In a 1969 interview with Howard Smith, The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison worded an interesting thought, baffling the interviewer himself. Casually and without much resonance, the singer stated that “fat is beautiful”. Or, more accurately, he asked why it was “so onerous to be fat”. Why indeed?
Men’s Desired Bodies Through Time
In the Neolithic Era (12,000-8,000 BC), the ideal man was naturally quite large, seeing as there was a gradual shift from a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural one.
In Ancient Greece (800 BC-146 BC), statues were the prime benchmark of beauty for men, casting a benevolent eye on muscular and lean physiques. Daniel Kunitz addresses society’s problematic fixation with muscles in his 2017 article. It is important to note that even in ancient times, beauty standards existed beyond the sphere of feasibility, as the muscle groups depicted in art have never been achievable for a mere mortal.
During the Renaissance (1450-1600), Leonardo Da Vinci illustrated the perfect man through his Vitruvian Man, setting another high standard – perfect proportions. The Gilded Age (late 1800s-early 1900s) saw the birth of the “dad bod”, connecting weight to wealth and social positioning.
In the 1930s, the Italian-American bodybuilder Charles Atlas started a fitness movement that boomed after the Great Depression, seeing as physical size and strength began to be connected to confidence in people’s minds. This was, to some extent, what Jim Morrison was referencing in his interview, although his sense of self-assurance was the result of the sheer size of his body, which was easily achieved by overeating.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, when Jim Morrison was growing up, height became the desired characteristic. It gave men a “certain presence”, as Vance Packard stated in The Pyramid Climbers (1962).
Interestingly, when Morrison was at his peak in the late 1960s, his body type was considered the ideal, as were David Bowie’s and Mick Jagger’s. Lean, slim and lanky. Unisex fashion was all the rage, calling attention to the contrast between the male and female form. This is why the singer’s comments in the interview seemed so outlandish at the time, and why Howard Smith, a man with a low timbre and scrapingly curt speech, sounded so bewildered.
Nowadays, the obsession with a gym-honed male body is quite apparent, especially when looking at the subliminal messages conveyed through the media. Superhero movies and rippling muscles on action figures are bound to slip into the psyches of boys and men alike, harvesting body image issues.
Thorndike (1920) observed the importance of the halo effect in everyday life, highlighting our tendency to think that all that is beautiful is good. This leads to attractive people automatically being perceived as more intelligent, for example. In a 1985 edition of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Noles, Cash and Winstead published a paper on body image, noting that the media’s portrayal of the male body is becoming as problematic for men as it is for women.
Moreover, in a 2002 paper on the media’s representation of the ideal male body, it is noted that the emphasis on the muscular ideal is growing, shaping itself into a possible cause of muscle dysmorphia. The similarity between the struggle of men and women in relation to their bodies does not stop there. A study on “body projects and masculinity”, published in Body & Society in 2005, highlights our tendency to perceive our bodies as a means to an end, forever pursuing a place in contemporary society – regardless of our gender.
What came out of the study transcended the sphere of physicality, zeroing in on individualism – both in terms of body modification and the men’s talk of their bodies. This bled into libertarianism, and the male conviction that it is our right to do whatever we wish with our bodies. And yet, these sentiments are at odds with the inclusiveness the men expressed subliminally, regarding “letting yourself go” with condescension. How very interesting.
In a way, Jim Morrison, whether consciously or not, rattled the ground with his statement. After all, it threatened society’s unspoken consensus regarding body weight. As an artist, he hovered over conformity’s choking reach, innocently basking in libertarianism. Howard Smith’s consternation is only natural, then, seeing as Morrison’s thoughts challenge the order of the world. Obtaining a desired body is met with envy and acceptance. Therefore, compliance breeds status, and absconding such ideals is an outright cry of rebellion. One Jim Morrison let slip in the most nonchalant of ways.