolution, passionate about music and exploring all of life. Married at 19 and divorced before the age of 21, I lusted for “a skinny dude in tights and a full face of makeup.” While I could easily be referring to Tim Curry as costumed for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, my attraction was for a man whose elegant plumage looked like a man; Prince.
Prince was not a transvestite like Curry’s character, but a man who dressed to express his artistic self including his passion for women. His beauty spanned soul and stage with a colorful flare that defied gender norms of the time. When Prince wore makeup, he did not wear it to appear female. Rather, he wore it to accentuate his masculine features including his strong jaw, full lips, and intense gaze.
Although most every photo of him I have seen is in costume–or naked–he seems to have been consistent in his persona. He was “Prince,” or “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” He exuded confidence, both in his highly skilled musical performance as well as his sexual prowess, most noticeable in his music videos such as Cream from the old MTV era.
Regardless of our cultural norms regarding men’s appearance, most of the women I knew during the height of Prince’s music career found him sexy if not downright desirable. My female friends agreed: His music — including his vocals — were akin to foreplay. To this day, I experience a physiological response to every piece of his music and every photo or video of Prince, whether performing or looking into the camera with the intensity of a passionate lover who is about to bring his woman to the heights of ecstasy. All. Night. Long.
I have alway found Prince off-the-scale sexy even though he was not the conventional man I was socialized to find attractive. What made him so hot was the confidence he exuded without regard for society’s expectations of men his age or stature. My own rebellion said, “to hell with what everyone else thinks I should find attractive.” I can only assume that Prince had a similar conviction, that he would choose to dress to express himself without regard for how society would perceive him.
Prince’s appearance fueled the cognitive dissonance of those who thought about rather than felt his flamboyance: How could a man donning accessories typically reserved for women be considered sexually attractive by women?
Perhaps the likes of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone . . . Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, each influenced Prince’s flamboyant persona and his unique brand. Or, perhaps they were each influenced by Mother Nature.
In 1979, I performed in my high school choir’s production of the musical “Hair.” The song Convictions encouraged each male youth to be who he felt he was. The lyrics of the song remind us that in nature, it is almost always the male who is more flamboyant than the female of the species. Human males with long hair and colorful clothing, are simply expressing their birthright in lieu of elegant plumage of a peacock versus a peahen, or a colorful red breast like that of a male robin versus the female’s dull brown, or the full mane of a male lion versus the female’s tuft.
“ . . . [I]t is my conviction
That longer hair and other flamboyant affectations
Of appearance are nothing more than the male’s emergence
From his drab camouflage into the gaudy plumage
Which is the birthright of his sex
There is a peculiar notion that elegant plumage
And fine feathers are not proper for the man
When actually that is the way things are in most species” — source
Remembering the song later introduced me to evolutionary biology/psychology. The discipline tells us why, in the context of heterosexual mating, men and women are attracted to certain features of one another. Briefly, examples include men being attracted to the wider hips of a woman as they are an outward sign of her ability to bear children. Similarly, women are programmed to be attracted to a man who has skills and/or features that indicate he is able to provide for and protect her and their baby.
Many times these evolutionary attraction factors are far less relevant in this day in age than in hunter-gatherer times. However, unless we are cognizant of them, the idea that they are part of our programming means they rule us.
If evolutionary biologists and evolutionary psychologists are right, the flamboyant human male attracting a mate is part of the programming, as it is in the animal kingdom. The man who authentically presents himself in such a manner wins his choice of female for mating and procreation. Still, women have always swooned over extravagant male performers never having an expectation to mate with them.
I am left with questions:
- Is this programming, meant to perpetuate a species, still useful in our over populated Western culture?
- As humans continue to evolve, will this programming change our focus on joint child-rearing, compassion, and equity? Is the “dad bod” part of that evolutionary change?
- Does our society’s man box make this natural phenomenon of elegant plumage culturally difficult? Not every man has an opportunity to wear colorful costumes on stage as part of his career.
- As a man, how are you able to flaunt your elegant plumage, so to speak?
- As a woman, what men have you observed in your every-day life who fan their peacock plumes to draw attention to themselves?
I invite you to consider these and share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo credit: Flickr/Mike Boswell