'Spornosexuality': an evolution step backwards for men
The rise of 'spornosexual' man is a triumph for narcissism, but anyone familiar with Wilde's Dorian Gray knows you should never prioritise looks over character.
Former rugby international Thom Evans in a campaign for D. Hedral Photo: D. Hedral
BY TIM STANLEY
Spornosexual. It sounds like something Japanese businessmen might watch (featuring naked girls and fish), but actually it’s the latest fad in male beauty. Mark Simpson, the man who defined metrosexuality, writes that the bodies of the latest generation of muscle-bound boys, “have become the ultimate accessories, fashioning them at the gym into a hot commodity – one that they share and compare in an online marketplace.” Alas, what seems to turn some fashion editors on only turns my stomach.
Capitalism’s ability to sell an image of ourselves that compels us to buy its products is astonishing. It has transformed our bodies into accessories. Women have had to endure this commercialisation for years, but for men the “fun” started in the 1990s with the rise of the metrosexuals – fellas who seemed to imagine that wearing a necklace made them feminists or even a little bit gay. But, in defence of metrosexuality, at least that trend was all about remaking yourself to be attractive to others. It was innately social. By contrast, the spornosexual is really only interested in how they look to themselves – it is narcissistic. By toning and perfuming and recording every ripple with Facebook selfies, they’ve converted their bodies into their own masturbatory aids.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good; I will admit to having applied the odd dash of E45 myself. It’s also nice to know that men now feel as duty bound to be as attractive to women as women have often worked to be attractive to men. The age of Old Spice is behind us. No longer can a man assume that women can’t say no to a bushy moustache and a body that smells of beer and chip fat.
But prioritising looking good above having brains, and then spending hours admiring the result in the mirror, is not a sign of gender equality or social progress. It isn’t egalitarian that our modern icons are the TOWIE boys or some bloke on YouTube who talks breathlessly about Madonna with his top off. Social media has elevated the talentless into D-list celebrity aristocrats, whose perfection, by implication, makes the rest of us feel like ugly serfs. Yet can it be right that men are now being advised by the magazines and style gurus to admire and model themselves on people with all the charm and wit of a shaved gorilla?
Not only is it not right, but it’s positively perverse in an Age of Austerity that demands greater awareness of the pitfalls of consumerism and a greater spirit of social engagement. Yet Mark Simpson seems to celebrate the victory of money and trash: “Celebrity culture with its Darwinian struggle to be noticed in a visual, 'branded' world finally blew away the remnants of Victorianism,” he tells us from the barricades. Narcissism, he suggests, is the enemy of Victorian prudery and he assumes that “Wilde might have approved” of a world in which men seek to be porn stars in their own lifetime.
How wrong he is. True, Oscar Wilde said that beauty was higher than genius because it requires no explanation. But the TOWIE fans should pick up a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which they would discover that Wilde’s commitment to aesthetics is not without moral limits or even censoriousness. The writer once summed up the book’s message thus: “All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment.” Dorian Gray – forever youthful, presumably forever buff – is so absorbed with his outward appearance that his inner-conscience withers. His soul dies long before his body does: he is a spiritless husk. And isn’t this a rather apt metaphor for what spornosexuality encourages? When people seek physical perfection for its own sake, then character – which is truly the most beautiful thing of all – corrodes.