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The accepted ideal of male beauty is constantly shifting, from plus size to silver fox. Myra Ali explores the world of the really, really good-looking.

What makes a man attractive – or beautiful? In previous decades, the most famous icons of Western male beauty were a relatively small group – blue-eyed movie stars like Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio come to mind. However, as the film and fashion industries embrace greater diversity and global brands recognise the importance of representation, the idea of what the “perfect” male looks like is evolving.

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The idealised standard of the sculpted male shape has rarely reflected the average man’s body all over the world. However, social-media apps such as TikTok are assisting in changing male beauty standards by showcasing men who would not have otherwise had a platform. Ben James, a British model, body-positive activist, and TikTok star, is changing the way we perceive larger men. As a plus-sized model, he appeared alongside other diverse models in an advertising campaign for clothing brand Simply Be in 2019. He has also worked with Ted Baker and Asos. James tells BBC Cuture that his work “gives comfort and confidence to boys and men alike, it tells them that they are wanted and they are worthy”.

Stereotypical male aesthetics are no longer the ideal for younger people. Generation Z champion androgyny – Alexander Edmonds

While plus-sized female stars like Lizzo and model Ashley Graham have been widely celebrated, their male counterparts have received less attention. However, Rihanna’s lingerie line Savage Fenty has recently helped to normalise and give a platform to larger men. Is this the beginning of the democratisation of male beauty? Ben James puts it this way: “I’d like to see the industry improved by utilising different body shapes in previously unseen ways. Why can’t a ‘dad bod’ appear in a fragrance campaign or play the lead in a film? The emphasis must shift away from these unnaturally sculpted physiques that even the actors can’t maintain “.

“Due to the legacy of slavery and colonialism, [Western] images of the beautiful man have always been very white, and in the past, there were fewer barriers for this to change, but this may be happening now,” says Alexander Edmonds, professor of anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. Black supermodels like Tyson Beckford and Alton Mason grace the covers of GQ and other magazines on a regular basis, and the fashion world is gradually becoming more diverse, perhaps in part because global social changes like the Black Lives Matter movement have made brands recognise the need for diversity.

“Stereotypical male aesthetics and behaviours are shifting,” Edmonds says. “Generation Z champions androgyny, but they are no longer ideal for younger people. This is common in East Asia, particularly in South Korean pop culture “. With the rise of K-Pop bands like BTS, known for their vibrant hair and make-up, the ideal in South Korea has become more feminine. This kind of beauty would be considered unconventional by traditional Western standards, but it is now highly sought after and influential in mainstream media.

East Asian beauty standards, like those of any other ethnicity, are diverse. Dae Na, a Korean-American model, says: “When I first started, there were only a few Asian models, but now there are many. It just kind of grew exponentially as the industry shifted more toward Asian buyers or [the] Asian market “. ,,, of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people of the people. 

Super duper

Male supermodels appear to be catching up to their female counterparts’ success and earning power in recent years. Ralph Lauren hired US model Tyson Beckford to be the face of the brand, and he has since become the most famous black male supermodel of all time. Meanwhile, model Sean O’Pry has carved out a career spanning more than 15 years, making him one of the world’s richest male supermodels. Originally from a small town in Georgia, the United States, he arrived in New York at the age of 17 with only $150 in his pocket and went on to secure exclusive contracts with major brands.

Taylor Swift cast O’Pry as her love interest in her 2014 Blank Space video, which catapulted him to international fame. “It’s my most well-known moment,” O’Pry tells BBC Culture. “After that, my career took a different path. It provided me with more opportunities. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.” He has kept a high profile by appearing on numerous magazine covers over the years. How did he accomplish this? “In this industry, you must maintain your humility. I’m competing against people who all look the same – dark hair, blue eyes. I’m up against guys who look exactly like me, and you have to be able to distinguish yourself. That’s part of who you are on set, as well as how you act and present yourself. I didn’t try to make my face look any particular way. This position sort of fell into my lap.”

Despite growing diversity, the traditional Mediterranean “tall, dark, and handsome” type remains popular. The phrase first appeared in Europe in the early 1900s, and it became popular in Hollywood in the 1920s to describe Italian star Rudolph Valentino. Although the exact meaning and inference of “tall, dark, and handsome” is now more closely scrutinised and debated, the idiom has remained popular. “Mediterranean men have a huge advantage in having dark brows and dark facial hair,” anthropologist Shafee Hassan tells BBC Culture. You can grow a full beard… dark hair is associated with virility”. Michele Morrone, an Italian actor, is stunning by these standards. Puglia, in Southern Italy, He was working as a gardener in Rome and auditioning for acting roles until last year. When he was cast as the lead in the Netflix film 365 Days, which became one of the most-watched films on the platform in 2020, his life changed overnight. He portrays the smouldering Mafia boss Massimo, a fantasy figure for his legions of fans.

Morrone explains to BBC Culture: “I can’t deny that my looks helped me get the part because I resemble Massimo, who is tall and has brown hair. But would it be the same if they cast a different actor? You can have the look, but if you can’t dance…” Morrone claims that he initially struggled to find acting work because of his appearance. “It’s extremely difficult for a good-looking guy to get work as a serious actor because people believe that you shouldn’t be this good looking to be an actor. I’m not sure why they have this idea. I had a casting every week for ten years and never got any roles.”

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