"Bono lets his moobs hang out!" screeched one paper recently, in one of many similar headlines laying into men's bodies.
Here's another: "Fat-asy football players", and another: "Blair leads the 'moob' pack". Disconcerting, isn't it? Once it was just the female half of the population who were subjected to such blatant physical fascism. Of course, there's nothing satisfying about this particular levelling; it's just a bad situation getting worse. Anyway, it's a subject that gets plenty of attention in Channel 4's new series Extreme Male Beauty (too much, some might say, given the number of full-frontal crotch shots involved. Last night, I counted one, two, three, four... five. Five, and a conversation about "saggy skin around the scrotum". Urgh.)
Extreme Male Beauty is basically 10 Years Younger, only with that it went without saying that most contestants were female. This is exclusively for men, and what a neurotic contradictory bunch they turned out to be. The protagonist of the series is the journalist Tim Shaw, henceforth to be known as Poor Tim. Poor Tim is having a confidence crisis: he drinks five pints a night and does zero exercise. "I'm a skinny fat man who looks nothing like David Beckham." In six weeks, he told us, he wants to be transformed into "the perfect Adonis". Surely this can only end in tears? It does actually. I know because I read about it Grazia. The details elude me but basically P. T. goes from insecure to obsessed, suffers a mental breakdown or some such crisis and then comes to terms with himself. Just. But, to last night.
Tim was concentrating on his pecs or, rather, "man boobs", which, I confess, I couldn't see myself. Along the way, he encounters all kinds of weird phenomena: a rugby player who shaves all his pubic hair (shudder), a 23-year old weightlifter who's hooked on steroids, a casting for a Men's Health shoot ("Why do you think you've got what it takes? Oh, OK, now take off your top") and, my favourite, someone who actually wants to look like Peter Andre (you know, Katie Price's Tim-nice-but-dim-except-in-certain-lights-when-he's-ORANGE-partner). This guy, Paul was his name, sprouted Apprentice-style sound bites at every turn. "I want to be the best," he grinned before detailing his grooming routine of hair-removal, fake tan, make- up and manicures (where do these people get their time?). He was about to have surgery, and not just a little, the full works: liposuction, skin removal, "sack lift", whatever that may be, rhinoplasty and crowns. "But I don't want to be poofified," he assured us. Bless.
When Poor Tim wasn't ogling Paul, he was trying to improve himself, by spending hours at the gym being barked at by a personal trainer. After a fortnight, he took out a tape measure: Aha! His pecs have gained an inch. Mission accomplished. Next week: penises. Might give that a miss.
To more family-friendly material, next, with the BBC2's new series, Keep It in the Family, where soon to be retired parents try and convince their kids to give up all the opportunities that they never had in their day, in order to move home and join the family business. It's a sweet idea, but not terribly practical: for one thing, sharing a surname is quite different from sharing a skill (cf. Sonny Corleone), and for the other, well, would you give up a high-flying career and your industry of choice to answer phones for Mum & Dad?
That was the choice facing Jamie Don in last night's episode when the 28-year-old music-video director moved back to Leeds, where his dad runs Gary Don Auctioneers. The business had been in the family for 80 years, after Jamie's great-grandfather set it up in 1929, but if Gary can't find an heir, it'll all go down the pan. Jamie, he explains, is his final hope (actually, they have a daughter but she, for reasons inexplicable, remained unmentioned for most of last night.)
To his credit, Jamie was nothing if not good-natured. Right from the off, it was clear he had his doubts, but he followed his dad around town, visiting libraries, placing valuations, and collecting stock. After a week of fairly disastrous training, he had to see if he could collect enough stock for an auction while his dad went on holiday. And what do you know? He wasn't half bad. At least he improved the computer systems, which looked like they were as old as the antiques, and brought in a TV, a PA, and some questionable graffiti art from a friend back in London. By the time his Dad got back, there was enough stock to flog for a profit. "It must be in his blood," reflected an emotional Gary. Still, he didn't convince Jamie to join the business; he was never going to, really. But wait, what's this? At the last minute, Jamie's sister piped up: could she have a go? Looks like the business might survive after all. How thoroughly modern.