Looking Good
Lynne Luciano
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Get *Looking Good* delivered to your door! Looking Good:
Male Body Image in Modern America
Lynne Luciano
Hill & Wang (FSG)
December 2000
257 pages
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Author Lynne Luciano, an assistant professor of history in the University of California system, raises the following three questions in Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern America: (1) What has caused American men to fall into the beauty trap so long assumed to be the special burden of women? (2) Does men's concern about their bodies mean they've become feminized? (3) Have they (men) been so addled by the women's movement that they are responding by becoming more like women? Lucianor proposes to answer these complex, highly subjective and ill- defined questions by launching into a descriptive, speculative and cursory review of a number of Curled Up With a Good Book social, economic, and popular cultural changes that have occurred in post- World War II America. In Chapter One, "Looking Good," the author outlines the four "problem areas" for men to be discussed in each subsequent chapter -- hair, physical fitness/body shape, cosmetic surgery, and sexual dysfunction.

In Chapter Two, "The Organization Man: Men In The 1950s," we read about more big business, upper mobility, and the emergence of a white-collar, urban-based, middle- management class of competitive, aggressive, and, at times, Type-A personalities that suggest relationships between work stress and coronary heart disease, but only mild effects, if any, on body image. Chapter Three, "Finding The Real Me: Men In The 1960s," highlights the cultural revolution, the human potential movement, a purported shift to and focus on feelings, personal freedom and growth, drugs, sex, and related research (e.g., Masters & Johnson), and an appearance by the birth-control pill. The '60s ushered in movements against materialism, corporate conformity, greed, meaningless work towards more focus on the body, experimentation with drugs/substances, and "equal opportunities" for youth-oriented, but not necessarily vain, idealistic and humanitarian adventures.

Luciano details increased hedonistic consumerism and disenchantment with the sexual revolution, game playing, the singles scene, and reduced marital/career prospects in Chapter Four, "A Culture of Narcissism: Men In The 1970s." Men were running to aerobic fitness programs, starting to use plastic surgery, and coping more with the medicalization of sexual dysfunction. The rest of the book follows the prescribed problem areas for men with anecdotal stories, statistics, quotes, extensive references to others' works, interviews, observations, and testimonies collected from the '80s and '90s. The author reports increased marketing, advertising, and presentation of idealized youthful male product images increased men's desires for these same sexualized products and images. These images raised unrealistic expectations for contemporary man's physical, social, sexual, and self development (e.g., masculine celebrities/handsome models used to sell underwear, etc). The author tries to show comparable associations, which may or may not be causal over time, in men's spending habits and corresponding uses of cosmetic surgeries from face lifts to pectoral implants to penis enlargements to muscle building, the use and abuse of anabolic steroids, and today's Viagara.

Looking Good provides interesting flashbacks and second-hand perceptions of the last 50 years of the 20th century, wherein marketing, consumerism and the service-oriented economy increasingly catered to youth and male interests in sports, fitness, sexuality and longevity, and may have unwittingly projected unrealistic impression-management strategies for men in different work, family, sexual, social, entertainment, and recreational/ leisure-time activities. The author somewhat shrilly concludes that men are what men buy. The body has become the ultimate commodity. I recommend this book, but would have liked more originality from the author's analysis and conclusions. It's for the reader to decide whether or not Luciano confirms her initial hypotheses about causality, vanity, feminization, self-esteem, and body image with consistently clear and strong evidence.

© 2001 by David L. Johnson, Ph D for Curled Up With a Good Book

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