Thomas Wictor

No context for male beauty

No context for male beauty

Our popular culture is very cruel. I know, because I spent ten years in the factory that creates it. This cruelty bleeds over into the rest of our culture, which is deeply unhealthy.

We hear on a daily basis about the stresses women are under to be beautiful. Although I have a certain amount of sympathy, I believe that the problem is overstated. I’ve known many women who didn’t even remotely approach the standards of conventional beauty, yet they were not only happy and confident, they had more men after them than they knew what to do with.

One was a girl with a port-wine stain that covered half her face. Boys always surrounded her, and after I met her and spent a few hours talking with her, I understood why. She was one of the most charismatic, sexy, beautiful women I’ve ever come across. Obviously she had fantastic parents. Good parenting is the answer to nearly all of our problems.

Something almost nobody talks about is that there’s no context for male beauty in either our popular or our general culture. Beautiful men are seen as effete, non-masculine, and somehow disreputable. On the one hand, their beauty draws the attention of the popular-culture factory—and therefore it draws our attention too—but then beautiful men are encouraged to destroy their beauty.

We’ve seen it happen too many times to count. Jan Michal Vincent before.

Jan Michael Vincent after.

Mel Gibson before.

Mel Gibson after.

Russel Crowe before.

Russell Crow after.

Axl Rose before.

Axl Rose after.

Alec Baldwin before.

Alec Baldwin after.

And, of course, Mickey Rourke before.

Mickey Rourke after.

They wrecked their beautiful faces mostly with booze, but also cigarettes, drugs, and cosmetic surgery.

“Why do you care?” you might ask. “They have millions of dollars and fame. And nobody forced them to destroy themselves.”

Well, we need to be consistent. If we’re concerned that culture can pressure women into harming themselves in order to conform to an arbitrary standard, then we should be concerned that men can be pressured as well. As I said before, good parenting can prevent this. Several of the men illustrated above have admitted to having endured horrendous childhoods. I’m betting all did.

Also, needless suffering makes me crazy. It always upset me, but after both my parents put themselves and their children through hell for no reason, I’m now a fanatic about calling out dysfunction that costs people their ability to achieve happiness. It goes far beyond rich actors. I was once very close to a beautiful man. Women commented on him all the time in my presence.

“He’s just like a doll!” one said. “His eyelashes are so long and pretty!”

After years of this, he began putting on weight. Today his diet consists of nothing but fast food. Women don’t even glance at him anymore. He got what he wanted.

Yet he’s miserable. His prior existence had no context in our culture; women drove him insane with their attention, so he metaphorically took a hammer to his beauty. Of course that was no answer. It actually made things worse.

“Look at this face,” Mel Gibson said during an interview with Dianne Sawyer. “It’s the face of a rummy.”

Beautiful men are seen as inauthentic. I know men who deliberately eat the fattiest foods they can, because they think that to care about their health and/or appearance is unmanly. They talk about “candy-ass gyms” and “rabbit food.” My father felt that way. Dad refused to exercise, ever. He drank up to two bottles of scotch a day and smoked as many as a hundred cigarettes. His diet was essentially nothing but saturated fats and sugar.

He was extremely handsome in his youth.


Here’s how he looked upon his departure from the planet.

Dad’s father Frank liked to “tease.” That’s what people called it. Dad called it “needling.” I call it sadism. Mom told me that Frank liked to tease Tim, Paul, and me when we were babies until we cried, so she had to figure out ways to keep him away from us. When Dad was around babies, he did this. I’m sure he got it from his own father.

Finally, I had to tell him very firmly to never do that again. This was after Dad made a baby scream in terror and hug me for protection.

“All right,” Dad said with a broad grin. “I won’t do it again. How’s that?

He was channeling Frank, I’m sure. The reason I feel sympathy for Dad is that I have what I’m positive is photographic evidence of how his life was. Here he is in 1945, at the age of seventeen. Frank took the photo.

In the fifty-one years I knew my father, he never once looked angry. This is the only time I’ve seen his face clouded with rage. At the risk of upsetting those who don’t like my suppositions, I think Frank needled Dad until he got that expression.

“Whatcha readin’? Some little-girl magazine with pictures of horsies and dollhouses? You’re my little girl, ain’tcha? That’s why you’re wearing a girl’s shirt with a square collar, ain’t it? Got your little girl socks and your little girl watch and your little girl shirt. You’re gonna make someone a fine little wife someday, aint’cha?”


I know the last sentence was uttered, because both Tim and I heard it from Dad ourselves. He liked to tease us about our masculinity, even though he threatened to beat me up if I didn’t shave off my mustache for my pre-high-school graduation photo. We compromised and took two sets of photos.

The de-mustached photos were for Dad’s relatives in Iowa, people I didn’t know at all and hadn’t seen in years. But Dad’s training was such that he worried what these strangers would think of him if his son had a filthy mustache. On the other hand, without my mustache I looked sorta girlie-pie, with real purty lips. Dad was in a pickle. Both sets of photos tortured him.

And that’s why I wrote about this issue. I can’t bear all the wreckage in the photos above, and I’ve personally known three men who suffered greatly because our culture can’t deal with male beauty.

It’s wrong, and it should stop.

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