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The Problem with Male Nudity

Written by: on February 3, 2010

Society has an issue with nudity- fact. Society has a bigger problem with male nudity – double fact.

You need not fear, dear reader. This article will not propose that we all strip off and become naturists, (massive Yuk) to be at one with nature and become contemporary carnations of our cave-man ancestors. Instead I will argue that the ‘open-minded’, all accepting society we live in, is in fact a rather selective one where the female nude is culturally acceptable whilst the male nude is one massive no-no. Michelangelo would turn in his grave!

The female nude has been culturally built into our society’s psyche; it is perfectly acceptable for a naked female to parade around scantily dressed on the silver screen but the same kind of acceptance has not been granted for the male species. Instead any form of male nudity is openly ridiculed and theoretically spat upon by critics who state, ‘women don’t like male nudity.’ Cristiano Ronaldo’s career as Armani’s new underwear poster boy is a shinning example of this hypocrisy. When the campaign was unveiled female writers were up in arms, many have argued that this piece of prime-Real Madrid-tangoed-meat makes for a cringe worthy ‘face’ for the brand.

But what makes Ronaldo an unsightly addition to the billboards of the world, when David Beckham’s Armani underwear campaigns were unveiled with huge crowds and a sting of wolf whistles? Ok, Ronaldo maybe a touch more orange than your regular Joe but this man is in fine physical form, he does, wait for it, 3,000 sit ups a day to get that bulging six pack. I can’t even comprehend the sheer effort this requires, for Christ’s sake the man deserves a medal not scaving tongues. The problem perhaps lies in the fact that Ronaldo is, almost, too perfect- to men he is a threat to their ego and to women he’s an untouchable demi-god. Moreover Ronaldo’s torso is a symbol of intensive work; his day, minus the small matter of his football career must be filled with hourly tanning sessions, inch by inch waxing and some serious exercise. Subsequently his rippling torso in the Armani adverts is a potent symbol of male vanity.

As one Daily Mail writer suggested, why would any woman fall for a man who doesn’t have time for any intellectual outlets. But men fall over themselves for women who get their baps out on a regular basis and an entire magazine industry is based around the female nude. None of the men who consume the female nude in such excessive ways are concerned with the models’ interest in intellectual outlets so why does this bother women so much? Perhaps the idea of a self-involved man is too much to take. The problem therefore, circulates around mistrust for men who spend longer in the mirror than their girlfriends. Whilst the male cosmetic industry booms, society just doesn’t seem able to catch up. Girls can take pride in their appearance but boys are not allowed the pleasure of pure, unadulterated self obsession. But why does the male nude have to be intolerably linked to vanity?

Last year’s April edition of Vanity Fair showed that the male nude isn’t just a symbol of vanity. For the issue Annie Leibovitz gathered together some of Hollywood’s funniest men including Seth Rogen and Jason Segel to do a spoof of the 2006 cover of Tom Ford and a very naked Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansoon. This time the gathered characters were not naked, they were poured into body suits. MMM FIT! But these body suits raise important questions, why are women allowed to be unashamedly naked and the male form has to be concealed by granny-esqe bodysuits? Perhaps Vanity Fair, like much of society, is not ready to see men expose their beer bellies on a public stage. If society has a problem with the bare bod of Ronaldo, who barely has an inch of fat on his body, then they are hardly about to let Hollywood’s resident fatties strip off without criticism. It seems we are ready for Scarlett’s bum but not for Rogen’s or Segel’s perhaps hairy (horrid thought) flabby behind.

I suspect this goes deeper than the fat/thin debate and the suspicion society attaches to male vanity. Such a comparison further highlights the deep divisions between genders in our society, women are for ogling, men are for active participation. This makes female nudity tasteful and male nudity somewhat questionable. Traditionally men are not meant to be objectified, and women are not meant to actively look at, or gain pleasure from, the male nude. The male nude is therefore the white elephant in the realm of society’s sexual antics.

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