How Art Has Depicted the Ideal Male Body throughout History
By Daniel Kunitz
In the history of masculinity, it is money rather than muscle that tends to be articulated. Class or status has been the determining factor in the defining of male exemplars. Be it in the East or West, the epitome of a handsome man has generally been an idealized version of an upper-class individual, an archetype that has itself changed over time.
Because of this, people in many cultures have confronted muscle—today more commonly understood as a symbol of virile masculinity—as a problem. For much of history, muscles have been seen as vulgar, meaty indicators of labor; rather than strength they have suggested oafishness or, at best, potentially deviant self-regard.
Even today, we’re not clear on whether muscle is an indication of health or narcissism, menace or manliness. (And on women, they present a whole other set of problems.) The ideal man—the gentle-man—has no muscles because he does no physical work; he is also pale, because he has not toiled in the sun; and he is tall because he is well-nourished...
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