Thursday, May 13, 2010

Casual Shirtlessness

I recently watched a movie from the 80's. What struck me about it was that there was a lot of casual shirtlessness. It was an old Disney movie, so you know it's all innocent and child-safe. Now, movies today show a lot of shirtlessness, but it tends to be treated quite differently. Shirtless men in movies these days are mostly put on display, deliberately included for eye candy. Often, it seems quite contrived that the buffest star in the movie gets plenty of skin time. The stars train and preen for their big screen appearance. In more "innocent" films, shirtless exposure may be minimized, even when the plot calls for it.

But what I saw here was casual shirtlessness. It wasn't contrived, it was quite natural. They are not super-buff stars, with their own team of trainers, and their perfect tans. They are normal guys, men and boys. They can be seen in some scenes simply milling about a crowd, and no one treats them differently or gives them strange looks.

The young boy in the lead role is seen to sleep shirtless.

And young boys play shirtless in the yard, quite naturally.

I actually suspect the modern presentation of shirtless males as something sexy and provocative is partly to blame for the decline in casual shirtlessness seen in everyday life. The Running Shirtless blog covered a similar topic, brought up in a comment. Thus, while shirtless men are increasingly seen in media and advertising, they become increasingly taboo in daily life. Taking off your shirt is seen as showing off, inciting lust, provocative. We have a special tolerance for things we see on TV, too. We overlook language on TV that we would object to in person. In the same way, we might let children watch a movie where the male star is flexing his shirtless muscles, but then get offended when a guy goes shirtless in the park. "Doesn't he know there are children here?"

I hope we as a culture can combat this tarnishing of innocence. Why should shirtlessness be something dirty, or even provocative? Can we return to the innocence I saw in this movie, and learn to enjoy casual shirtlessness again?


  1. I fully agree with this. As time has marched on the idea of being shirtless has moved from just being a guy, to being a sex symbol. During the summers in the 80s my brother and his friends never wore shirts. But, but the time I was his age in the later 90s none of us went shirtless. We now live in a culture where boys are so self conscious that being seen without a shirt is like being buck naked! Now I make sure that when I am working outside I am shirtless. Just like it used to be and should be today.

  2. This is very inspiring. I agree with you completely. Back in the past, it was considered as the norm and now it is considered as something dirty. Along with many others and I were actually subconciously had this "shirtless as a taboo" drilled into our minds. I hope this will change in the future that shirtless for guys is considered as innocent again.

  3. The movie in question is called "Flight Of The Navigator" and as far as I know, it's not on DVD yet. I LOVE this film. It's got a great story, great timeless characters, and great acting. And it's got Sarah Jessica Parker when she was still actractive and... well normal.
    Films like this is a nearly extent. The last good movie I remember that made no big deal about anyone being shirtless was 2010's Peter Pan.

  4. This make a lot of sense. It amazes me how double-minded people can be.

    A good example would be a woman who can walk around the beach or poolside in the skimpiest thong-kini, yet, scream, duck and hide when she gets caught in her bra and panties.

  5. This is an interesting topic. I spoke to a another person on this very thing a few weeks ago. I commented on the changes both in movies and society regarding clothing or lack thereof as the years have gone by. In years past people could wear less but not be seen in a sexual manner. A few years ago an artist in Australia took part in a charity auction for a hospital. She took a photo of her son wearing jeans with no shirt. The picture was tasteful and had no weird connotations. The hospital refused to allow the picture because it violated their anti porn policy. Huh? I live in a hot place. Every summer I was outside with my shirt off. No one thought anything of it. Times have certainly changed.

  6. Do people really get offended if kids see shirtless men in a park? (This is a genuine question, not sarcasm!) Maybe it's different in the US but in the UK no one would bat an eyelid.

  7. I never got offended by seeing shirtless guys when I was a kid, now as an adult I'm one of those who's shirtless nearly 24 hours a day. And I am shirtless as I am writing this. Took it off as I was getting into the car when heading home this afternoon

  8. 2011 is the year I first showed up at a friends house shirtless and didn't bring a shirt with me. my friend didn't care because he had taken off his shirt too, he was only wearing boxers