Straight Men’s Standard of Beauty Being Shaped by Gay Men?

Posted on August 11, 2011 by

I know young woman, an acquaintance of my daughters since elementary,  who recently lost a great deal of weight. She needed to lose it, and she did. I don’t know how much she’s lost in total but if I had to venture a guess, I’d say it was at least 75 pounds. She works out twice a day, everyday, and is very careful about what passes through her lips.

She looks amazing but is still convinced that she isn’t thin enough. This, even though she’s developed muscular arms and a seriously flat stomach. The “problem” if you will, is that no matter how hard she works, her hips and thighs refuse to slim down to a size 6. It is a source of great distress to a young woman who is very attractive, smart and articulate.

She’s not the first young woman I’ve watched struggle needlessly with her perceived imperfections and I wondered how we got here. How normal women of healthy weight find themselves so frustrated with their bodies that they think every bump and curve is a sign of failure and/or worthlessness as a woman. Why do women increasingly view normal feminine physicality as something to panic about, as if it automatically symbolizes obesity. I’m not referring to genuine obesity which I, like most people, agree is unattractive and unhealthy.

I fail to understand why diversity is extolled in just about every area, but the door is shut when it comes to what makes a woman appealing. Why a one-size, size-one approach is something many young women feel they must conform to in order to feel attractive. Particularly when you consider that the fashion industry, the industry that bombards us with the images we internalize of feminine perfection and beauty, is dominated by gay men. This is a widely acknowledged fact in the fashion industry as illustrated by this excerpt from a New York Times article published in 2005:

At a cocktail party at Chelsea Piers on Sunday night, an annual Toys for Tots charity drive that draws a crowd of mostly gay men, the designer Peter Som wryly observed that there were so many designers, retail executives and publicists present that if the pier collapsed, “there would be no fashion industry tomorrow.”

The difference between their attitudes toward the gay male dominance of the fashion industry, a peculiar and widely acknowledged circumstance, illustrates a growing tension between those who feel they are discriminated against and those who feel somewhat favored by a perception, largely unexamined, that men are better designers than women, and gay men are the best designers of all.

My interest in this subject is not motivated by any bias against a fashion industry dominated by gay men, but rather, that we have never stopped to ask ourselves this question: Why on earth are straight men and women taking their cues about what makes a woman desirable from gay men?

Clearly, the anemic image of women with flat chests, chiseled features and thighs the size of arms resemble the physicality of prepubescent boys more than anything approaching adult femininity. In an industry largely driven by homosexual men, it makes sense that this would be the image thrust at us over and over as the feminine beauty ideal. Problem is that the last group we should be trusting to tell us what makes a woman attractive are men who don’t find women sexually appealing. And yet we’ve fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

With the occasional exception of curvaceous breasts in lingerie ads, you’d be hard-pressed to find images of real women presented as beautiful in most fashion magazines or on runways.

Of course the burning question is: Why do most people consider a “real woman?” I’ll leave that for the reader to decide, but I submit that it is probably much closer to Christina Hendricks than Kate Moss.

Posted in: Relationships