Instead of giving any current model the designation of being the first, I want to pay homage to the guys who helped us to get here: the men who legitimized modeling males, and who introduced the idea that men are, indeed, sexy.
When I was a kid in the 70s, I remember it was a rarity when a male model showed off his body. Male models were guys who did catalog work for J.C. Penney's, Sears or the now defunct Montgomery Ward, nicknamed Monkey Wards, and if you wanted to spank the monkey in your ward, you had to enjoy the underwear ads in all their simplistic glory.
Easier said than done when the underwear was stuffed with enough tissue paper to make sure there were no bulges and that the men appeared to be as big a eunuch as a Ken doll.
There were some fitness magazines, but they all had that Jack_LaLanne look to them...
Then came the 80s, thank God! All of the retinue of 50s conservatism finally came to an end. For those of you not around then, don't let them fool you. The 70s were just a bad fashion version of the 50s, except with cocaine and the late, great Donna Summer.
As with everything from school talent shows to "It Get's Better" ads catching on, it took an athlete to do it first. Jim Palmer played for the Baltimore Orioles (and if you don't know that's a baseball team, then I suggest a little less time planning the next Lambda meeting and a little more time with a more diversified group), and that legitimized his entire bid to become the first celebrity underwear model.
I know what you young'uns are thinking. "But he's so skinny!" and "He's so average looking" and "Geez, is he old!" By today's standards that may be the case, but at the time, this man was freakin' Cam Gigandet! Not many men over 30 were built like that back in the day. Plus, Palmer took major grief for this gig, but he plowed ahead with it anyway, making him a hero to our generation of gay men.
Taking things from there, Calvin Klein created the Times Square billboard for stunning men to be put on display at the Crossroads of the World. It is worth noting that Klein, now openly gay, was married to a woman at the time. Nonetheless, the CK empire all started with those Times Square billboards. Another athlete, this one from the Olympics, Tom Hintanus, struck an eyeconic (that's how we're going to be spelling that word here) pose that is now famous and much imitated.
I don't remember that pic being so gauzy, and just look at how ill-fitting those briefs are. Still, this was the beginning of the male beauty who would be bronzed, waxed, and air-brushed, and anything else that you would also do to a sports trophy.
Along the way clever gay entrepreneurs launched "fitness" magazines that became an excuse to show men in shorts and exercising. I bought them all. Here are some examples of classic mags from the 80s which are in my possession...
Notice how the ladies in the shots are hanging off hunkulous men in bathing suits? Before the 80s, the men were fully dressed for shots like that, while the women would still have been in those states of undress. We've come a long way, baby (and if you don't get that remark, then you were born around the time that this revolution was happening).
In that second mag there are pics of the cover guy showing the top half of his ass! I didn't think I would be able to contain myself until I got that magazine home. It was the pic that launched a thousand post-masturbatorial smiles for me at a very tender age.
In 1983 the idea of the male model being so legitimized as to be a victim of the business--just like a woman--would be explored in the TV movie The Making of the Male Model, starring the uber-bitch Joan Collins at the peak of her Dynasty fame, and co-starring the obscenely gorgeous Jon Erik Hexum.
The movie is cheesy and silly and not at all deep, but it forever cemented Hexum as a gay Eyecon. Much is written about Hexum's early death, and if you're unfamiliar with the story, it is a sad one that I don't wish to rehash here. Please visit the following link: Jon-Erik Hexum.
The 80s continued with hotness, and athletes continued to lead the way. Cincinnati Bengal Boomer Esiason posed for this ad, and even modeled the underwear for TV ads, setting hearts aflutter far from the shores of the Mighty Ohio River.
How crushing is it for us of his contemporaries that he doesn't look much different than he does in that shot? If anything, he's improved, and there was damn little to improve upon!
The next actor to legitimize the male model movement was Antonio Sabato, Jr. Born to Italian parents, working in the United States, and reportedly as bisexual as he is bilingual, ASJ caught everyone's eyes when he glared from a billboard over New York City looking like this....
I must say that I am partial to that last one because he looks less like he's posed for an underwear ad, and more like he's stripped for a physical....and there's more stripping to be done!
Not to be outdone, the athletes got, shall we say, back into the game. Jason Sehorn, who once played baseball for my hometown's local team, modeled for the fledgling 2(x)ist Underwear brand.
Nothing says sexy like a hunky athlete and moire patterns. Do no adjust your set! (There's another dated reference for you!)
Since then it has been hard to keep athletes clothed, particularly the ones outside the United States.
And, as if feeling they had to catch up, Kellan Lutz and Mechad Brooks brought actors back into the modeling fold by becoming the new Calvin Klein poster boys...
And even returning to the fitness magazines, bringing us full circle.
And so it is, my friends, that all because of a hunky baseball player named Jim Palmer, who forged into new territory and took that slings and arrows that came with it, we have this level of hotness that we have today. So, in celebration of Jim and these men, and their hunky descendants, I officially launch Model Monday!