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Editor’s note: This piece contains generalised discussion of body dysmorphia and disordered eating.

three images of the actor Brendan Fraser - in George of the Jungle, in Trust, and a publicity photo facing the camera.

L-R: Brendan Fraser in George of the Jungle, as himself, and in Trust. Images: IMDb

George of The Jungle is a beautiful and utterly ridiculous film. It was also my favourite movie growing up. Just last week I rewatched it and felt myself transported back to my childhood home—sitting on a stained linoleum rug, watching Brendan Fraser swing through trees with his golden tan and goofy smile, and peeling another delicious cheese Stringer to push through a smile of my own.

Like all queer millennials currently in the throes of 90s nostalgia, I welcomed rumours in 2018 that Brendan Fraser was staging a comeback. For me, Fraser was the quintessential 90s celebrity. His brand of non-threatening hunk was the blueprint for the modern ‘himbo’—a straight man with a buff bod and barely an ounce of the usual toxic machismo we expect, or at least accept, in leading men. Think of The Rock, Jason Momoa, or Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove (2000). Long live the so-called Brenaissance, I thought, watching Fraser’s George spin a plush lion over his head like a basketball. Beneath the video flashed a pop-up ad for the Brendan Fraser Workout Routine and Diet Plan: Train to Become George of the Jungle.

A prominent feature of Fraser’s return to the spotlight was this weird, though wholly unsurprising, preoccupation with his body. When he reappeared from relative obscurity for the premiere of FX’s Trust back in 2018, now aged 52, his body and general appearance had changed. As with all things, it took Twitter mere seconds to take note—Fraser was quickly body shamed, photos of him on the red carpet splashed against promotional shots of his George of the Jungle physique with unoriginal captions like ‘oh god, what happened?’

A prominent feature of Fraser’s return to the spotlight was this weird, though wholly unsurprising, preoccupation with his body.

That same year, a GQ profile entitled ‘What Ever Happened To Brendan Fraser?’ listed the actor’s physical attributes: ‘Blue-gray stubble around the once mighty chin, gray long-sleeve shirt draped indifferently over the once mighty body.’ Fraser’s body, which was ‘once mighty’, once ‘buff and hunky’, now bears this odd caveat. To be fair, the repetition of this phrase seems intended to draw on the shared image which we as readers have of Fraser from his past films—a golden, muscular figure that was once swinging on, or slamming into, plastic trees. But to focus this shared memory on Fraser’s body in a way that emphasises what has been lost is odd; to employ a term like ‘mighty’, with its thinly veiled associations with masculine power, is odder still—particularly in a piece where Fraser describes the alleged sexual assault and subsequent depression he experienced back in 2003, at the height of this ostensibly ‘mighty’ period. At the end of the interview I notice a banner ad advertising ‘Slim and Trim Meals’ for ‘$5 a Week’.

I think of myself, rewatching George of the Jungle a week ago, perhaps as a ‘once mighty’ version of who I am now. I probably had fewer crows-feet, and more hair; I haven’t gone to the gym as much as I did last week, nor have I eaten as healthily. This kind of comparison is something I’ve done for years. My continuing experience with disordered eating and muscle dysmorphia is characterised by this comparative mode of self-loathing, informed by ideas of what constitutes a ‘successful’ male body and galvanised by the aesthetic values associated with the cis-gay male community. I don’t look like the man beside me at the gym, or at Mardi Gras, and I hate that I want to. My body doesn’t resemble the body ‘Slim and Trim Meals’ promises me I could have, nor do I look like the fitter version of myself from last week, last year, or ten minutes ago before eating that cheese Stringer.

On a podcast with Zach Braff and Donald Faison last year, Fraser was explicitly asked whether he had any advice for those looking to achieve a physique like that of his character in George of the Jungle. After a period of silence, Fraser quips: ‘Go back in time and eat nothing but, like, broccoli and Styrofoam. Lift weights until you puke and then go wash your mouth out and keep doing it.’ It’s a sentiment he echoes in the interview with GQ in 2018, where he describes being in and out of hospital for years as a result of the physical demands required to maintain his body.

Accounts of the lengths men go to achieve a muscular physique are neither rare nor surprising. At this point they are a staple of the marketing campaigns for most Marvel films, seen most recently in Kumail Nanjiani’s transformation for The Eternals (2021) and Will Poulter’s for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023). Descriptions of days spent dehydrating before a topless scene, or hours spent weight-training to the point of vomiting are typical anecdotes in the ever-increasing subgenre of superhero body transformations. These transformations, wheeled out as testament to an actor’s commitment, are often bolstered by a sense that they represent a kind of masculine prowess. An op-ed for Salon that looks at the ‘real costs’ of these transformations also leads readers to Muscle & Fitness; discussions of muscle dysmorphia in men and the disordered eating habits that drive contemporary ideals of muscularity transition seamlessly to $10-a-month ‘Thor Workout’ fitness plans.

These transformations, wheeled out as testament to an actor’s commitment, are often bolstered by a sense that they represent a kind of masculine prowess.

Earlier this year, Kumail Nanjiani described the conflict he felt in the wake of his body transformation for GQ. In the interview, Nanjiani speaks of worrying about the possibility that his new look might be used to reify ideas about the so-called ideal male body. As a kid, it was this ideal that had made Nanjiani hate his body. ‘So now he worries that, despite looking and feeling better than he ever was, he’s nonetheless perpetuating the toxic image of masculinity that he grew up idolising.’ The article’s headline reads, ‘How Kumail Najiani Got Jacked’.

I think of Zac Efron, standing in front of a shirtless wax figurine of himself on Ellen in 2019, saying that he didn’t want to ‘glamorise’ his body type. ‘I don’t want people to think that’s the best way to be, like, be your size’, he says before the camera zooms in on the abs of the shirtless figure and the crowd applauds. In these examples, there is a sense that the forces which aestheticise these bodies are larger, more ‘mighty’, and certainly more insidious than the individual people who inhabit them. There are fitness plans with Efron and Nanjiani’s names on them no matter how critical they may be of what it takes to achieve a body like theirs. I do not mean to say that these instances disempower Efron or Nanjiani. But we must be suspicious of any trend that celebrates a specific idea of what maleness looks like in a world that often uses these ideas to weaponise the concept of being ‘not male enough’. I wonder, can these bodies ever be observed without being overvalued? Can they be considered without being made a spectacle of, or described without such descriptions contributing to toxic assumptions of maleness and how best to achieve it?


In an earlier draft of this piece, I found myself explicitly listing the ways Brendan Fraser had changed since 1997. By describing these changes, I had wanted to show how comments like ‘he is bigger’, ‘his jawline is less prominent’ or he was ‘once mighty’ imply a rubric of attractiveness informed by what appears manly, or rather, what conforms to a brand of manliness that overvalues appearing strong and powerful. Such is the basis for much of the cultural power wielded by men—an aesthetic capital represented by what Pierre Bourdieu describes in 1998’s Masculine Domination as ‘the noble organs of self-presentation which concentrate social identity’. To Bourdieu, these ‘public’ facing symbols of masculinity include ‘the face, forehead, eyes, moustache, [and] mouth’. If I look to the fitness plans offered by forums like SuperHeroJacked, or the emails I receive detailing the ‘Thor Workout’, I’d add the lats, quads, abs, pecs and jawlines to this list.

I don’t want to write a version of Brendan Fraser’s body into this article, nor my own. I know I have nonetheless cast an impression of these bodies on the outskirts of what I’ve written.

But I don’t want to write a version of Brendan Fraser’s body into this article, nor my own. I know I have nonetheless cast an impression of these bodies on the outskirts of what I’ve written: I have alluded to my struggles with disordered eating and muscle dysmorphia. I have mentioned my crow’s feet. There is a picture of my body implied here in these descriptions. But god, I wish there wasn’t. Fraser’s body is here too—in the cultural memory of the man who swung through trees in George of the Jungle, or in the impression you might intuit from the description I keep quoting that considers his appearance ‘once mighty’. But I don’t want these bodies to be the point of this article, even as they are its subject (or its feature image). I want them to exist as something that is simply there, rather than as a list of features and ‘noble organs’ or an evocation of a body (whether mine of Fraser’s) that can be easily subsumed into a rubric of maleness. I want to grapple with the obstacles to decentering the body in this way, especially within the realms of male celebrity.

Recently, I’ve revisited the concept of body neutrality in an attempt to prioritise this idea of thinking about and writing the body. Popularised by a 2017 article by Maria Meltzer, body neutrality is ‘a kind of détente, a white flag’ between body positivity and negative self-image. Where body positivity requires an active and radical practice of self-love, body neutrality is a bit more realistic. It does not ask that you love your body—after all, bodies are weird, wonderful and often frustrating. Instead, the point is to erode the conflation of these statements with a sense of the body’s value. Your body’s value is not conditional on how it looks, how you feel about it, nor how people describe it. ‘It’s about the person who you are,’ as Brendan Fraser said on that podcast with Zach Braff last year, ‘and the rest is just decoration.’

While Fraser has not voiced his advocacy for body neutrality explicitly, his re-emergence has been increasingly characterised by body-neutral language. The question of ‘what happened’ to him seemed to centre his body initially. But the response to this question quickly pivoted away from this focus to an interest in his work, his personality, his past—basically everything else that makes up a human being. Online, people noted the body shaming implicit to the response to Fraser’s appearance, quickly critiqued it, and moved on to mutually shared nostalgia and joy at his return. I acknowledge that this might be an unsurprising continuation of the mechanisms of celebrity, and even a damning reflection on just how easy it is for specific men—in this case white and privileged and straight—to be able to separate their fame from their bodies. I accept these critiques while also acknowledging that it was a singularly heart-warming thing to behold.

It was as if forcing people to compare the way Fraser looks now to how he looked in George of the Jungle brought attention to, and then emulated, the brand of masculinity which his characters were so often associated with—a brand that Fraser himself personifies. This is a man who has no opposition to speaking vulnerably, or lovingly; a man that will cry and tip his ten-gallon hat when a fan tells him that ‘the entire internet is behind him’. Witnessing this version of masculinity brought back into the annals of celebrity culture, one that remains so invested in a specific kind of male body and associated brand of masculinity, was surprisingly affecting.

While Fraser has not voiced his advocacy for body neutrality explicitly, his re-emergence has been increasingly characterised by body-neutral language.

Yet my support for the so-called Brenaissance does not stem solely from idolising Fraser, nor from looking to him for guidance about my own body and how I should treat it. Celebrity culture seems destined to overvalue and over-aestheticise bodies. Celebrities, too, seem destined to disappoint us. Fraser’s recent casting in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, an adaptation of a play repeatedly accused of fatphobia (Fraser will wear a ‘fat suit’ for the role), seems an insidious development to his past experience with his body, and the body-neutral rhetoric that characterised his recent comeback.

But there was a glorious moment during the reception of Brendan Fraser’s resurgence when the world (according to my Twitter feed) chose not to ignore how his body had changed, but rather to oppose the impulse to attribute value to this change. This shining moment may have passed, but it was only ever a conduit for a larger conversation which I remain wholly dedicated to. I work at a university college full of teenage boys, many of whom have described lifting weights until they puke, shaming themselves for failing to move up a weight class, obsessing over the muscularity of their peers and idols. They’re habits I recognise, and struggle with every day. If I can challenge these boys to think of their body as valuable without conditions, as powerful beyond purely masculine ideals, and accepted even when it’s just simply there, then I think I can continue the neutrality glimpsed, however briefly, in the Brenaissance. To encounter these challenges while also getting them to watch Brendan Fraser teach an elephant to play fetch in George of The Jungle? Even better.

And I haven’t even touched on the effects of rewatching The Mummy.