“Joe’s skinny jeans are too skinny!” one fan wrote. “They still look pretty freakin’ good huh?!” wrote another.
After years of having to sidestep the stigma of “boy band,” the reinvigorated New Kids on the Block finally embrace the moniker only to endure the constant barrage of comments about their appearance on Twitter and on blogs.
Now, in prepping for their current tour, The Main Event, Jordan Knight admits that the pressure to look a certain way permeated his thoughts before deciding to get himself back out there. “I haven’t done Botox, but I want[ed] to lose some weight and tone up before I got on tour, that’s for sure. And if I don’t, we’ll hear about it on Twitter.” And they did.
One woman tweeted from the show to “Please put your shirt back on!” while another blogged, “Older and Embarrassing?”
Knight says he hears about it either way: “If we do tone up and look good… they’ll talk about that as well.” There’s just no escaping the battery of running commentary if he looks bad or if he looks good. The remarks about his appearance seem to be equal to the ones about his music.
From 1986 to 1991, when the New Kids were making gold and platinum albums, social media didn’t exist. So, if there were any negative comments sent by snail mail (which is how fans communicated back then), it’s likely that someone from the music label or their management team filed those letters away. And while there was an array of tabloids and teen-centric magazines commenting on who was cuter — Jordan or Jonathan — the band (made up of brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood) was young, handsome and successful, making them impervious to this kind of scrutiny.
A former major music label insider told me that, “Fan letters to many of our boy bands were wholly complimentary. Nobody would write to say he’s fat, and the one or two negative letters we got were from crazy people anyway.”
But there is a growing conversation about men’s physical appearance, illustrated by Chris Pratt when he made news after telling Radio 4’s Front Row that he is OK with being objectified. “I think it’s appalling that only women are objectified,” he said. And if we want real equality we should, “Objectify men as often as we objectify women.”
Like many feminists, both male and female, this notion seems absurd. Even though Jordan Knight feels the pressure to look good for a tour, he does recognize that objectifying men isn’t so bad for some men, him included. “I think you’re fighting against Mother Nature a little bit because men are maybe more visual.” Meaning, they comment on a woman’s appearance because it’s in their nature to do so.
Yet there is harsh backlash against Pratt’s comments since the very idea of objectifying men doesn’t diminish their ability to perform their jobs. It doesn’t change their value or self-worth. When we objectify men, it has no impact on anyone’s view of their intellectual abilities. They don’t become “bimbos” if they’re hot — the same way women do — and nobody says “beauty and brains?” as if the two are mutually exclusive. Men still get to enjoy the same advantages over women in society, despite what we say about their love handles. There is even a term for embracing men who have put on a little fat in their midsection: the “dad bod.” Where is the female equivalent of that, I wonder?
To be fair, much of that speculation is of a pop culture nature and not of a scientific one. Studies have shown an increase in male dissatisfaction with their bodies has grown from 15 percent to 43 percent in the past three decades. Add to that a 2012 study published in the journal Eating Disorders, which concluded that men with eating disorders are currently under-diagnosed, under-treated and misunderstood by many doctors. Doctors! If they don’t get it, the rest of us surely wouldn’t.
Jordan Knight has learned a lot about women, and from women, over the years. “For women, if he also has a great personality, that’s probably a selling point, too,” Knight concedes. However, he does see Pratt’s point to some extent: “Men are objectified enough; I mean, Magic Mike just came out, right?”
New Kids on the Block are currently on tour and have partnered with Cottonelle for their “Go Commando” campaign. (On a personal note: I admitted to Knight that Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths were my fave and he agreed that if you’re not using them you’re “not as clean as you think you are.”)