Different Eras, Different Body Ideals

Different Eras, Different Body Ideals

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The ideal male physique has undergone several changes over the years. We are not aiming for an in-depth article involving the whole human history on this matter now. However, it is interesting to take a look at the trends.

How the Perception of the Ideal Male Physique and the Male Ideal in General has Changed

As in many other aspects, we might say that civilization has not influenced this tendency in a positive direction either, especially in the last years or decades. True: it is a matter of taste. However, in the big picture, the body type which is considered ideal or masculine has noticeably deviated from what we can really call masculine.

Now you could say, it is a matter of taste and individual choice, and you would be right. Also I am well aware of the fact that fans of the “body positive” movement and advocates of the view “looks don’t matter” will sharply criticize the below thoughts. But this won’t change the facts.

But I better slow down for now because, you know, “more haste, less speed”.

Male Ideals in the Ancient World

I will only summarize this era in keywords. If you take a look at statues from ancient Greece or Rome, you can clearly see what was considered esthetic (or, we should rather say: masculine) in that historical era. There is not a slightest hint of femininity when it comes to depicting men. Men were real manly men, even though homosexual relationships between men were widely accepted that time.

In the Middle Ages, beside the warrior ideal, it was also important that one should be helpful, a useful member of society etc. Further values were mostly important for religious people, which is not surprising, knowing that the church had much more influence that time. It is also interesting to point out that masculinity meant more than just a warrior physique: it also required a chivalrous attitude. How far this is from today’s moral standards...

In the modern era, the “blessings” of civilization started to gain ground already. Men could not yet spin Mercedes keys around their fingers, so the most direct hint at abundance was having a little belly. This means, a little “puppy fat” was considered “ideal” that time, as it was a clear sign that its owner had always something to stuff into his belly. This was of course far from obesity, which was not yet common at all in that period.

Ideal Physique in the 20th Century

From the mid-1900’s, as the movie industry started to bloom, skinnier men with a little muscle were ideal, just like the Hollywood “heroes” of that period. This was followed by the hippie movement and the rock’n’roll cult, when everyone monkeyed extremely skinny and mop-headed rockstars with similarly outrageous clothing, behavior and lifestyle. They were not praised for their bodies, so this was not important for their fans. This was the next “deviation” after the chubby male ideal of the modern era. But it didn’t last long, because...

There came Arnold, who brought another U-turn into the perception of the ideal male physique. This was the golden age of bodybuilding and weight training. People who were more muscular than average were not yet stigmatized (or not as much as today), and let’s face it: Arnold was the inspiration for anyone who went to the gym. Secretly, we all wanted to be like him, even though our chances were minimal.

This body image weighed out the influences of the rocker lifestyle to some extent, which was also at its peak that time. However, even though James Hetfield or Lemmy had long hair, they were not feminine at all (now let’s forget about the glam style for a moment :D).

By the end of the 1900’s, the male body ideal got slightly leaner after the reign of Arnold and Sly, but six-packs still did matter.

Then, something went wrong. A picture is worth a thousand words:

The male ideal lost its masculinity. Of course, this was not the ideal for everybody, and—thank God—this trend is gone today. However, in the past it was impossible that the above looks and physique could be an example for ANYONE. Now I don’t want to go into detail about stereotypes. But on today’s screwed relationship scene it is unquestionably an important toxic factor that male and female roles have disappeared or, what’s more, swapped. To be more picturesque: women have grown cocks, while men have lost theirs. And this is not because of the emo subculture. This is rather a symptom than a cause. Emos made this trend visible, so to say.

However, every cloud has a silver lining. Because movie stars like Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg or Jason Statham (and we might list here Brad Pitt, too, on his better days when he bulks up for a role) make sure we can see real men at least on the movie screens, once they are getting extinct in real life. And don’t forget about the movie 300, which actually unleashed a gym craze.

Please don’t get me wrong: there are men with a definitely masculine charisma, even though they are not muscular at all. And, on the other hand, muscles DON’T necessarily make you manly. See the below photo for illustration:

However, it would be a mistake to overlook the fact that the disappearance of athletic physique as an ideal is closely related to the idealization of feminine men.

True: it is not right to judge anyone by their physique alone. But we cannot deny that masculinity definitely has a physical aspect too, beyond manly character traits.

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