There’s a lot of research on how women are pressured to have a specific body type, and how that has changed over time. However, men have also faced standards of attractiveness through history, but they have been very different from women, and the reasons why go beyond just being easy on the eyes. In the ancient world, we only have to take a look at art to see what the ideal male form was. Athletic, slim, and relatively smooth-skinned appear to have been the standard. The Greeks and Romans were obviously obsessed with the male form, and the figures are rarely shown with clothes. The ideal man is also portrayed engaging in sports or other physical activities, which shows what the ancient world valued.
When the Roman empire fell and the Medieval era began, the world was in a rough place. Poverty and disease were common, and infant mortality rates were so high (30-50%), most men were lucky enough to see their 1st birthday. The standard of beauty, therefore, was all about wealth and status. People didn’t care if you had a six-pack; in fact, if you were on the chubby side, it meant you were well-fed, which meant you had money. Good skin, teeth, and hair were signs that you were disease-free and well-nourished.
During the Renaissance, the toned male form returned. Inspired by the classics, sculptors and artists fawned over the young, athletic boy and his unclothed muscles. That lasted for a couple hundred years, but by looking at art again, we can see how in the 17th-century, everyone put their clothes on. Men were dressed to the nines in elaborate folds, frills, and more. This was to show off wealth and status. The 18th and 19th-century were all about status, too, but the fashion changed so the ideal gentleman was actually relatively feminine with a very slim waist and thin limbs that didn’t need to work to make their own in the world.
By the early 1900’s, however, a muscular body didn’t necessary mean a man had to work and was therefore not an ideal match. Strongmen came unto the scene, and while they were hardly the bodybuilders we would recognize today, they were way more defined and large than the average man. Interestingly enough, this trend towards men showing off their strength coincides with women getting more rights. Men needed something to make them feel unique, because they no longer had all the cards. For a while, that uniqueness had been gained through hair like mustaches, but now a muscled body was another way.
Throughout the 1900’s, this fit new man continued to be popular, as did a man who was more sexual. From smoldering silent movie stars to long-haired rock stars, the ideal man was becoming more forward. This is also a time when what was considered “hot” became more varied. For example, bodybuilding became a big thing in the 1970’s with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but at the same time, there’s scrawny Mick Jagger. However, over all, what society deemed the ideal look was still fit and square-jawed. No one was writing articles about how to get a body like Mick Jagger.
Chiseled six-pack abs, great skin, great hair, and great teeth are the standard of today. It’s a very difficult standard, and it’s affecting boys in a negative way. There’s more anxiety about being big and muscular enough. Not many are considered about overall thinness, which is different from girls. It is a little misleading to completely equate the pressure boys and girls face because there is still that element of options with male beauty. Just look at movies and TV shows, where a man who doesn’t fit that standard still gets a beautiful girl. There isn’t media like that about women who don’t fit the mold. Still, the studies don’t lie, so the pressure boys and men face to look a certain way is still damaging, and should be taken seriously.