Skip to main content

David Beckham: Rise of the metrosexual

By Ellis Cashmore, Special to CNN
updated 3:12 PM EDT, Fri May 17, 2013
David Beckham is a man of many talents. Not only is he one of the most famous names in sports, but he's also one heck of a model. Tommy Hilfiger has now recognized the 38-year-old former soccer player <a href='http://www.tmz.com/2014/03/10/tommy-hilfiger-david-beckham-underwear-model-of-the-century/' target='_blank'>as the No. 1 underwear model of the century</a>. It's just one of several career highs for Beckham, seen here modeling Emporio Armani underwear in a 2009-2010 ad campaign. David Beckham is a man of many talents. Not only is he one of the most famous names in sports, but he's also one heck of a model. Tommy Hilfiger has now recognized the 38-year-old former soccer player as the No. 1 underwear model of the century. It's just one of several career highs for Beckham, seen here modeling Emporio Armani underwear in a 2009-2010 ad campaign.
HIDE CAPTION
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
A name brand
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
David Beckham through the years
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Beckham's masculinity was never in doubt, writes Ellis Cashmore
  • Beckham dressed stylishly -- if a little too flamboyantly for many tastes
  • He became a symbol of a new masculinity

Editor's note: Ellis Cashmore is professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University, UK, and author of "Beckham."

(CNN) -- Father, son, husband of a Spice Girl, fashion icon, role model, sporting ambassador. It is sometimes easy to forget that David Beckham was ever a midfielder of the highest caliber with more than 100 appearances for England.

He wore a sarong, a headscarf, nail varnish, adorned his body with tattoos and changed his expertly coiffured hair-do practically every week. He spoke sparingly and, when he did, it was with a high-pitched, slightly effeminate whine. And, as far as anyone could tell, his female partner seemed to make all the important decisions. And yet his masculinity was never in doubt.

Can you bend it like Beckham? Prove it! Send us your videos

In the 1990s, we called Beckham a New Man, or a metrosexual. He was evidently straight, but never aggressive or even assertive in a traditional masculine way. In fact, he seemed mild-mannered. He dressed stylishly -- if a little too flamboyantly for many tastes -- groomed himself painstakingly and appeared unembarrassed when asked about his formidable following of gay fans.

There was a shimmering complexity, a quiet elegance, and perhaps even a sly wit about Beckham. Footballers, as the world knew them, were hard-boiled characters, who liked a drink and a good play up, especially after a game. Their reputation was hewn from the granite of working class tradition -- men were tough and affectless. We can barely imagine the reaction in the locker room when Beckham unpacked moisturizer, bronzer, and assorted hair products from his kit bag.

Beckham brand will outlast soccer career
Beckham: I want to go out on top
David Beckham calls it a career
2011: Beckham: I always want to win

In the late 1990s, when he first surfaced, only Beckham could get away with it. After all, he enjoyed the adoration of women all over the world, had a pop star girlfriend and soon-to-be wife, and had to fend off advertisers who clamored for his endorsement services. He was a man with the world at his feet. He still is.

Today, cultural history is unimaginable without Beckham -- because he helped change that history. He slew the image of the unrelentingly macho sport hero and emerged heroically as the world's first all-purpose celebrity athlete. A symbol of a new masculinity.

And still we have to remind ourselves: Beckham was never rated as the best footballer in the world. And, far from being a hellraiser or a serial womanizer like many a notorious sports figure, he was squeaky clean.

Well, at least until 2004 when the News of the World tabloid alleged that he had an affair -- something he denied. Paradoxically, the alleged affair added rather than subtracted from his already iconic status, introducing a dash of devilry and rescuing Beckham from a kind of borderline piousness, and perhaps issuing a reminder that, despite all the affectations, his manhood was beyond doubt.

So why is Beckham the game-changing celebrity athlete?

There were two David Beckhams: one the flesh-and-blood mortal who kicked a ball around for a living, the other a character that existed independently of time and space -- a product of our imaginations.

Everyone thought they knew Beckham and enjoyed a secret relationship with him. He was like a blank canvas. Had he espoused his own views, or aligned himself with great causes he would have spoiled it. But he was silent, giving interviews rarely -- and, I suspect, at Victoria's discretion. And while he stayed largely unknown, the Beckham mystique grew.

When Beckham first entered the popular consciousness it was amid feelings of hate and revenge. Red-carded in a crucial England game against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, Beckham was blamed for his team's exit. Effigies of him were burnt and he was forced to retreat. It's difficult to imagine the intensity of the loathing back then. Yet it was crucial in generating interest, even, passion.

The sight, even the name of Beckham stirred up powerful feelings. Football fans may have despised him, but others were just curious. And they became more curious as Beckham defiantly refused to give interviews or make public appearances, save for at the occasional fashion launch or a party hosted by a rock star or designer. All this was very un-footballer-like and faintly unmanly.

By the time Beckham and Victoria were married in 1999, interest in him had extended far beyond the football fraternity. His most devoted followers knew nothing of football. Unlike traditional sport fans, they were not interested in how he played: they were interested in him -- just Beckham.

At the start of the 21st century, there was only an embryonic celebrity culture; the fascination we now have for people who make no material impact on our lives and, in many cases, had no accomplishments of note was a new and perplexing development. Fans knew famous sportsmen and women by their talents and achievements. Beckham was different, he was known for being Beckham and, in this sense, he was among the first generation of celebrities.

Beckham's departure from football will not mean his disappearance. He will remain on our TV screens, in our magazines and on advertising hoardings the world over. But most significantly, he will remain in our imaginations.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ellis Cashmore.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:59 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Focus is on the fish as U.S. President starts tour with visit to legendary Tokyo restaurant.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Fireworks are fantastic and human endeavor has its place, but sometimes Mother Nature outshines any performance we can produce.
updated 11:06 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
In 1987, China sent its very first email. Here's what it said,
updated 10:13 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
The world's new fastest elevator will fling you from earth to the 95th floor before you're done reading this article.
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
In one U.S. state, a new bill will allow ordinary citizens to carry guns in all sorts of places. Does it make you feel safer?
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
In South Korea, volunteer divers are risking their lives to rescue victims of the sunken ferry.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Park Jee Young, 22, helped passengers escape as the Sewol ferry sank -- giving out life jackets while refusing to wear one herself.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
What did outgoing manager David Moyes get wrong in his six months with English Premier League football team Manchester United?
updated 1:36 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
In honor of Shakespeare's birthday, here are 15 of the world's most amazing theaters.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
CNN exclusive: Australian officials are hammering out a new agreement for widening the Flight 370 search area.
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Malaysian officials sent to brief Chinese families are armed with little to no information.
updated 11:45 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
When a team of Indian surgeons opened up the stomach of a 63-year-old man, they had no idea they'd extract a fortune.
updated 3:01 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Do these photos CNN of gun-toting men wearing green uniforms prove Russian forces are in eastern Ukraine?
updated 1:11 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
If the Duchess wears it, then your fashion career is sorted for life.
updated 9:30 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Tucked away near the border with Cameroon, this poor corner of Nigeria is no stranger to such brazen, violent acts.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT