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Final Triumph of Metrosexuality: Men’s Tits More Popular Than Women’s

Men's Health

It’s official. Men’s tits are now more popular than women’s. With men.

Men’s Health, the metromag with the pec-fest, ab-tastic covers is now the best-selling men’s magazine in the UK, selling more than 250,000, compared to 235,000 for previous best-seller so-called ‘lad mag’ FHM with its famous cover babes sporting udders almost as big as those of Men’s Health models.

The truth is of course is that FHM is as much a metromag as Men’s Health (or ‘Men’s Hypochondria’ as I like to call it). It just used the ‘lad mag’ tits-and-booze formula as a beard for its metrosexuality. When it was attacked by female journalists for being ‘sexist’ FHM’s publishers secretly cheered because this meant that these mass-circulation magazines peddling male vanity, fashion and self-consciousness might be mistaken for something traditional.

The real money shot in FHM — and the reason for its very existence — was never the ‘High Street Honey’ spreads but rather the pages and pages of glossy ‘high-value’ ads featuring pretty male models in various states of designer undress.

But fifteen years on from the launch of the first ‘lad mag’ – and also fifteen years on from my first use of the word ‘metrosexual’ in an article for the Independent which predicted that male vanity was ‘the most promising market of the decade‘ – the moisturised future has arrived.  A generation of young men have grown up with metrosexuality, see it as ‘normal’ – and don’t need the hysterical heterosexuality of lad mags.

In a sense, lads mags have done what they were invented to do: metrosexualize men on the sly.  So they aren’t really needed any more.  And arguably, post YouTube/iPhone, magazines in general aren’t needed any more either.

Men’s Health by contrast was always the most nakedly metro of the metromags – and as a result of those covers the most openly narcissistic and homoerotic. In a post metro world, men are most interested in themselves — and can download hardcore porn 24-7. So they choose the lifestyles mag that puts men’s (shaded) tits and abs on the cover, rather than hiding behind women’s.  (In one issue earlier this year, having nothing better to do on a train journey, I counted 73 male nipples and 4 female ones, the latter partly obscured by ‘superfoods’).

But no revolution is ever complete.  And everything is relative. Precisely because everyone knows what it is, Men’s Health are still trying convince you that none of their readers are gay or bisexual — or even metrosexual.  Instead the deputy editor reassures The London Times all their readers ‘have kids or want to have kids’, and and are ‘heteropolitan’ — an uptight marketing inversion of the word ‘metrosexual’, with HETERO in place of anything ambiguous and with that dangerous ‘sexual’ part surgically removed.

As I noted a couple of years ago in a piece lampooning their prissy denial, I suspect that most of even their straight  readers (and most of their readers are probably straight – just not very narrow) are way ahead of them. But then, marketing tends to be instinctively dishonest even if there’s no particular reason to be any more.

Whatever, I think it will be a while before male homoerotics and steroids, those unspoken staples of every single issue of Mens Health, get a strapline on the cover — even if female-on-male strap-on sex apparently already has (see the cover picture at top).

By the way, a similar trend has emerged in Australia, with MH also outselling FHM down under.  This recent piece in The Age, complete with rather amusing mock-up of what a men’s mag might look like in the not-too-distant future (which I thought for a moment was an publication currently available), provides a rather better analysis of what’s going on than much of what appeared in the UK press.

Shame then that The Age, along with its sister publication The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘borrowed heavily’ from — or in Australian: plagiarised — my 2002 Salon essay ‘Meet the metrosexual’  for a feature it ran in 2003 called ‘The rise of the metrosexual’ — with no mention of me or my Salon essay they thieved from.  I’ve yet to receive an apology.

I suspect I’ll get a column in Men’s Health before I do.

Tip: Sisu

Mens Health Magazine – How Gay is It?

Mark Simpson probes Men’s Health – and finds it in painful denial

(originally appeared on Guardian CiF)

Isn’t it about time Men’s Health, the world’s biggest-selling ‘men’s lifestyle’ magazine, came out to itself?

I couldn’t get to sleep the other night and so resorted to flicking through last month’s UK issue: I find the pictures of semi-naked men’s perfect, sweating muscles and the droning narcissistic hypochondria of the copy in this notorious metromag strangely soothing.

Then I happened across a five page cringemakingly earnest article about ‘heteropolitans’ (complete with a deathly serious ‘Am I heteropolitan?’ questionnaire), which MH wants us to believe have replaced metrosexuals. Apparently metrosexuals were too gay and too vain. HETEROpolitans on the other hand are just perfect: they’re really, really hetero, really attractive, really buffed, really rich, really stylish and really successful. What’s more they also find the time to be really great husbands and dads, and are not in the least bit gay, vain, or even single.

Did I mention that they’re not gay already? And guess what? Men’s Health readers are all goody-two-shoes ‘heteropolitans’!

Now this single, childless, beer-bellied bum-bandit REALLY couldn’t get to sleep.

Who do they think they’re kidding with this guff? Their mother? Men’s Health, with it’s front page pin-ups of studly six-packed shirtless men and pages and pages obsessive-compulsive advice on how to get the perfect pecs/skin/low-fat soufflé has long been one of the most nakedly metro of the men’s metromags. You might be forgiven for thinking that the only questionnaire MH needs to run is: ‘Am I Gay? Or Just Bisexual?’

It looks like we’ll have to wait a while for that one. Of course most of its readers are not card-carrying homos like me (though most of them probably have a Boots Storecard). Or closeted. Or even particularly bisexual. Though I’d take a wild guess that a fair percentage of them are. But even the majority hetero readers of MH and other men’s shopping and gyming ‘men’s lifestyle’ mags are not that hetero – they’re clearly metro. Even if MH is in massive denial about this.

The prissy pretence that that any suggestion of gayness is utterly inconceivable between their pristine pages can lead to hilarious results: such as the recent MH sex guide which encouraged readers to get in touch with the hidden pleasures of their prostate gland by ‘getting your girlfriend to massage it for you with her finger’. Or maybe your boyfriend could do it with his penis? (In fact, it’s MH and consumerism in general that is really ‘massaging your prostate’, no vaseline.)

I haven’t been exactly what you’d call a devoted reader over the years (the UK edition of MH was launched in 1995), I tend to dip in when I’m feeling in need of masochistic motivation at the gym or just some eye-candy, but I don’t recall MH always being so comically keen to insist on its Totally Het credentials. Yes, like almost all men’s glossies, the copy didn’t openly acknowledge any of its readers might be homosexual, bisexual, bi-curious, or even just straight but-not-narrow. But then, with those covers it didn’t need to.

Obviously there’s been a rethink at MH Towers. MH is published by Rodale, an American-owned company and I suspect they’ve been influenced by all that mendacious ‘menassance’ marketing twaddle in the US last year in which manly manliness and old-time real-guyness supposedly made a comeback knocking that faggy metro back into the closet. ‘Reclaim your manhood – go shopping for moisturiser in a Hummer’, that kind of thing.

Maybe this faux-macho Hummersexual over-compensation works in God-fearing, Bush-voting, fag-baiting America – after all, as Gore Vidal once observed, Ernest Hemingway was a joke that only America couldn’t get. But it just looks as camp as a row of camouflage print tents over here. When it doesn’t come across just plain creepy.

Every month gets more surreal in the flawlessly worked-out world of MH. In addition to the usual advice on how to achieve the most desirable body on the dance-floor, the May issue of MH includes an oh-so butch ‘Spartan warrior workout’ based on the Chippendale epic ‘300’, random expressions of disgust at male homosexuality in the Dining Out section, and a ‘welcome aboard’ piece on the Contributors Page in which the editor chastises a new boy from Total Film for spending too much time reviewing films ‘in darkened basements with other men’.

Not to worry though lads, nothing queer about the new grooming editor: he’s a fan of Rocky movies. (I kid you not.) ‘We’re now ensuring he spends as much time in daylight and in the company of women as possible,’ smugly assures the – rather gay and grey looking – editor. Which means, I guess, that he won’t be spending much time in the gym. Or reading Men’s Health.

After taking rather a lot of paid advice from MH over the years, I have some advice for them I’ll offer gratis. The editorial staff at MH should give some serious thought to all those nasty stress hormones released into the bloodstream by having to live a lie, and the terrible things they do to complexions, hair and muscle tone.

Not to mention looking absolutely bloody ridiculous by being so nancy about mansex and so coy about something as natural and irrepressible as good old male vanity.

Especially when your business is built on it.

This essay is collected in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story