I remember being excited as a boy when the Sears catalog arrived. Sure, it had some cool toys to add to my birthday/Christmas wish list—ooh, Lite-Brite!—, but the main attraction was the pages of women in bras. The section didn’t arouse me as it might have for most boys, but it appealed to my sparkly mind. Who were these women, letting themselves be photographed before they put their blouses (or muumuus) on? Why were they all smiling? Where was the embarrassment? How did Sears get away with this year after year? Didn’t they know children would be taking peeks?
Yeah, it doesn’t seem like much now, but I was a young, sheltered kid and this was pre-Britney, pre-Madonna, even pre-Farrah poster. Once I got over the initial shock in seeing the lingerie spread, I’d look at the women and decide which was the prettiest.
In my teens, I subscribed to GQ. That was before they had movie star actors or naked Rihannas on the cover. (At the airport this week, I was too embarrassed to buy the Rihanna issue. Felt more like an issue of Maxim or Penthouse.) Back then, GQ was all about fashion, male models with incredibly chiseled faces mocking my pimply complexion and my desire to generate something more than a snicker when I ran out and bought an Izod or a pair of Jordache jeans. (Gosh, what's the male vocal equivalent to Janis Ian's "At Seventeen"?)
I think it was my GQ subscription that led to my receiving the International Male catalog in the mail on a regular basis. Goodbye, Sears! I had pages and pages of tanned, buff male models with no body hair sporting brightly colored underwear. If there were boxers, I don’t recall them. It was all about the briefs. Again, it led to same old routine, ogling the pictures and deciding who was the prettiest.
I was reminded of this catalog shopping ritual yesterday as I browsed portfolios of men seeking men on PlentyOfFish.com. I have tried a couple of other sites like Manhunt and Gay.com, but they seemed particularly sleazy, with so many guys choosing to post penis pics. When it comes down to just dating a penis, I think I’ll have hit rock bottom. Not there yet, thank goodness. PlentyOfFish, by contrast, has always seemed more reputable with most of the guys claiming to be looking for something more than a quickie. But things seem to be slowly evolving. More and more men are posting photos of themselves with their shirts off. It’s still tame compared to the other sites, even more modest than International Male, but it still feels wrong.
Shirtless or shirted, there are so many profiles to peruse. It’s a shallow way to look for a boyfriend, but I suppose it’s no worse than cruising in a gay bar. As I still live in a rural area, I don’t have a lot of choices. I can’t join a gay running group or a gay tennis league or even go see “A Single Man” in a theater (not when Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is playing). Fishing is the only option. And I must confess that I get sucked in to gazing at the shirtless guys. Can I blame Sears for creating this shopping ritual? The whole thing does feel like catalog shopping.
Something tells me I need to update my photos.