Jan 15, 2018

Searching for Beefcake in "Boys' Life"

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Boys' Life magazine was everywhere: in the children's room of the library, in the waiting room of the doctor's office, in my friends' bedrooms.

The articles were dreary.  It said "For All Boys," but it was really just for Boy Scouts, and the articles all assumed gender-polarized hegemonic masculinity. The exact opposite of anything I was interested in.

 The July 1975 issue, for instance, had articles on "The Fastest Human in Swim Trunks" (a Florida schoolboy named Andy Coan), Scouting in Canada, boat safety, how to get your cycling merit badge, why cub scouts talk like sailors (huh?), magic tricks, fishing tricks, a Bible story, and how to build a doghouse accessory rack.

August 1975: fishing in Hatteras, canoeing in Canada, airborne fire fighters, tall tales for Cub Scouts, home made fishing gear, and "All About Nails" (I'm not kidding).

But the beefcake was intense. Guys in skimpy swimsuits, both photographs and drawings, in every issue!

When Boys' Life was first published in 1911, it was an all-purpose magazine, like the boys' own paper in Britain.  The newly-formed Boy Scouts of America bought it in 1912, and it's been an official vehicle ever since.  Anyone can subscribe, but non-scouts will get a lot of encouragement to join up.

Norman Rockwell and Salvador Dali have both illustrated covers.

A number of famous writers, including Arthur C. Clarke and John Knowles, have published in Boys' Life.

Photographic covers began during the 1950s.

This is one of the iconic images of my childhood.  I think I got it at the Denkmann School carnival around 1969 or 1970.  It's dated July 1965.

I wanted to see if Boys' Life was still gender-polarized, macho, and exclusive, so I picked an issue at random: October 2012.

Articles on the fast cars, off-road bicycling, a canoe trip to Hoover Dam, how to make a battery out of a lemon, federal air marshals.  Bible stories.

 Advice on being afraid of the dark: "I'm 12, and although I'm really brave, I get superfreaked out at night." Suggestion: Say the alphabet backwards.

Yep, still gender-polarized, macho, "sports! sports! sports!"  And no beefcake.  Not even a drawing of a guy in a swimsuit.

They must have realized that gay boys read the magazine, too.

See also: More Boys' Life Beefcake


  1. Well, you know what I always say. You want beefcake, you get into sports. There are more gay athletes than you think, and virtually all athletes have no problems being naked around members of the same sex. Et cetera.

    Not in scouting, though. Too many religious fanatics in charge.

  2. on the subject of 'creepy' (from another post), the "boys in canoes" magazine cover does a pretty good job. they've all got manic serial-killer grins & blank, staring eyes... xD


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