One look at the cover of Men’s Fitness January issue and I already feel exceptionally unfit. The cover displays Matt Bomer’s thick arms and chiseled (is it cliché to say chiseled?) abs through a soaking wet white t-shirt, and his ‘hors de série physique’ is boarded by all caps texts that read “NEW YEAR: NEW BODY! GET BACK IN SHAPE!”, “THE 7% BODY FAT DIET!”, and of course “(MUCH) HOTTER SEX THIS YEAR!”–the last of which earned me a sententious look from my cashier at Rite Aide. I immediately responded by predicting fictitious encounters surrounding the magazine:
“Hey, Dan! Oh…trying to get fit for the New Year?? ;)”
“Actually, I’m using this as research for a new piece.”
“Sure. Matt Bomer’s abs are really going to help you out with that later.”
Needless to say, I asked for a bag.
I’m home and flipping through the magazine’s, aggressively advertised, content and it doesn’t take me long to spot a few trends in the formatting. Font: traditional Times New Roman. Column size: super thin, averaging 4 words a line (quite apropos for the issue’s theme). Headings: colored, bolded, and multitudinous. The magazine comprises of advertisements, different “chapters” of themed tips and practical knowledge categorized as “Breakthroughs” and “Game Changers”, more advertisements, features writing, and high-def pictures of sweaty/muscular men.
I look through the Features section of the Table of Contents to find out what page the profile of Matt Bomer is on. When I finally find it (preceded by a “Sexual Peak Performance” advertisement) I skim through, reading the first lines of several paragraphs, and it becomes clear that I am not feeling the piece. “‘Aren’t you on TV?’ asks a clerk inside…the Oak Tree Gun Club.” A guy in a gun club, what virility. “…Bomer is preposterously handsome in person.” Like I needed you to tell me that. “At lunch, Bomer orders light…” Oh. Would you expect him to order a cheeseburger during his interview for a fitness magazine? Also, why is he wet in all of these pictures??
I try again and go back to the ToC. As it turns out, the “Game Changers” section seems like a more concise version of the features, so I flip to page 28 to read about “Arms: Sleeve-ripping abs!” As I’m turning pages, I think about the nonsensicalness of the subheading (…perhaps the Table of Contents editor needs a lesson in anatomy?), and when I arrive at my decided page, a photo of an armpit hair-less/shaven model with his (bulging) arms lifted up on either side of his head grasping the rope to some form of exercise equipment occupies the entire complimentary page. I stop and admire how well balanced the photo is–kudos to the photographer–and that the white background kind of elevates the model to a kind of black-fitness-model-Jesus status who has come down from the heavens to personally teach little-feeble-writer-me how to hold a dumbbell (quite aptly named… those things are so versatile! The possibilities can truly make one feel dumb). When I look over to the instructional side of the spread, I find that I am overcome by an unfamiliar feeling…is it physical motivation?
The content of this instructional “Game Changer” is designed to be succinct and clear (excluding the preface which reads as a half-assed attempt to combat the stereotypical title “Meatheads”, arguing that you must approach workouts with the same “cunning” and “savvy” of a scientist). In fact, I am amazed by how much they fit onto one page. I haven’t read more than 100 words and I’ve already accumulated the know-how to achieve “Big Arms in 8 Weeks”, make “Every Rep Count”, and optimize “muscle fiber recruitment”. None of which were tidbits I would have ever researched otherwise.
I leaf through the rest of the magazine and I am increasingly aware of the audience they are targeting. “Men’s Fitness” might suggest a following of die-hard fit fanatics who want to dynamize their workouts, but this magazine is catered to the most naïve and novice of this sect–there is even a four-page spread devoted to “The Beginner’s Guide to Ripped”. The word choice is basic, and the sentences are short; after all, they didn’t include a column in the “Breakthroughs” section titled “Bring your Dictionary to the Gym!”. Yet, I find that instead of targeting the dumb(bells) of the gym, they might actually be targeting young adults without realizing it. If I were an insecure and impressionable teenager (a part of my past that I am not going to revisit at this point in time), Men’s Fitness would be a great place to learn more about my body and how to take care of it. They touch on all primary bases: nutrition, exercise, and, especially, sex.
Speaking of which, the publication opens with a (sort of) foreword by David J Pecker of American Media, Inc (I’m sure he receives plenty of “fan” mail with interpretations of his last name). In this, he writes “if your belly’s a tad too round and squishy for your liking (or for your partner’s)…” his orientation inclusive language begs the question, what is the role of a men’s health publication in terms of sexuality? Gay men are just as committed to physical well-being as straight men, (i.e. Matt Bomer) and the use of the word “partner” in the foreword of this issue seems to acknowledge this. Surely the magazine staff knew that of the men purchasing the magazine, most of them would probably be gay men–Bomer is somewhat of an icon in the gay community right now. Gay or straight, the reader of the magazine is inundated with homoerotic images of men consistently throughout, and it seems as though that in certain sections of the magazine the staff starts to overcompensate for this.
For example, the entire piece of the “Relationship” section is devoted to hetero-relationships- which blatantly ignores an entire group of the probable market for this very issue. This group is also predictably ignored in the sexually explicit column “Sex Files” as well (“…you or she could rub her clitoris while she’s riding you.”). Although not as graphic, the “Hot seat” section of the magazine is just as hetero-pushy. The piece is essentially one blown-up photo of a half naked Natalie Martinez with the tiniest text printed on the right margin of the page. Ironically, the sultry photo is captioned “Growing up around strong Latina women, it’s what I know. Strength is attractive.”. Precisely. Nothing says female strength like sexy poses and physical objectification. To be fair, Matt Bomer’s photo spread is hyper-sexualized as well, yet he’s still technically wearing his shirt.
Indeed, young teenage boys (the ideal audience) are pistons aimed and loaded with sexual frustration, but why does a fitness magazine have to include this heteronormative precedent on sex and relationships? Unless they have some sex oriented workout, it seems as if the cliché tips (“Dirty talk can work if she’s not feeling sexy, but sweet talk’s a better bet.”) are unnecessary, at least in this issue. Especially since we know that Matt Bomer won’t be massaging his husband’s clitoris during sex.
In short, a Men’s Fitness issue is homoerotic, but forcibly hetero; simply written, but directly articulated; provocatively coined, but excessively captioned; and useful, but only if you’re in need of a handbook to functioning as healthy human being.
As I put the magazine down on my coffee table, an index card sized piece of paper slips out, falling onto the carpet at my feet. They’ve printed a black and white image of an anonymous sinewy abdomen (your future body, if you subscribe!). Each portion of the rectus abdominis is sharply defined, and the belly button tucks in as if being painfully squeezed out of its own hole. The top of the card reads, “It’s crunch time. Save 80%”. I roll my eyes at the pun. No thank you, Mr. Pecker! One Men’s Fitness issue down and I think I’ve had my fill.