Ah, there’s nothing better on a day like this than stripping off your shirt, basking in the August sun and working on your tan. If you’re a man, that is.
Almost without exception around the world, going topless is a privilege accorded men only. And it’s one of those nagging little discriminations that annoys the hell out of women, whether they really want to strip down or not.
About 20 years ago, a 19-year-old Canadian student was out for a stroll with a couple of male friends on a hot summer day, when her pals pulled off their tops to beat the stifling heat. She did the same, and you can guess what happened next. She ended up in jail while her mates went to a patio bar and enjoyed the afternoon in all their topless glory.
That episode sparked something called the TopFreedom movement which, sadly, never went very far even though a lot of men supported a woman’s right to choose in this matter (for obvious, selfish, reasons).
Today, the sight of a topless man triggers all kinds of connotations and associations. It projects confidence, vigor, manliness and a chauvinistic sense of entitlement. Whether you have an athlete’s rippled torso or the flabby physique of a couch potato, there’s nothing like going bare-chested to make you feel like master of your own universe.
Whether the rest of us enjoy the spectacle is something else altogether.
Granted, there are places and occasions where going topless is appropriate: the beach, the gym, a mosh pit, etc. But when the topless male torso starts appearing in political campaigns, well, that’s where we draw the line.
It’s called beefcake politics, the deliberate and contrived attempt to woo voters by showing off your manly frame. In the minds of political spin doctors, the electorate will somehow see a connection between physical prowess and fitness for public office. After all, nothing says fiscal prudence or legislative acuity better than a pair of rock-hard guns and a washboard six-pack, right?
The reigning champion of beefcake politics was Arnold Schwarzenegger, though in fairness it should be pointed out that, while he spent much of his life half-dressed, he kept his shirt on for most of his career in politics.
But there are many others who are not so discreet. This week in Austria, for example, 80-year-old presidential candidate Frank Stronach (above right) invited reporters to his estate, where he paraded around shirtless in front of the cameras as a way of persuading voters that he’s still in fine form. Not to be outdone, his 42-year-old opponent Heinz-Christian Strache released a photo (left) to the press, showing himself tanned, fit and wearing nothing but a tiny swimsuit.
Those two guys are probably trying to attract some of the same kind of attention that follows Russian President Vladimir Putin, the bear-wrestling, tiger-hunting macho man who got himself a Super Bowl ring by stealing it. Putin’s topless exploits are legendary; he almost seems to be trying to mold himself into the image of cartoonish Bond villain. But give him credit for one thing: the Russian public and the world press just eat that stuff up.
America also has its own proud history of beefcake politics, from rough-n-ready Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, who wasn’t shy about being photographed in his swim trunks long after his male-model looks had faded.
More recently, we’ve been treated to carefully staged photo ops of Barack Obama emerging from the Hawaiian surf like a Baywatch dude, and poor Paul Ryan (above right), trying to bolster his 2012 electoral hopes with goofy body shots and testimonials for P90X.
And what about Scott Brown? Maybe his nude pictorial in Cosmo in 1982 (above left) helped him win Teddy Kennedy’s vacant Senate seat in 2010, but it didn’t stop voters from tossing him out two years later.
And speaking of photo ops that you know will come back to haunt you, here’s one of our favorites showing Canadian member of Parliament Justin Trudeau on the left, in a charity boxing match. And the guy on the right, the one who looks like an MMA fighter? He’s a Canadian senator, and he lost the bout.
Along the same lines, former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien was in his 60s during the 1993 election campaign when some clever assistant suggested it wouldn’t hurt his image if he showed a bit of muscle. Chretien kind of missed the point, though, going water skiing in front of the media while covered up by a bulky safety vest.
Probably the best-worst example of beefcake politics, though, was former Soviet tough guy Leonid Brezhnev. Here he is in on vacation back in the 1970s, and the strategic photo carried an unmistakable subtext: Laugh at me all you want, I’ve got a missile pointed at your house.
If you find all of this shameful, manipulative and just plain creepy, take heart: there’s almost no chance that Hillary will tolerate any of this nonsense when it’s her turn.