We don't want rippling biceps, just clean hair

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MANY sane British men of average attractiveness must have had a shock this week, when they read reports from the British Psychological Society. These reports established that some of their impressionable brothers yearn

desperately to look like the Chippendales.

An academic study has apparently put factual flesh on the trend that fashion designers from Versace to Paul Smith have already latched on to: that men are exercising and dieting, sometimes to excess, in pursuit of the new V-shaped body that was once the hallmark of building-site navvies. Rippling muscles coating large shoulders, shading to a narrow waist, flat stomach and sleek hips - this is now apparently the ideal shape.

Yuck. Let me rush to reassure the standard man. Please don't feel pressured by these media- hyped images. I know of no woman who finds baby-oiled, sunbed-tanned Chippendale- style men remotely attractive, let alone representative of the male body beautiful.

Furthermore, please don't feel that you must wax off your body hair or go in for eyelash tints or face and stomach lifts.

A touch of aftershave and the odd utilitarian use of the hair dryer in the morning is quite enough.

You could say that since all is fair in the sex war, men are simply getting a taste of the medicine they have for so long meted out to women. We have had to cope with neurosis produced by a staggering array of physical ideals: the busy page 3 girls, the Marilyn Monroe hour-glass figure, and the model-girl skinniness that only a tiny handful of us can ever achieve.

Let's grow up. What we are witnessing is a pointless extension of the ancient sexual battleground. Why drive men to new heights of insecurity about their body shape when they are clearly finding it hard enough already to cope with the fall-out from changing social patterns - the much more upfront and confident women they are encountering at work and play?

The men who are furiously working-out and eating their high-protein, low-fat diets laced with vitamin supplements, will doubtless argue that they are responding to what women really want, even if we say we don't. Look at the numbers who flood to Chippendale-style strip events. And there is also a clear female interest in full-frontal sexually explicit magazines, such as For Women, and Ludus.

Two forces seem to be at work here. First, there is a kind of ghastly hormonal hysteria when women gather to ogle at male strippers, which is more akin to the adulation given to pop stars than to real life.

Second, however, modern women are clearly trying to come to terms with what are to them the dark forces of male sexuality and they are using devices such as depictions of limp penises in magazines for the purpose. They are simply seeking to familiarise themselves with something that was until recently hidden away. This is a phase and it will pass.

My advice to the British male is as follows: of course, women like good-looking men who keep themselves trim, and they certainly do not like beer guts. Women like clean men who take baths and showers, who wash their hair and cut their nails. These are not matters

that should cause great difficulty. The Bob Geldof grunge look is deeply unappealing.

Women may well like men who are taller and larger than they are - after all, we are the victims of centuries of conditioning. On the other hand, opposites clearly do attract each other. In modern Britain there are plenty of house-husbands, shy men linked to super-achieving women, who seem quite happy.

Above all, surely, modern women want a blend of the physical and the cerebral, men who talk, listen, make jokes and laugh. I suspect men want the same thing from women. The stress on the cerebral is completely missing in all this focus on muscles, just as it was missing from the concentration on mammaries.

And as each person is different, who attracts whom is bound to vary greatly. Let me offer you my definition of an attractive man: he should be tall, dark, handsome and clever, with a Black & Decker drill in his hand. As one of the world's most impractical women, I married the man who came into my life and put up some shelves rather than prancing around in a jockstrap.