Not long after you’ve created your profile on an internet dating website, you begin to notice certain archetypes among the selection on display. There are the people who have clearly been burned in the past: “I don’t want someone who PLAYS GAMES!” they whine. “I want someone who KNOWS WHO THEY ARE, WHO HAS A GOOD HEAD ON THEIR SHOULDERS, WHO’S NOT GOING TO STAND ME UP, LEFT WAITING FOR THEM, SITTING AT THE STARBUCKS, ON CHURCH STREET, BY MYSELF LIKE, A DOUCHE!” Poor dears don’t realize that their catharsis about past dates may scare off future ones.
Then there are the middle-aged people who have a picture twenty years old (I see this more with straight people than the gays). Soft-lighting, SEARS portrait backdrops, feathered bangs, handlebar moustaches or linebacker shoulder pads: it doesn’t take a student of fashion history, hair styling or photographic technology to recognize a picture is from 1983. You learn to be weary of those whose pictures are too flattering, all sucked-in cheeks and airbrushing, while conversely a sad-sack screenshot taken in a basement, lit poorly by an IKEA desk lamb, is just as troubling.
It has long-bothered me that some people define their potential date’s race (and let’s be clear, they almost always want ‘white’). No matter how politely they try to put it (“Sorry, dudes, only interested in white guys. No offense!”) the idea of pre-emptively rejecting a whole group of people based on their ethnicity makes me pretty uncomfortable. Then, there is the added concern of how you would feel to see yourself eliminated from meeting a potential date because of something like that. The person who wrote the profile might defend themselves by saying “But I’ve saved him the time of messaging me!” but it is completely acceptable to ignore messages from those you’re not interested in. (And as though you’re such hot shit that you’re getting so many messages you have to cut them down! Bitch please.) Rather, there’s a power thing going on here, and it is not in the favour of ethnic minorities.
Lately, another dating requirement has caught my eye: guys who look like body builders (recognizable by their pictures of flexed arms or peeling off t-shirts to display rippling abs) always seem to be after other body builders. They make their preference clear in a myriad of ways, some subtle and some obvious. First, for their interests, where other people put things like ‘Indian food’ and ‘The New Yorker’, they proceed to list every single physical activity they do and have ever done, from jogging to white water rafting. They will often write of going to the gym regularly and how they would like to find someone to go with.
When they describe who it is they would like to date, they have a number of codes: they are interested in meeting guys who are “healthy”, “athletic”, “in shape”, “physically active”, who “take care of themselves” and “share their interests” (presumably, white water rafting). You look at the pictures of their broad bull-like shoulders and pectorals like melons, and you look down at your thuddingly-real-person physique, and think “Forget it.”
They might as well write “Look, I spent a lot of time on this body. It was hard work, okay! So you damn well better have also spent your free weekends pumping iron and drenched in sweat if you’re going to message me, because why would I settle for anything less?”
I may be being too hard on them. But, along with Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, my feelings about narcissistic body builders were largely shaped by the incredible book The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste by Jane and Michael Stern, which tells you everything you’ve ever want to know about lawn ornaments, Hawaiian shirts and the Gabor sisters. Their history of body building is a dead-pane riot:
“Body building is both an art and sport, but not quite either. It would be more of an art if everybody who participated aimed for a different kind of body—if, for instance, one body builder created a huge left arm and a minuscule right one with a fabulously well-developed hand, and another one specialized in spindly thighs atop bulked-up calves. That would be interesting art…
As a sport, it is pretty silly too, because it is devoted to the cultivation of muscles that have no purpose. It does not demand the talent to run or hit or jump, and there is no test of skill on court or field that requires carting around so massive a physique. Unlike gymnastics or ballet, which also require a fabulous physique, body building involves doing nothing other than standing in front of a crowd and flexing arms, stomachs, and buttocks in synch with music.
Participants sometimes justify it as a sport because of all the hard work that goes into developing a perfect body. But this is strictly conceptual, as it is a process spectators do not see. It would be like showing the car that won Le Mans without showing the race. The activity body building most resembles is dog showing. In both cases, the most handsome wins.”
Maybe some body builders actually like the process of ‘building’ their bodies, get pleasure from all that lifting and grunting. If it makes them feel good and learning all the technical names for muscles is how they want to spend their time, great! But if they are doing it because that kind of body attracts lovers with the same, then body building is like black hair extensions or boob jobs: you’ve literally objectified yourself, turning your body something for another’s pleasure rather than your own.
It got to the point where I no longer would look at the profiles of men who categorized their bodies as “athletic”. But while researching for this post I discovered some guys who went against the grain. “I’m as interested in the mind as the body,” one hunk wrote. Another, “I don’t have a type, so don’t hesitate to message me!”
I realized I was as prejudiced as the body builders I mocked. Perhaps body building, while being more extreme and time-consuming, was just another way we presented ourselves in the most attractive way possible, not so different from my shaving and choosing a cute t-shirt for a first date.
Still, I’d take Aladdin over Gaston any day.