This picture, y’all. This picture still makes me a bit wibbly, in large part because of what it did to me when I was 13. I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time, and I went around dazed and dizzy for three days, slain by the absolute beauty of Harrison Ford in that movie. We had a box set of all three Indy movies, and after watching the movie it was sitting out on our bookshelf, and every time I walked by it I was sucked in like it was a gravity well. I had to look at the picture, and looking at the picture gave me a physical pain. So beautiful.
As far as I can recall, this was the first time I had the experience of being devastated by a beautiful man, but it became familiar to me over the years. One of my best friends had similar tastes — some quite typical, some unusual — and we’d talk for hours on the phone, and one of the many things we talked about was how gorgeous and wonderful and captivating certain male characters of our acquaintance were.
My love for a movie or TV show was usually directly proportional to the presence of a male heartthrob. There was a variety in the type that could get me going — I liked cute men, nerdy men, swashbuckling men — but there was also some consistency. Then, as now, I tended to like thin men with pretty faces and a certain intensity of expression or bearing. Other friends of mine preferred more hunky, muscle-bound types, and that was all to the good. My best friend and I joked about our “harems,” populated by the male characters we found particularly appetizing. When we both wanted the same man, we’d barter and negotiate for who would get to claim him. (At one point I suggested sharing, but she put the kibosh on that. Guess I’ve always been more open to that sort of thing.)
With another good friend, I actually started a “harem book.” I supposed it was a summer-and-we’re-bored project. We both got blank notebooks and pasted in pictures of various men that appealed to us. I wish I still had that book, there were some pretty, pretty pictures.
As I grew older, sexuality became more problematic. Complicated interplay of guilt and anxiety over being a sexual person, and well-founded fears that I was not capable of attracting an actual, real man, worked together to dampen my expressed interest in male beauty and sex. (Hence my getting rid of the harem book.) I tried to tell myself that I cared a lot more about whether someone would make a good husband than how pretty he was. I did catch myself out, one time, when I was debating whether to get involved with a friend who seemed interested in me. I liked him, but he had certain character flaws that gave me pause. In a moment of humbling clarity, it occurred to me that another friend of mine, someone I’d had a crush on for many years, had similar character flaws, but that friend was a creature of perfect Apollonian beauty, so for some reason they didn’t seem like such a big deal.
Reflecting on all this, it’s strange to me that our culture works so hard to deny the idea of male beauty. We value men for their competence, we say, we judge men on success and intelligence and wealth and sense of humor. For a man to be looked on as an object of beauty… well, that’s kinda gay. Or something. I don’t really know what it’s about, and it’s silly (I am a woman — my attraction to a man is pretty much by definition not gay. Even if that were a bad thing.) But I can promise you that I do not now, nor have I ever, felt that clutching in my heart and in my groin for a successful man that I do for a beautiful man. Power is sexy, oh yes, but it’s power with beauty, not power instead of beauty.
Now people can claim that women choose mates based more on success than on physical beauty, and in many cases they’re right. But it’s not because women are unresponsive to physical beauty — it’s because women, until recently, needed the protection and support of a powerful man. Hunger and thirst are more basic needs than sex. And then, at some point, men themselves decided it was unmanly to be attractive and desirable. They punish each other for it in the formative years. Muscle-development is the only way men are permitted to improve their looks. And hetero women’s propensity to be aroused by beautiful men is almost universally downplayed, by both men and women.
And yet, when I first met my boyfriend, my initial thought wasn’t “he looks intelligent” or “he looks successful” or “he looks like he could buy me a nice steak dinner.” It was, “Ooh, he’s cute!” I think this is normal, typical, for men and for women. But we don’t usually say it.
I could write more about the social ramifications of all this, where it comes from and what it leads to, but many of my favorite bloggers have done so, and I don’t have anything new to add. I just wanted to put it out there, to make it crystal-clear, with illustrations, how I feel, and how I feel is this:
Men are beautiful.