Male (?) Muscle Image

In our society, it is not enough for men to be men just in the biological sense. Men need to also “act” like men and exude masculinity. And yet still, this is not quite enough. In addition, men need to also pay specific attention to avoid anything that even remotely connotes femininity. They need to avoid at all costs, such things as: the displaying of emotions, betraying a smile at the purchase of new shoes, or to take more than a passing interest in one’s own reflection from a mirror. In short, for men to be men, they need to adhere to the Male Image—lest be deemed anything but.

However, in a most ironic twist, and contradictory exception, some men that many would consider the apotheosis of masculinity are the most egregious offenders of the circumscribed male body-image rules. This group consists of: the male body-builders, the lifters, the aesthetic athletes, the hormone-gulping protein-shaking buttocks-injecting many; they abound, and they betray the fact that masculinity and femininity are not as diametrically opposed as we’d like to believe.

While females are known to have a more ostensible interest in their outward appearance, males as well, that are part of this group, have an almost obsessive regard for their body. Muscle building to this degree far exceeds any health benefits gained; in fact, it comes to a point where it is almost all aesthetics. This degree of male image obsession flagrantly contradicts one of the major precepts of those implied rules of masculinity: that males should hold indifference to their looks.

We then move on to product. It is accepted that most women spend a great deal of money purchasing beauty-products that highlight, conceal, or augment, their own natural features, such as eyeliner, makeup, breast implants, et al. However, such product purchasing, as well as cost, is comparable in the male domain. Herbal/supplement stores like GNC, or MetRX, boating huge profits, sell supplements—with dubious efficacy— that are bought in enormous quantities by men interested in “bulking” up with the hopes of increasing gains beyond exercise and weight lifting. A perusal through the MetRX website will quickly indicate to anyone that these products are not exactly cheap either, although some like the best adaptogen supplement is quite affordable. However, most of these supplemental products require a long duration of use before even the promise of noticeable results. Here we see another instance of the overlapping between the masculine and the feminine “image”—making it harder to differentiate the two.

The male muscle building culture seems to ignore the rules of masculine body image. In fact, not only are the rules ignored per se, they are defiantly broken. And yet, within the male community, an overly muscled body, with chiseled abs is becoming more and more desired. What if every male obsessed over their bodies in such a fashion; what if it consumed all their time, dictated their diet, and costed them an exorbitant amount in product. Are we still talking about men?

Abercrombie and Fitch-ness

What is up with Abercrombie and Fitch? When you walk in that store, you feel like you’ve fell into the bowels of someone’s in-ear ipod headphones with the volume painfully set to the highest setting. You’re then forced to listen to some crappy teenage music to the tune of LFO, or some obscure alternative happy-go-lucky garage band full of amateur guitarists and ex-high-school quarterbacks.

In-store models, walk around, shrouded with a cloud of privileged lethargy, folding intentionally wrinkled shirts at a steady pace of 3-shirts-per-hour. The air is so saturated with their branded cologne, ironically called “Fierce”; all articles of clothing in the store are caked with this fragrance, and even a brief 5 minute visit to the store—in and out— is enough for the “Fierce Air” to suffuse your own fabrics with Shock-and-Awe-like bravado.

Clothing is of course, priced at a moderate 3x the reasonable cost. T-Shirts, categorically described in their website as “humor tees”, are replete with sexual innuendoes, all of the derogatory frat-boy kind, all suggestive, and all in promotion of everything schools have educational campaigns against.

Then we turn to their unique advertising campaign: images of men, similar to Men’s Health Magazine covers but containing a slight pedophilia taint. There is monotony in the images. It is a tired repetition of half-naked men, all alike, with chiseled looks, and defined abs, and with the occasional Affirmative Action Model bereft of any real discernable uniqueness. Gauging from advertisement alone, and perhaps in-store larger-than-life semi-nude male model photographs, one would wonder if Abercrombie and Fitch sold shirts at all. They do, apparently.

And the empire keeps growing. AF has begun to expand their reign to the UK. They have opened up a new brand named Hollister—the poor man’s Abercrombie. I admit, at a time, I too was an AF shopper. I bought into it. In fact, my wardrobe still contains trace remnants of their influence: an old polo shirt here, a t-shirt there, a pair of shorts.

Well,  the AF lifestyle isn’t for everyone. We can’t all blithely stroll through life, one beer-funnel at a time.  Some of us prefer mugs and glasses.