“36 of the Greatest Summer Olympic Bulges”
This is the headline of a recent Cosmopolitan magazine article, which collected photos to emphasize the genital regions of various male Olympic athletes.
Instead of focusing on the athletic accomplishments of swimmers, cyclists, or gymnasts, Cosmo has once again returned to one of its favorite recreational activities: sexual objectification.
The New York Times aptly described Cosmo writers, and readers, as “armchair voyeurs.”
But Cosmo isn’t alone.
Increasingly, male objectification is portrayed in the media as both common and humorous, as exemplified by three female anchors on the TODAY show spending a segment giggling and rubbing coconut oil on the chest and abs of Olympian Pita Taufatofua, the flag-bearer for Tonga.
For some women who feel the weight of unrealistic, and pornified beauty standards, they see it as a chance to give men a “taste of their own medicine.” Others just assume that mentally reducing any passerby, male or female, to sexually appealing parts is the new normal.
One obvious example of this growing cultural trend would be the popularity of the Magic Mike, and Magic Mike XL movies. Both of which feature plots that revolve around male strippers and more importantly the commodification of their bodies.
The 2016 Olympics are the latest evidence that blatantly ogling the male body is no longer reserved to darkened movie theaters.
The consequences of male objectification are rarely addressed. The Adonis Complex documented the results of a computerized Body Image Test that was given to typical male college students in three different countries—Austria, France, and America.
The findings revealed that all three groups had profound dissatisfaction with their muscularity.
“Specifically, when asked to select the body that they ideally would like to have, the three groups of college students, on average, chose a body with about 28 pounds more muscle than they had themselves. And when asked to choose the body that women preferred most, the men in all three countries chose a body 30 pounds more muscular than their own.”
Muscle dysmorphia, eating disorders, and anabolic steroid use are all serious problems plaguing many men today. And all can be inflamed by the mass media objectification and glorification of the idealized male form.
Is there overt sexualization of female Olympic athletes as well? Of course.
Flip through the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, or observe the women’s beach volleyball bikini uniforms, and you’ll see female athletes routinely framed as sex objects.
An article in Inquiries Journal by Emily Liang noted that “depicting female athletes in suggestive poses and clothing, or even nude, magazines and commercials basically project a ‘woman first, athlete second’ attitude that challenges athletes’ achievements and self-esteem.”
Women in sports (and in general) have been on the receiving end of sexual “thingification” for arguably far longer than men.
So why is it important to speak out against male objectification in our culture?
Because taking a whole human being, and reducing them to flesh harms everyone involved.
One 2010 study from the European Journal of Social Psychology demonstrated a causal link between the objectification of men and women, and a denial of personhood by the objectifier. This observation is alarming, because an objectified person is viewed as if they do not possess a real, individual, mind and as if they are less deserving of moral treatment.
Being viewed as less of a person obviously impacts the objectified individual. But it also impacts society and relationships at large, for both men and women.
When objectification occurs, people are depersonalized, and that is why we must speak out against it.
No matter that person is a man or a woman.