After several years of overexposure (mostly courtesy of topless Grindr profile photos), my body's going undercover: From now on, unless I'm in the shower or just getting out of it, I'm keeping my shirt on. I'm officially hiding my upper torso away. This should be a lot easier to do since I've deleted Grindr from my phone. Now I can go back to presenting myself to the world (and being appreciated) the way God intended, fully clothed.
This newly emergent sense of modesty isn't just about my disillusionment with being judged purely for the physical. Frankly, I'm over abs -- my own and everyone else's. It's not that I have anything against six-packs on those who are blessed with them. (I'm generally a few beers short myself.) I'm just tired of having them constantly shoved in my face. (No offense, Nick Jonas!) They've become the male equivalent of boobs on women, only ladies, for the most part, are still expected to keep those particular physical assets mostly covered.
Meanwhile, modesty and mystique seem to have lost their sex appeal. You know how some say the sexiest people are the ones who don't know it? One could say the same thing about attractive people, too: The more oblivious to it you seem to be, the more attractive you become. Why doesn't that apply to the hard-bodied? I can't think of anything that screams "I know I'm hot!" more than doffing your shirt for no reason other than to show the world what God didn't give you (for no one is born with killer abs; they're hard-earned).
When I moved to New York City in the early '90s, if you wanted to see shirtless guys who weren't models or porn stars, you had to go to Fire Island or the Roxy on a Saturday night. Now everywhere you look, men, gay and straight, are in various states of disrobement -- in Maroon 5 videos (including "Animals," the new one that features frontman Adam Levine's latest topless public appearance), in pretty much every Justin Bieber article, and even in the marketing of asexual products and services like Triarc, an insurance company for LGBT South Africans. One of Triarc's current print ads features a shirtless Jesus Christ poser whose center-stage six-pack appears to be the only health benefit it's selling.
How quaint does all this exhibitionism make D'Angelo's scandalous-in-2000 "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" video seem now? Hot males on daytime soaps (especially General Hospital) now spend entire episodes shirtless, making "abs to die for" an on-the-job requirement (unlike in the '70s and '80s, when un-hunky actors could still be soap stars). In 1997, Best Picture Oscar nominee The Full Monty featured a troupe of out-of-shape male strippers. In today's increasingly "body Nazi" times, we get the hard torsos of Magic Mike and its already outdated suggestion that stripping is a fringe sport. It's for anyone with a six-pack. What's the point of keeping the cooler stocked if the entire world can't have a sip?
On Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Justin Bieber, Zachary Quinto, Jared Leto, Frank Ocean, and seemingly every single guy with negative belly fat post photos in which they're lifting up their shirt, if they're wearing one at all, to offer sneak peeks of their taut midsections. (Even anime males are doing it!) In all those stunning beach shots that are forever popping up in my News Feed courtesy of my gay Facebook friends, Mother Nature is almost incidental. The gorgeous scenery that really matters is between the necks and hips of the guys in the photos, who couldn't look more strategically posed. If they came with thought bubbles, they'd probably read "Don't I look stunning?"
A second one might read "Out with the chest, in with the gut." Remember when it was all about out with the chest? Guys would spend entire gym days working on them and ignoring their legs, resulting in an overabundance of lumbering top-heavy studs? Now abs are the new pecs. The big difference is that back in the day, you didn't have to remove a stitch of clothing to strut your chest stuff. Abs of steel, however, are undetectable to the naked eye unless you're partially naked, which makes flashing them more of an exercise in immodesty.
A good chest is still a plus, but now it's really nothing without the six-pack below. Nobody talks about incredible pecs anymore. (Indeed, in the aforementioned Triarc ad, the model is notably flat-chested.) Now it's all about amazing abs. I think part of this has to do with the fact that it's easier to blow up your chest than it is to sculpt a six-pack. But as workout regimens become more sophisticated and core-focused, it's only a matter of time before great abs are as cliché as tattoos, which used to be for bad boys only. And then, how low will we go to impress? Will guys soon be walking around with their junk hanging out?
Here's the other thing about going down, anatomically speaking, to get a rise out of everyone: Back in the days when having a handsome face was enough to get lucky, if nobody cared about your personality, at least you were still being noticed for distinguishing features. A face might not necessarily be worth a thousand words, but you can tell a lot about a guy by looking into his eyes. Now faces are almost beside the point, especially during the Grindr courtship phase, when guys who just want to have "fun" pursue it mostly through shots of their headless torsos.
What exactly does a six-pack say about anyone? That he eats well and spends hours a week in the gym working on it? That he slavishly devotes more time to it than he does to oral hygiene? I'd rather have great teeth and fresh breath. And as anyone who has overdosed on Grindr's headless torsos knows, decent abs are pretty much as anonymous as body parts get, even more so than pecs, which can still retain a semblance of character, especially when the guy in question forgoes the urge to shave his chest, or wax it, or if he puts a nice shirt over it.
But if you've seen one set of fantastic abs, haven't you pretty much seen them all? If you put 10 of them in a police line-up, would you be able to tell them apart? If one belonged to the guy whose six-pack you ogled all night at the bar, or the one you've been chasing after on Grindr, would you be able to single it out? Faces are like fingerprints. No two are the same. Nice abs are pretty much a dime a dozen. Do we really want to start judging people based on something so interchangeable?
I'm not trying to be a prude or spoil anyone's fun. Nor am I suggesting that the human body is in any way dirty. Maybe after years of objectifying women, it's only appropriate that men start objectifying themselves, too (though what's good for Nick Jonas still gives Miley Cyrus grief). But why is a man shamelessly flaunting his anatomical assets as if that's all that matters more becoming than a woman doing the same thing? Does it encourage people to look inside as well as outside?
Ultimately, it should be the thoughts, what's going on in that pretty little head, that count most, not how many crunches someone does. I'm not saying to throw out your workout regimen and stop resisting those morning donuts. As always, no pain, no gain. But even if we're going to be totally shallow about it, remember this: If clothes still make the man, there's nothing sexier than ripping off someone else's in private and actually being surprised by the thrills you find underneath.