Sex sells

A few weeks back when the weather really started to warm up I went for a run outside on the city streets of Toronto. As I passed by the Eaton Centre (this is a giant mall in the downtown core, for any of you not familiar with our lovely city) I stopped in a shady spot to have a drink of water. As I tilted my head up to drink from my bottle, I saw that what I was shaded by was a giant billboard displaying the advertisement shown below.

Calvin Klein Underwear Billboard Ad

What I would like to address here is the constant uprising of advertisements targeted at men. I would like to raise awareness toward what is really being conveyed to all of us through these ads. One could argue that this is an advertisement for underwear, so it makes sense to have men in underwear as a central theme. But the quality or style of clothing really isn’t what is highlighted here. What I see being advertised is sex, power, and masculinity. The focus is not the clothing; it is on the body that is wearing the clothing.

While the fight to get underweight female models off of fashion runways and magazine covers is a heavily addressed topic, the issues around body image and male modeling are a little more complicated. I believe that what makes the issue of men and boys with eating disorders less apparent is that male models are generally in a healthy weight range. Their weight range may be less of an issue, but the bodies displayed still set a very high standard for fitness levels, and for a certain body type that has an exceptionally low level of body fat. This sets an unrealistic standard for men to live up to.

On the way home from my run I also ran by a Roots clothing store that showed a giant poster advertising men’s athletic and outdoor wear. Once again, I felt that it sold sex more than clothing.


Roots Olympic Kayaker AdWhat is accentuated in this photo is not the clothing, or even the athlete’s achievements. Its key focus is hooking the eye to his upper body, which has been covered in oil to make it glisten.

What should also be noted is that many of these photos are still edited or retouched before print, much like photos of female models. Abdominals are shaded; chests are enhanced; faces are made to look more symmetrical. I bring this discussion forward not to attack the fashion industry, but in hopes that we will at some point see a more diverse range of bodies in advertisements. I do it in the hopes of addressing the need to educate men and boys about what is really being advertised to them, just as we do women and girls.

I am someone who enjoys fashion, and I think it can be a creative art form. What saddens me about the industry for us guys is that it some how ends up being more about buying something to seem powerful or sexy, rather than wearing something because you are in love with its design.

Jay Walker is a NEDIC blogger, a Personal Trainer at Absolute Endurance: Training & Therapy, and a Graduate of the Fitness and Lifestyle Management Program at George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario.