“Thirst traps” posted by males on social media invert the male gaze, furthering the neoliberal ideal of boundaryless fluidity.
Depictions of women typically cater to the male gaze, highlighting attributes that arouse men and incite their attention, while depictions of men have typically aimed to demonstrate their accomplishments, power, or virtues.
With the exception of certain pagan and decadent civilizations, depictions of nude women are more common and tend to emphasize their aesthetic beauty, while male nudes aim more to glorify their strength and muscularity, alluding to their power, stoic discipline, or capacity to protect and serve others.
Depictions of men that intend to incite lust and attention represents an inversion of the male gaze, turning the man into an object of desire.
“Men look at women, and women look at men looking at them,” as John Berger once quipped. This statement perfectly embodies the feminization of men on social media.
Take the many IG influencers who post topless pictures of themselves posing with bedroom eyes and biting their lips, with provocative captions ranging from “good morning ;)” to “[water drops emoji]”. They post these “thirst traps,” waiting for their prey to get caught in their snare of desire, receiving showers of likes, comments, and DMs.
We can also see this shift in advertisements for men’s products that aim to make the consumer want to emulate the model’s appearance and desirability, rather than their virtues or social status. Of course partial nudity in clothing advertisements for items like underwear or swimwear is logical to a degree.
But if we take the new string of ASOS models who gratuitously bare their bodies in advertisements for shirts–which are made to cover the torso and not reveal it–speak to this new turn toward males being gazed upon.
This shift harkens to the decadent, pagan cult of Adonis, the beautiful male youth whose body is not that of a fully formed adult, thus rendering his gender identity ambiguous—something between that of a woman and a child.
His body celebrates aestheticism over virtue or strength, a source of lust and jealousy. The cult of Adonis has been known to make a resurgence when civilizations are in their late phase of decay.