The rise of the spornosexual, the more hardcore, body-obsessed version of metrosexuals

Jonathan Phay. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF JONATHAN PHAY
Jonathan Phay. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF JONATHAN PHAY
Edwin Kon. -- PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Edwin Kon. -- PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Wesley Ee. -- PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Wesley Ee. -- PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Hilmi Shukur. -- PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Hilmi Shukur. -- PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

With his six-pack abs, bulging biceps and tanned, smooth skin, Mr Edwin Kon looks every bit the fitness model.

The flight attendant, 29, has been snapping topless selfies ever since he began hitting the gym regularly seven years ago.

Initially, the snaps served merely as a visual chart for him to track his physical development.

Two years ago, however, he began posting them on Instagram.

"I'm proud of the way I look," he says. "And there is nothing wrong with posting photos of myself in swimming trunks on social media."

Since then, he has amassed close to 37,000 followers with photos of his ripped physique - images that leave little to the imagination.

Nearly all of them are tagged: #spornosexual.

Coined last year by British journalist Mark Simpson (the same man who gave the world "metrosexual" in 1994), the term refers to a more hardcore, body- obsessed version of the noughties' appearance- and fashion- conscious man.

Think football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, pop star Justin Bieber and local actors Allan Wu and Zheng Geping.

The spornosexual, with his sculpted hair and moisturised skin, takes pains to attain the perfect body.

Once attained, it is shown off to the world via social media.

More than shirts and suits, the spornosexual's body is the ultimate commodity.

"You don't spot a spornosexual, his body spots you and forces you to look at it," writes Mr Simpson, 49, in an e-mail interview with SundayLife!.

The term, mentioned in global publications including Esquire, GQ and New York Post, has since gone viral.

"When I read about it... I immediately thought, 'that's me!'" says Mr Kon.

Here in Singapore, spornosexuals are easy to spot.

They are either flexing their taut muscles in the gym or rocking them under tight shirts.

One such spornosexual is undergraduate Wesley Ee, 23, who works out every day.

He pumps iron at the gym or does pull-ups at his neighbourhood fitness corner.

For much of his life, he was obese.

But two years ago, he decided that he no longer wanted to be a "wallflower" and began working out and counting calories.

Last year, he was crowned second runner-up at the Manhunt Singapore pageant. He is now a contender in Cleo magazine's 50 Most Eligible Bachelors contest, which will take place later this month.

He has uploaded more than 100 shirtless selfies on Instagram since joining two years ago.

Each of these, he says, garners at least 250 likes.

"With the prevalence of social media and more men hitting the gym... men are taking greater pride in their bodies and are confident enough to show them off," he says of the spornosexual phenomenon, which he identifies with.

While some people have called him obnoxious for flaunting his hot bod, he says: "I don't really care."

His girlfriend, corporate partnership manager Tracy Toh, 23, says: "He takes more selfies than me.

"But if he doesn't stop me from dressing and looking the way I do, why should I stop him from posting topless photos?"

Other women are less enamoured of the idea of dating a spornosexual.

After all, he is likely to be more interested in his own body than in you.

Marketing executive Erliana Zaid, 26, says she doubts she can be attracted to a spornosexual: "I wouldn't want to date someone prettier than me, who cares more about looks than I do.

"He would be too high maintenance."

Nanyang Technological University psychology professor Joyce Pang says that, with materialism, social media and celebrity culture, men now are encouraged "to preen as muscular beings and flaunt their ripped physique".

And true enough, gyms say more customers come in wanting to attain a physique like Ronaldo's.

And once they start training, very few give up as they are very motivated to achieve their ideal bodies.

Senior trainer Peter Fisher, at Ultimate Performance gym in Cecil Street, points out that there is nothing new about men training hard in the gym.

What has changed, he says, is how it is "now documented to a greater degree and thrust under the spotlight".

"The rise of social media has created a positive feedback cycle, whereby more people are inspired or pressured into training," says the fitness trainer.

Not everyone wants to be a spornosexual, though.

Actor Wu, who fits the bill, does not consider himself one.

In fact, when he first heard the term, he found it ludicrous.

He prefers to label himself "a by-product of healthy living".

For Mr Kon, occasional negative comments on Instagram cannot hurt him.

"I have worked hard, spending many hours at the gym to get my body to this stage.

"It's definitely not easy and shows a person's determination and discipline," he says.

"Why work so hard only to hide it underneath a loose T-shirt?"

gurveenk@sph.com.sg


HILMI SHUKUR, 28, ACTOR

Marital status: Single

Exercise regimen: Hilmi, who is a performer at Images of Singapore Live, an attraction at Imbiah Lookout in Sentosa, works out four times a week, two hours each session. He either heads to the gym or does calisthenics (equipment-free body- weight workouts) at a neighbourhood fitness corner.

At the gym, to warm up, he uses light-weight dumb bells to do biceps curls and typewriter pull-ups. After that, he works out with a dumb-bell bench press for muscle definition.

This is topped off with a high-intensity abdominal workout, where he does the windshield wiper (a move executed while lying on your back, raising your legs perpendicular to the floor and moving them from left to right slowly and with control), leg raises and crunches for five minutes back-to-back, taking 15-second breaks in between.

Diet: Hilmi says he loves Malay food too much to follow a low-carbohydrate or high-protein diet. He eats Malay dishes such as rendang and ayam balado (fried chicken topped with spicy sambal) with rice, but ensures he has vegetables at every meal.

He also eats fast food such as KFC two to three times a week because of the lack of halal food options around his workplace. He does not have soft drinks, however.

A skinny kid for most of his life, he started on this path when he entered national service and decided to work out to build up his body.

“Being a spornosexual is an indication of my progress from skinny teen to fitness enthusiast. I take pride in my body and don’t see anything wrong in posting photos of myself.”


WESLEY EE, 23, UNDERGRADUATE

Marital status: In a relationship since June 2012

Exercise regime: On weekdays, he hits the gym at the National University of Singapore - where he is in his second year as a real estate major - for two hours each time, between or after lectures.

On weekends, he heads to a neighbourhood fitness corner to do a calisthenics workout.

His gym workout focuses on toning and definition, in which he follows The Big 3 - deadlifts, squats and bench presses.

He rounds up with either high-intensity 15-minute sprints around the track or jogging for 20 minutes.

Diet: He is on a ketogenic diet, which is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.

Meals consists of at least 100g of protein in the form of chicken or fish and large servings of vegetables.

As he weighs each item, he tries to eat all his meals at home.

He either eats before going on a date or opts for healthier options such as fish soup when he dines with his girlfriend.

When she craves something sweet, he would tag along and, perhaps, have a bite of cake.

He also eats between six and 15 eggs a day, hard-boiled, scrambled or fried.

Once a month, however, he goes all out on his "ultimate" cheat day, eating whatever and however much he wants at a buffet.

“Some have called me obnoxious for posting shirtless selfies on my Instagram, but I don’t really care. I’m confident of the way I look and have every right to post what I want on my account.”


EDWIN KON, 29, FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Marital Status: He has been dating someone for two years

Exercise regimen: Works out at the gym three to four times a week, for two to three hours each time.

Between long-haul flights, he makes it a point to visit a gym in the city he happens to be in.

His workout routine is meticulously planned.

During each session, he will focus on one major muscle, such as the pectoral muscles, and one minor muscle, say, the triceps.

At least twice a week, he swims 30 to 40 laps or runs on the treadmill for 30 to 45 minutes.

Diet: As he is not a bodybuilder but a regular Joe with a routine job, Mr Kon says he is not strict about what he eats and does not follow any diet.

That said, he believes in eating everything in moderation.

He eats hawker food such as chicken rice, economy mixed rice and fish bee hoon soup most of the time for lunch and dinner.

For breakfast, he prepares oatmeal with hard-boiled eggs or a scrambled egg sandwich.

Every one or two months, he satisfies his craving for McDonald's with an upsized meal of Big Mac or Filet O' Fish.

“When I read The Telegraph article on spornosexuals by Mark Simpson, I immediately thought, ‘that’s me!’. I never identified with the term metrosexual as I’m not very fussy about my dress sense.”


JONATHAN PHAY, 29, ACCOUNTANT

Marital status: Single

Exercise regimen: Mr Phay hits the gym six to seven times a week, for 11/2 hours each time.

He devotes each day's workout to a body part: Monday is all about the legs; Tuesday is about the back; arms on Wednesday; shoulders on Thursday; legs again on Friday; Saturday is back day; and chest on Sunday.

Each routine features at least six different exercises, including barbell squats, overgraft pull-ups, cable shoulder fly (front and rear) and dumb bell bench presses.

Diet: Eat clean as much as possible.

On weekdays, he eats the same home-cooked breakfast of oats, two egg whites, almond milk, a banana and a piece of 90 per cent dark chocolate.

Lunch is two poached chicken breasts with broccoli and bell peppers.

He has a tea break as well, comprising four whole eggs and a cup of iced black coffee.

On weekends, he eats out and indulges over dinner.

Whenever possible, he opts for healthier options such as sashimi and salad or reduces the food portion.

“As the saying goes, ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it!’. Guys with money show off their Ferraris, guys with abs do so topless.”

Are you a spornosexual? What turned you into one? E-mail stlife@sph.com.sg