TODAY, sexuality and gender are associated with the word “neutral”. Socially and semantically, the decreasing importance of identifying with either sex has taken a foot off the gas. The show-off six-pack now feels out of date, along with all other ways of thrusting extreme images of gendered perfection in other peoples’ faces. Even Abercrombie & Fitch, the American retailer that infamously positioned intimidating topless male models outside their stores, doesn’t have a six-pack photo on their Instagram - there is one post of a handsome man with an obviously good body slouching so that a couple of accessible creases are visible. Remember the Athena “Man and Baby” poster (released in 1987) which was Blue-Tacked to every teenager’s bedroom wall throughout the Nineties? That was exactly thirty years ago, and these days we’re more likely to lust after the model Adam Perry’s Isabella Emmack-esq chop than his sculpted midriff.
My own boyfriend - who will probably be mortified that I’ve written this piece, let alone quoted him in it - volunteered a view on the matter as we shed layers under the beating Californian sun last week. “You would hate it if I was the type of guy that really cared about how my body looked. Who wants to be that guy?” I mentally flipped through a roster of the men I dated in my early twenties, and agreed, before continuing to admire his shoulders (sculpted by a teenage hood of pro surfing) and convex torso. He calls it a dad bod, but it isn’t really. It’s a young thirty-something body that has other things to do than go to the gym. He’s active, but not obsessional. I can’t imagine a world where his mind would feast on Men’s Health; his stomach doesn’t do protein-only diets (thank God). Thinking back, the guys I dated in my early twenties were, personality-wise, quite embarrassing – “bimbos”, I remember a friend calling one of them at the time (he is now dating one of the world’s biggest supermodels and is probably somewhere in Williamsburg right at this very second thinking how far his six pack has got him…).
Six-pack show-offs equals six-pack turn-offs. That men care about what their bodies look like naked is certainly no bad thing (we all do), but what we now take issue with is men who go to great lengths to make sure everyone else knows what their upper bodies look like. “Did you know that belly tops have become a mainstream thing for straight men?” said one Eyes On Events editor. Only they’re not belly tops, I say, they’re slash-waist six-pack vests (aka enablers). “They’re all over the gym,” she adds.
The point that she’s making has wider significance. Nowadays, it’s the way that men go about showing off a six-pack that make a rippled, rock-hard torso unappealing. Rather than “the surprise of undressing someone and thinking ‘wow’,” (another Eyes On Events staffer explained) it’s plastered all over an Instagram grid, or paraded up and down Primrose Hill when it’s only 16 degrees Celsius outside, or purposefully stood at that bottleneck in the festival where every woman in the crowd will have to slide up against it – the six-pack turnstile. Think about the lighting set-up that goes into every single Insta-torso shot.
Guys who don’t prize a chiselled tum don’t do that – they’re doing something else with those hours. The muscle and mind power it takes to publicise an extreme six-pack is needed elsewhere these days, the last thing it is is sexy for women.