This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
Recently, I read an interview with writer Madeline Holden where she suggests the end is nigh for men treating women like sex objects. She also mentioned that the male body is making a comeback; given the increasing popularity of female-friendly pornography and films like Magic Mike XXL, I think she might be right. After reading the interview, I began to wonder what it would feel like for one's naked body to be treated as a sex object, so I decided to find out.
I knew that, as a fairly normal looking guy, I would probably need to come up with a rather extreme experiment to gauge what sort of revival the male body was having. A quick striptease for my girlfriend wouldn't cut it. No: to truly gain an understanding of how it feels, I'd need to spend an evening touting my wares for window shoppers. And where better to do so than behind a window in a place that's become synonymous with commercial lust: Amsterdam's Red Light District.
I knocked on the door of one the sex workers to ask if I could rent the room for €50 (£37). She was visibly unimpressed, so I needed a plan B. Luckily, a friend of mine lives slap-bang in the middle of the Red Light District. He was more than willing to lend me his window, give me a chair, then sit down on the other side of the road, open a beer and have a good laugh at my expense.
I needed supplies to make my little pop-up look authentic, so I headed into what was easily the most suspect shop I've ever seen. With sweaty hands and what I thought was a plausible excuse, I entered the sex-shop.
"I need a no-frills thong; black, no bright colours and no leopard print."
Unsurprisingly, the shop had my dream no-frills thong in stock.
An hour later, following the traditional nerve-calming 20 push-ups, the dreaded moment arrived: I dropped my trousers. With testicles that felt like two shrivelled raisins, I bit the bullet, turned on the LEDs and flaunted my bare body to the world.
For the first 20 minutes I felt like finding a corner so I could curl up in the foetal position and weep. Passers-by started taking pictures and cracking up. The more nervous I got, the more I drank. And I got very nervous.
I had no idea what to do with my hands, either. Was I supposed to keep them next to my body, or perhaps behind my head like a male model in a perfume ad? I opted for the high-end butler stance – holding my hands behind my back. After half an hour I decided to go a different route: Usain Bolt's trademark celebratory pose. But given my rather miserable circumstances, my celebration ended up looking depressingly contrived.
I figured that a bit of music might lighten things up, so I put on my sexiest playlist – the one I usually save for the bedroom. That, in retrospect, was a terrible idea: it actually just made everything way more stressful.
When Ginuwine's "Pony" came on, crowds of people hoping for a dancing Adonis started queuing up to catch a glimpse. Sadly for them, all they got was me – a tipsy, fearful man in his late twenties with more in common with Chewbacca than Ryan Gosling. My sexy show appeared to have little effect on the women watching me, bar laughter and, in some cases, quite visible revulsion. At least I could provide some light entertainment.
Turning around to adjust the music, I gave my audience a clear view of my buttocks and caught an exchange from two passing tourists. "Look at that ass," said the first. "Jesus, Henry, it's a fucking dude. What's wrong with you!" said the second.
Having received my first compliment, I finally began to feel a little more body-confident. Every man who walked past did the same thing: a shake of the head, some witty remark for the benefit of his buddies, then on to better things. Apparently, unlike your average Renaissance artist, no contemporary male is prepared to openly admire the naked male form.
All the guys seemed to mainly feel empathetic embarrassment, while most of the women were too shy to take a step closer.
It was nice to hear from Holden that the male body is once again being revered, but I didn't get that impression from my experience. Unless you have a body like Channing Tatum, can dance like Channing Tatum and just so happen to be in the right place at the right time, it's unlikely you're going to be seen as any sort of sex object.
Even though it was frustrating that people looked at everything but my face, some part of me wanted the affirmation of a female passer-by's lustful look. Instead, as I stood there in my thong and danced sadly under a the red lights, I was just a massive, wobbly joke.
After about an hour, my shift ended and the curtain came down on my experiment. I got dressed while trying to forget the whole thing. Frankly, the experiment had failed; I didn't feel like a sex object, I was just a big naked mess.
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