Part Six in a Six-Part Series

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Mirror Image

by Alicia Potter


"I think a guy has just as much pressure to look good as a woman. I work out a lot. If I spend two hours at the gym, I expect him to as well."

Part One:
Introduction: Mirror Image

Part Two:
Adonises in Underwear — the New Male Beauty Ideal

Part Three:
Body Obsession and Exercise Addiction

Part Four:
Starved for Confidence — Male Eating Disorders

Part Five:
Silicone for Everyone

Part Six:
Female America Reciprocates

Related Links:

As men begin objectify and obsess about their own bodies, some women return the favor.

Fajitas, cigarettes, hair spray, and beer. It's the smell of a Saturday night at the Rattlesnake Bar, on Boylston Street. The women nibble chips and salsa, cautious about smudging their toffee-colored lipstick. By the bar stand J. Crew poster boys in polar fleece and khakis. Overhead, Paula Cole wails about lost cowboys.

Both sexes agree that women continue to endure greater scrutiny about their looks. There's yet to be a male model as ubiquitous as Kate Moss, and seeing a pair of naked breasts at the movies is still far more common than seeing a naked male butt. For the female of the species, objectification is old hat.

Women, then, have a choice: do they empathize with the newly exploited male or gloat that men have finally gotten what they deserve?

A 1994 Psychology Today survey reports that women are the more forgiving of the sexes. Though both men and women rank intelligence and a sense of humor as the most important qualities in a mate, men still value facial appearance and body build more than women do.

But that's not to say that women don't have preferences. In the survey, they rated musclebound physiques as less attractive than men did; they preferred a well-toned but sleek build. Few women were looking to catch the eye of Schwarzenegger look-alikes.

"We call them triangle men," says Janet Cook, 27. She abandons her towering brownie sundae for a moment to trace an upside-down triangle in the air, indicating broad shoulders, big biceps, and a whittled waist. "It's often a sign that a guy's self-centered."

Suzanne McCaffrey, 23, offers another observation about male vanity. "Oh, sure, they say they work out for their health," she says of her three male roommates. "But the truth is they eat all this disgusting, fatty food. Then they go and lift for 45 minutes. And they're not into any aerobic exercise. They just do what will make them look good fast."

And plenty of women are willing to insist that their guy be as attractive as, well, they are. Julia, 24, who asked to be identified by first name only, is one of them. Petite, with feline eyes and long brown hair, she tortures the lime in her rum and Coke with a swizzle stick. Behind her, a suitor circles.

"I think a guy has just as much pressure to look good as a woman," she says. "I work out a lot. If I spend two hours at the gym, I expect him to as well."

And just what would she do if a less-than-strapping guy tried to pick her up? "Act disinterested," she says. Aware that her admirer has swooped in, she leans forward conspiratorially, rolling her eyes in annoyance. "For example," she says. The guy at her elbow is broad-shouldered and slim-waisted but a little on the scrawny side. And is that a receding hairline?

What happens next happens quickly. With a toss of her hair and a shrug of her shoulder bag, she dusts him. The guy stands for one stunned moment, Coors Light in hand, before skulking off to be razzed by his buddies. Julia heads for fresher prospects farther down the bar.

Pay attention, guys. There's a lesson here. The next one to sidle up to Julia had better be more than just handsome. He'd better be beautiful.

This article originally appeared in The Boston Phoenix

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