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Mar 7, 2013

The Beefcake Aesthetic -- YEA or NAY



Readers, honestly, is this your kind of thing?

I have always found physical culture -- pumping iron, oiling up your muscles, posing hairless in a thong -- to be a bit of a joke.  And it has nearly always been represented that way in pop culture: big beefy muscles = dumb cluck.  The stuff of high camp.

Name that Mae West catastrophe!



I was perusing this Pinterest board the other day (and all Philip's boards are fun, imo), and I couldn't help wondering what this bodybuilding-taken-to-the-extreme thing is all about?  Who are these guys and what are they doing it for?

I came up with the following:

1) There's the whole "90 lb. weakling" thing -- the kid who got sand kicked in his face who swore he'd show them who's a sissy!  Charles Atlas, I'm yours!



2) On a related note, I've always suspected that men who work out to this extent are trying to prove something -- not so much to women as to other men (and perhaps themselves).  Let's call it "masculinity anxiety."

Future Hercules, Steve Reeves.



3) Some of it probably comes out of the original health craze of the early-to-mid-Twentieth Century, John Harvey Kellogg, Gayelord Hauser, all the way up to Jack LaLanne and the Arnold.  This began back when nobody worked out or worried about their fat intake and the few gyms around were for physical culture enthusiasts rather than yuppies.

Parenthetically, does anybody say yuppies anymore?





As fewer men held manual jobs, there was less overall fitness in the population (though probably greater than today since there was no fast food and most people had to actually walk places) and some of this was in response to those social changes.

What's interesting is that, in Hollywood, "he-men" actors rarely gained fame beyond the sword-and-sandal gladiator movies or other Saturday morning kiddie films, the target audience being 14-year old boys (which is the target audience for nearly ALL mainstream movies today).

 



Most female audiences were more interested in romantic, generally clothed, heartthrobs like Tyrone Power and Robert Taylor, whose bodies were basically normal.  One possible exception: Victor Mature, a cinematic Samson even in his Betty Grable musicals.



As you can see, I'm more a Tyrone Power.  (Who just laughed?  Why I oughta'...)

It's hard to look hunky in vintage Forties underwear.

Readers, what are your thoughts about all this?  Do well-oiled male muscles in spandex thongs turn you on?  Do you pursue a similar physique yourself? 

And who watches those greasy Mr. Universe competitions -- do you?

The beefcake aesthetic -- YEA or NAY?



69 comments:

  1. Nay. It actually makes me a little queasy. There's an actor in a television show -- Bones -- who has an obviously well worked out chest/arms/torso area. Most of the time they dress him in suits and it's okay. But occasionally he'll be in an undershirt or have his shirt entirely off and it makes me reel a little. Like if you saw a picture of a head wound or a broken bone. Ugh. I have the heebie jeebies now!

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  2. Well-oiled men in spandex thongs don't do a thing for this lady. I've got a total menswear fetish - give me a man in a three-piece suit and fedora over a nearly naked one any day of the week. And the really buffed up guys like you've shown here - they tend to look pretty silly in clothes.

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  3. In the 80's these sort of hypermasculine images were the norm, look at any Arnold or Stalone movie. They are totally ripped and hairless. I grew up thinking that hard work would turn me into that. I've now come to realize they all used steroids! This actually profoundly affected my own body image. Now at the age of 36, I still struggle with my body image. I spent a lot of time working out, dieting, shaving and waxing, and even getting a fake tan to try to become the muscle man of from these movies. Now, I've sort of split the difference, I like a guy who is well worked out with a little sun, and I do not like the whole hairless look. I've kind of become a bit of a muscle bear which is ok in my book.

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  4. Perhaps beefcakes get that treatment in Hollywood because most filmmakers were 90 lb. weaklings who got sand kicked in their face?

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    1. LOL -- you may have a point there, Sara!

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  5. I like the look of muscular men, however I like it to be a healthy muscular like they play sports/work outside/work out etc. Not steroid induced look or weight lifter look, oiled and speedos. So there could be a fine line, but it is all in how it is presented (and personality of said person).

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    1. That's interesting Brandy. I have heard that from so many straight female friends (I am a gay male who does appreciate muscle and huge bodybuilders) consistently that they don't appreciate huge bulging muscles, especially veiny steroided types. If anything, most hetero women like muscular, lean bodies, athletic types, with muscular definition. The only attention these straight bodybuilders are gaining is from other straight men (admirers?) and gay men who lust after them, LOL. If these straight men are doing it for the women, they are in for a surprise. LOL ;)

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  6. Nay, when I look at these pictures, all I can think about is those enormous cattle with that genetic defect. I think they're called "belgian blue". They look ridiculously puffed up and clumsy.

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  7. In the olden days, when they were a bit more natural and a bit less steroidal, they looked ok for the he-man movie parts. BTW in think YUPPIE-s have aged out and now they are MUPPIE-s (Middleaged urban professional)

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  8. You missed a piece - American superheroes are drawn this way too and are internalized at a very young age (as are the female superheroes, but that's another blog post).

    My friend's dad is one of the strongest people I know. He's barrel-chested with Popeye arms and builds houses. He can raise a wall by himself through cleverness and sheer strength. The bodybuilding stuff is what my friends and I call "all show and no go." If you don't get ripped by doing actual activity, it's not necessarily useful.

    Husband is a big dude from playing a lot of sports in high school in college. It's softened nicely around the edges now. :)

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    1. I think those superhero toys might be more of an influence on boys. I never had toys like that growing up. Just compare Ken from 1962 to dolls today: much beefier.

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  9. Ugh, that look is the opposite of sex-ay. But I always remember that Arnold Schwarzenegger body built his way out of Austria, leaving his miserable, brutal childhood behind.

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  10. I (female) personally like the healthy look of well-defined muscles but not the starved, extreme, ripped look of bodybuilders. MMA athletes and hockey players are more to my taste.

    However, in my personal life, I could not care less. The man in my life is a bigger version of you, Peter !

    Eve

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  11. Nope. Was never a fan of what my mother referred to as the "sack of doorknobs" physique. Toned is good and muscular is good, but the condition should appear as if it was created by good old healthy living and not so much found in a syringe or slaving at the gym. Now, grant you, I am neither of those things...but one can always aspire.

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  12. Nay. I once actually "dated" a guy like that, and by dating I don't necessarily mean going out to dinner. Anyway, he WAS compensating for something...

    I'm not at all into that big "gym" look. Seems like there is something about trying that hard that reduces one's "coolness" and to me a certain nonchalance is really sexy. Like you're sexy just because you were born that way, not because you have to TRY or anything. (I know it's nonsense, just like for most women-- but enjoy the illusion. ;) )

    But I think a lot of American guys (esp straight ones) could stand more physical culture in their lives and less beer and TV: maybe they could accidentally achieve that golden mean, in striving to get ripped! ;) Or maybe the unrealistic campiness helps put them off altogether, hadn't really ever thought about that... hmmm

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  13. Modern day body builder gross me out. I don't like the uber fake tan they sport which can't be healthy. I imagine putting so many chemicals into your skin can't be good for the body or skin. Then the super-gross veins those men are so proud of are creepy and disgusting. Like some icky worm is crawling around in there.
    My hubby is chubby and I like him that way. Fit men are good to look at and admire but I like my men more down to Earth.

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  14. Nay all the way! I've never liked the muscled look, maybe because all my teenage idols were angst-ridden skinny musicians. I side with the menswear camp: give me a nice man in a good suit please!

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  15. Anyway, Peter, I think you look great in your underwear (feel a lil weird about saying that, ha)

    But definitely that is sexier than the guy on the front of the Jockey package!

    hehe, "package"

    ok, now I will stop being inappropriate

    for five minutes

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  16. I've yet to meet a straight woman (or gay man, for that matter) who find that sort of muscle-bound physique appealing. Surely there are some out there, but I think it's a bit of fringe thing. To each his own.

    That's a "nay" from me. But as Frank N. Furter says, "I didn't make him for you!" LOL..

    Now, off to listen to The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack... ; )

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    1. haha... That's what I wanted to do immediately after reading this post! Don't dream it, BE IT!

      btw, i say nay to huge muscles. i admire a physically fit figure, but once you cross that "too much" threshold, both men and women look utterly ridiculous.

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  17. OMG--Nay!

    The truth is that muscle-boundness is mostly for guys. Specifically, for the guy who is musclebound. What it says to most women is, "Here is a guy who is totally wrapped up in himself, his body, and getting attention. You will always be a shiny accessory, not a real priority."

    I appreciate a guy who takes reasonable care of himself but this look is a turn-off. Also: I like more-or-less natural body hair on a guy. The slick look weirds me out.

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  18. I'm female, and I find these images to be a bit repulsive. It seems like bodybuilding is to men as eating disorders are to women. Being a 90-pound weakling is the goal of runway models everywhere!

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  19. SeamsterEast@aol.comMarch 7, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    Weeeellll, let me offer a bit of insight from a different perspective. I once owned a company selling mail order muscle building courses, similar to Charles Atlas (which is STILL in business BTW). I sold courses to 13 yo boys and 74 yo men. I even sold a course into Moscow Soviet Union (how he found my ad, I have no idea).

    Several things. Two customers were women, each who wanted to be a better competitive athlete. All else were men, most between 15 and 25.

    Far and away, most appeared to be straight (people's lifestyle choices are of no concern to me). Probably about 80%. About the same as the Marine Corps when I was in it.

    Some wanted to "get big enough" to stop home abuse.

    Most wanted to look attractive to potential lovers (plural).

    Many -- FAR too many -- were emotional basket cases who needed to control their lives in the world they lived. That was sad to see, and I was glad to be able to help them. A couple were suicidal.

    But far and away most just wanted to improve their chances of finding better looking lovers. Mostly that meant looking a better athlete than the men they were competing against to get good looking lovers.

    Do muscles bring offers from better looking lovers? Good God do they!! Anyone doubts that, all they need do is attend ANY Mr Muscle Builder contest. The eye candy watching the competitors is beyong belief. The ONLY place I have EVER seen more and better eye candy was in the paddocks ("pits") of sports car races.

    The complaint that "too much" muscles is "gross" has been raised seemingly forever, going back at least to when Charles Atlas was a young man (hundred years ago). Yet, yet, yet, you never see a muscled man without an eager lover close at hand. Sorta like you never see an ugly woman in a red Corvette.

    Steroids? Men on steroids develop a prominent ridge over their eyes across their face. Supposedly, their testicles also shrink to the size of peanuts, their libido following.

    I once knew a man who played NFL football for 15 years back in the days of leather helmets. At age 90, his cancer returned. His doctor gave him meds to control it, saying meds wouldn't affect his lifestyle at all. The guy complained the doctor lied to him because he couldn't lift weights anymore. He was married to the same woman for 68 years.

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  20. Taken to the extreme with oil and serious maintenance? Uh, no. However, I do like David Boreanez-level bulk. A nice deep chest and wide shoulders make me swoon.

    Major cuts and veins? Ew. Feed him a sandwich and fill that out a bit, why don't we?

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  21. Nay. Beefcake is a sign that the man thinks about his packaging way too much. Uninteresting in both men and women.

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  22. Eww I think it was Clive James who aptly described that look as 'a brown condom full of walnuts'....? I much prefer the svelte chap in the vintage underwear!

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  23. I am on the nay side as well. I don't find the look attractive in men or women, but mainly I prefer that kind of time and attention to be spent on MOI, rather than working out.

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  24. No. Not an aesthetic that does much for me.

    If I'm going to go for a muscled type, it's more the musculature of a dancer or gymnast. Well-muscled, but not overdeveloped.

    In general, though, it doesn't matter much to me.

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  25. Nay. Generally, I'm not even into the look of more beefed out men that aren't at the bodybuilder level.

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  26. NAY! The steroidal look (and after-effects) are not pretty.

    Being hairless is seemingly effeminate, and for most men, a job unto itself.

    To each their own.

    Natural, whatever that is, tends to be the "sexy" we all possess.

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  27. Nay. I think it looks unnatural, and they do not have full range of motion. Who wants to date someone always posing and looking at their reflection. Plus, the amount of time dedicated to their diet and exercise is too much for me. To be more concerned about it than I am is a turn off.

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  28. NAY. I've always found overdeveloped physiques to be vaguely nauseating. Maybe I'm just weird that way, I don't know. But, having seen quite a few nudes in my life as an art student, I can honestly say that people in general look better with clothes! While people with those kinds of physiques are interesting to draw and sculpt (if I dug out some of my portfolios, I could scan charcoal drawings) I just don't like it!

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  29. OK, I'm the exception that proves the rule. I find bodybuilders fascinating to look at, esp the ones who haven't bulked up using megasteroids. It's like watching a stage full of unicorns: exotic and otherworldly, just familiar enough to be recognized but off the edge. I'll take the Chas Atlas man, thanks.

    Now, any thoughts on the young men doing the 6 weeks extreme exercise regimes?

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  30. It doesn't turn me on, and this from someone who lived with a body builder. So often the proportions of bodybuilders look grotesque. It is a very artificial look. What is interesting is that if a man has confidence and seems powerful and charming, his height or his build becomes irrelevant. What looks incredibly attractive to me is a man is a beautifully cut suit. Think of the Eli Gold character from The Good Wife, who is certainly no beefcake, but who manages to convey power, charm, wit, aggression and sex appeal, all through an awesomely tailored suit jacket!

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  31. As a younger woman, I associated the beefcake with no brains, although I did go out with a big research scientist once. I have always been drawn more to the Mr Punyverses of this world!

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  32. The huge muscles are not super appealing, but on the other hand, have you seen what Sean Connery looked like in his younger, body-building days??:

    http://img.izismile.com/img/img5/20121206/640/proof_that_sean_connery_was_once_a_bodybuilder_640_03.jpg

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    1. Love Sean's friend in pic number four.

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    2. Yeah, but what we love about Sean is his voice, not his body. That's why an elderly man still has women (and some men) swooning over him!

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  33. When I was younger I worked for a former bodybuilder at a health food stand at our local farmer's market (I know, pretty weird first job) and while I would never say that a bodybuilder physique was ANYTHING I was attracted to in a man, I think working around this culture gave me more insight into it than just saying "beefcake = dumb" In fact, when I was getting my Master of Fine Arts I did a whole series of works revolving around Arnold in his bodybuilding days. I find it similar to many subcultures, with it's own set of highly aestheticized rules. My husband is far from bodybuilder, but I don't ever think it's fair to write off a physical culture as weird or gross just because it doesn't line up with your ideas of "normal".

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  34. Maybe I'm just eclectic. I loved Steve Reeves when I was a little kid. I thought men should run around without shirts and wear sandals like him in all those myth movie reruns. But then I also thought Wally Cox was cute. The last 30 years of body building has been beyond humanly possible without steroids and I don't find that esthetic attractive.

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  35. Nope! I was hugged once by a muscle-bound man, and I could swear I was hugging rock. Yep, just that cuddly ... not!

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  36. I used to take courses at a community college in Manhattan. The school would rent out the auditorium on weekends to outside organizations as a venue for their events. One of these groups was an association of male and female body builders. I remember coming through the lobby and seeing dozens of ripped, pumped, waxed, tanned, and bikini clad muscle bodies. All I could think of was a group of pumped up roast chickens. Big breasts and thighs perched on tiny little feet. I overheard a conversation between two competitors, discussing posing techniques. I assumed it was two men due to the low range of the voices. When I turned around I saw two women in macrame bikinis, who looked as thought they had basted themselves with Meltonian brown shoe polish. Clearly they had been dosing themselves with steroids and pumping to achieve the greatest mass possible. They had effectively distorted any trace of their natural feminine form. Freakish, comical, yes. Sexy was not the word I would apply to any of these people.

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  37. My husband is a rock climber so he is quite muscly but at the same time he is quite lean!I have never understood the body builder type,what are they trying to prove???plus I like a little body hair on men

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  38. Nay!

    Is that Mae West catastrophe "Sextette"?

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  39. I have a friend who is 6'7" and VERY well built, though not a bodybuilder as such.He is into medieval swordfighting with REAL steel and REAL armour, so he keeps himself in top shape. His proportions are damn near perfect!. Once I went to drop something off at his place, and he answered the door in his spandex workout gear; he had been lifting weights when I showed up. He was pumped to a fare-thee-well; he looked just like a comic-book superhero! I took one look at him and then had to look away; he was just TOO, TOO HOT! I would have been reduced to a gibbering idiot if I had continued to stare at him! As it was, I could hardly focus, my eyes kept wanting to go back to staring avidly at all that hunkaliciousness , and I had to practically keep them manually turned away!

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  40. I use to go to the nudie beach in Australia. The well built men who were the body building type seemed to have under developed parts and if they were trying to impress then it wasn't working. The tall skinny lanky men seemed to be the ones that were well built in other areas. Of course not that I looked that hard, I was there with my boyfriend (no husband) but sometimes you couldn't help notice.

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  41. No thanks. First, it doesn't appeal to me aesthetically. Second, the time and risky health practices invested to make oneself look like that -- I just don't think I'd have much in common with anyone with that pursuit. And hey, couldn't they iron the rumpled sheet for the table that naked guy is posing on?

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  42. I like a guy who's got some muscle but not overdeveloped. My husband is a judo black belt so has the muscle, but isn't overdone, I'm happy about that.

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    1. My sweetheart is a jujutsu black belt and so also has athletic muscles developed from use, not going to the gym - the ideal look as far as I am concerned. The gym kind of muscle, and the body builder aesthetic just doesn't appeal to me.

      I'd love to get my man into your fantastic vintage ensemble, Peter!

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  43. While beefcake of the kind you are discussing does nothing for me, I do like a nice male chest, whether hairy or smooth, with a hint of muscle. And on the principle that a bit of décolletage is often sexier going topless, I particularly like a nice chap in a singlet (or yes in a woven cotton undershirt). A gay male colleague and I were chatting recently with a young female student and somehow the topic of male bodies on film came up. When both us oldies moaned “Brando in ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ in that singlet ooh yes” the poor child nearly choked on her cappuccino.

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  44. NAY. ALL I see is vanity, and vanity is never sexy.

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  45. Having spent some of my life with one of those bodybuilders, I can tell you they have serious problems finding clothes that fit. No steroids,only incessant gym sessions that dont do much for a relationship. AND, man can they eat!

    The guy in the vintage undies has really nice arms,a great smile and is cute as a button.

    I've dated every body type out there at this point. There's something for everyone. A furry chest will get me to drool every time. Plucked chickens dont'do anything.ICK

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  46. First, thanks for the beefcake! I guess I'm in the minority here. I'm an ex-gym rat and body builder of sorts. Though I wasn't blessed with the genetics for competition and really enjoyed the sport. Met my husband at the gym. I worked out with body builders and enjoyed watching the competitions. Of course most the people in my gyum did not use steroids so they were not as extreme looking as The Arnold. So why would 'they' build their bodies to this extreme? Two reasons, they have the genetic gift of a good frame and muscles that respond to weight training. And second and most importantly these people are very competitive. If you were to interview a body builder you would find they are involved in another competitive activity of some type. A very driven personality are the ones who succeed in transforming their bodies to beefcake.

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  47. Too much manscaping, too much tanning, and too much compensation (for other things).

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  48. I'm a big fan of the muscled athletic look. You can pretty much tell when steroids are involved and it's a big turn off because unless there's a medical need guys don't need them.
    In a way it's similar to the theory that women dress for other women - my add on is that men get bulked up for other men. Whether to intimidate or compensate or whatever.
    I personally have a muscular build thanks to years of working out - and while it's fine for the beach it makes fitting into ready-to-wear clothes a joke. I'm not steroidally enhanced - I just have big shoulders and a big chest and am fit.

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  49. I agree with Robert. It is good to be fit and it probably is for a bit of male competition. It also shows some respect for your body if you don't let your belly get large. It's usually a win/win for mental and physical health.

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  50. Don't tell me none of these guys were using

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  51. I generally don't go for the super muscular look, and don't think these guys look hot in the corny poses, but I always thought young Arnie was a honey when dressed. And I love Pumpin' Iron. It's hilarious. "You look like somethin' Michelangelo cut out."

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  52. The excessively muscular look has always been a little creepy to me. But being fit is nice - it shows you care about your body and you willing to work hard at something you care about. I prefer the slim and toned look - on my yoga instructor. LOL!

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  53. I totally agree that bodybuilding carried too far can be creepy, but there is a point at which muscularity can be hotter than hot. The leading exemplar of perfection was, in my opinion, Ed Fury. Fury, born Edward Holovchik, is still with us, but the '50s were his era. He did it all - movies, physique magazines and more. Use Google Images sometime to feast your eyes on him - but do it alone, because Ed didn't mind going the full monty, and you don't need the boss catching you ogling that, LOL.

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    1. Thanks for the google suggestion. Mr. Fury at 70 isn't bad either.

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    2. P.S.: Fury's tush was nothing short of staggering. Again, hie thee thither to Google Images, and prepare to exclaim "Good golly Miss Molly!"

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  54. No....but the lean muscular Ryan Reynolds---oh MOMMA!

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  55. All men should be just like you!

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  56. My brother is on his way to beefcake. He seriously enjoys it! And I think his reason, from observing him quite closely, is 1) it's fun and 2) he likes the muscle aesthetic. He thinks it looks good, therefore strives for it. When I think about it that's why a lot of sewists go for certain styles (like vintage) isn't it?

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  57. I have a thing for the skinny, geeky man. Fortunately, I found one who likes me!
    ~Sarah B

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  58. not all exceptionally muscular people use steroids. your ability to bulk is defined by hormone levels (i.e. testosterone) and genetics (i.e. the shape of your muscles).

    i'm female and i weight lift (i do crossfit) and i love it. it's way more grounding and calming than yoga. not to mention how good it is for you in terms of increasing bone density, cardio work, and your overall metabolism, etc.

    do i find muscular men (and women) attractive? yep, absolutely. provided it's the result of hard work and a good diet, and not steroids.

    i respect hard work and commitment, however it manifests.

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