Things began to change only around 2000, with the proliferation of access to information about health via the internet. Today, the cost of access to the highest-quality food and gyms, as well as to the best information about how both ought to be used, has spiked. As a result, privilege is signified by figures with low body-fat percentages that showcase taught muscles, by the leisure to afford long workouts in expensive gyms, by eating regimens crafted by coaches and trainers, by tans that bespeak travel, and by fitted, expensive clothing that accentuates these advantages. The greatest attitude shift, however, has been toward beefcake.
The notion of muscularity was reintroduced to the world in the mid-16th century, with the discovery of what came to be known as the Farnese Hercules, a Roman copy of an ancient Greek sculpture. But, it had an extremely limited influence until the current era. Only after the myths surrounding muscle—that it contributed to heart disease, made one slow and inflexible, and was not something produced through training but was instead a God-given marker of a low caste—were debunked did it become a marker of health and prosperity.
Oddly enough, the withering of gender stereotypes was just as powerful a filter in changing how male bodies are seen. As the vilification of homosexuality became less intense, male bodies were increasingly sexualized—and men’s attention to their appearances became acceptable. All forms of male self-fashioning—from building muscle to sartorial extravagance to grooming—have become not just socially accepted but expected.