While female models are criticised for fuelling the rise in eating disorders by looking underweight, their male counterparts have largely escaped such adverse scrutiny. By and large, we have collectively assumed that those rippling abs represent the result of the kind of gym-dedication and healthy living that can only be admired. Behind the abs, though, is a far from wholesome reality.The truth seems to differ a bit as a male model tells us what he has to do to look that way.
For days at a time he restricts fluid intake so severely that the resulting dehydration causes headaches, haziness and overwhelming fatigue. Having trained for weeks like an Olympian with high-intensity circuits, running and weightlifting, he then cuts out exercise for 48 hours and opens a bottle of red wine to drink alone. A six-day carbohydrate-depletion diet, in which he eats little more than chicken and broccoli, leaves his muscles weak and his brain so starved of glycogen, its source of fuel, that he feels dizzy and disorientated when he stands up. He can barely walk, let alone hit the gym. [...] Two days before a photoshoot, he says, he begins to dehydrate by restricting the intake of water and other fluids to a minimum. After almost a week of carbohydrate avoidance, he also begins to “carbo-load” by eating pasta and sweet potatoes for 48 hours. “That forces the muscles to fill up with glycogen so they look bigger,” he says. “Being dehydrated makes your skin shrink and become taut so that it sticks to the muscles and gives a dry, vascular appearance, making your veins stick out, which is what the magazines want.” Many male models drink alcohol — brandy and gin are favourites — to speed dehydration. “I open a bottle of red wine the night before, and on the morning of a photoshoot I have another glass of wine and some wine gums,” Martin says. “The sugar in the sweets and the alcohol draw more water from the skin, leaving you looking as lean as possible.” Among models and many others in the industry, Martin says, there is an unspoken acknowledgement that the pre-shoot regimen is standard. “There is definitely a sense that magazines expect you to turn up dehydrated and dizzy,” he says. “I’ve been on castings for fitness magazines where there are six or seven models who are so groggy and out of it that they need to grab a chair to sit down and literally can’t speak.”What makes this thing ironic is that such a regiment is needed to get on the cover of Men's Health. Health, as in not dehydraded...my oh my.
Fricker says that tricks are sometimes used to create an unrealistic illusion of abdominal perfection. Last year, one publication featured him in an article entitled “Scrawny to Brawny” in which it was insinuated that readers could transform their bodies into something resembling his rock-hard physique in eight weeks. “But the ‘before’ picture they showed of me was one from five years ago, not two months previously, so it was misleading,” he says. “Quite often, ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures are taken on the same day. Models are asked to slump their shoulders and un-tense their abs in the ‘before’ shots, then art directors use lighting, better posture and Photoshop to get the ‘after’ effect they want.”And finally
But the pursuit of that perfect six-pack shows no sign of slowing. Recent research by the Harley Medical Group, the largest cosmetic surgery chain in the UK, revealed that the number of men aged 35 and over choosing to have a tummy tuck has risen by 55 per cent so far this year, compared with 2009. And a University of Florida study suggested that changing perceptions of the ideal male physique have triggered a wave of body-image problems among men striving to achieve a muscular look. Professor Heather Hausenblas, the exercise psychologist who carried out the research, said: “If you look back at the ideal male body, 50 years ago it wasn’t this hyper-muscular physique that we see now,” she says.
“We have seen a significant rise in the number of men who are dissatisfied with the way the look and want to be more muscular.”
As long as we continue to buy into the dream that such bodies are attainable, cover models will flaunt their ripped midsections on magazines proffering the irresistible notion that chiselled abs are up for grabs. “But it’s impossible to look like that seven days a week, despite what the magazines try to tell you,” says Martin. “We can’t achieve that look. Nobody can.”