Anthony Barillo, 28, describes his Instagram as a “visual diary of a top-producing, Ivy League–educated broker in New York City.” He has more than 57,000 followers, to whom he posts images of his daily life as an elite property salesman in New York, selling homes to celebrities like Kim Kardashian. But Barillo’s Instagram is also famous for something else — namely, the perfectly curated photos that show off his chiseled body while he stares off pensively into the distance.
Just look at Barillo, biceps bulging in his snugly fit casualwear as he carelessly walks down the streets of New York.
Check out that blue suit and horn-rimmed glasses as he flicks through a book in the New York Public Library. “Walked into the library to search of a specific book I couldn’t find elsewhere,” he captioned it. “Walked out of the library with four books and a new Instagram photo.”
Each photo he uploads gets thousands of likes and hundreds of comments from all over the world, both from men and women, commenting on his attractiveness. “Daddy!” says one commenter, complete with two heart eye emojis. “You are gorgeous, honey!” says another. On a photograph of Barillo playing tennis topless, where nearly every muscle in his body is finely detailed, a commenter writes, “Those calves…I’d lick those.”
Barillo’s profile is clearly curated with great detail, capturing every glimpse of his sharp jawline, his evenly cut stubble and pitch-perfect coif. His account shows him hanging out with friends, playing sports and eating at rooftop restaurants. To any outsider, he lives a dream life, and it’s clear that he’d like you to know that too. It’s not just Barillo who does this either. Guys like Mike Zoppo, Xavi Cerra and Gustavo Nassopolini all have similar profiles, complete with photographs taken in their offices, glamorous parts of the cities they live in and exotic vacation destinations.
These guys are an example of a growing trend of men who, despite not being models, upload professionally shot photographs of themselves in tight suits and athleisure that show off their physiques. They often work in finance, law or real estate and talk about “going in at 100%” when doing deals, then spending the weekend paragliding or hiking up a mountain for no other reason but to post a picture of themselves topless at the summit.
They are the male thots of Instagram.
“Thot” is a term that’s been used on the internet since 2014. In literal terms, its an acronym for “That Ho Over There,” though it can also be translated as “Thirsty Hos Over There.” The term was meant to be negative, one that referred to someone openly promiscuous. In pretty much all cases, it’s applied to women, acting as shorthand for slut. Describing the term in Slate, Amanda Hess writes:
The archetypical thot, as constructed through memes circulated on Instagram and Twitter, drinks cheap alcohol, eats Chipotle, uses a Metro PCS phone card and shops at mall staple Aeropostale. She has a beauty mark piercing on her upper lip, just as the “tramps” who came before her sported tattoos on their lower backs. She is “grocery shopping in heels looking like” she’s “going to the EBT awards.” In their most absurd forms, thot memes position thotness as a quality that’s predestined from birth: A thot is named “Jasmine” or “Sasha,” and she stands 5-foot-1 to 5-foot-5. Most of the time, she’s black.
These days, the use of thot has changed, as a result of women online reclaiming the term to assert confidence, both in and out of the bedroom, as well as by musicians like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, who, in the chorus of “Lil Thot,” says, “If you ain’t talking about money then I’m pitching nothing but curves.”
But the term is still primarily used for women — until recently.
A couple of months ago, writer Priya Alika Elias found Barillo’s Instagram among other men who post similar photos. Elias described the men as “like a manufactured Ken doll thot poses/captions/situations. … The kind that dudes think is exclusive to women.” The photographs were a perfect illustration of what she calls the “male business thot” — a uniquely contemporary young businessman who puts in an extraordinary amount of care into their social media feeds while trying to appear not to — all as a way of showing off how hot they are.
“‘Thot’ is used when referring to literally any female who wears anything less than a burka; I’d say a female thot is a girl who seems confident in her sexuality or something and shows off her body in whatever way online,” Elias says. “Being a male thot, however, is more complicated. Male thots have to be super fit. They have to wear tight, designer garms and pose in a variety of sexy or expensive locales.”
To her, being a male thot isn’t just a matter of being a conventionally attractive man who posts selfies on Instagram. Rather, it’s much more narrow than its female counterpart. “There’s something corny about it,” she admits. The key in any male ‘thot’ picture, Elias says, is that “they always try to appear effortless, like they just found this old pic and they’re posting it casually.”
To Elias, two male thots immediately come into mind. First, Omar Borkan al Gala, who in 2013 was kicked out of Saudi Arabia after the kingdom’s religious police deemed his photographs “too sexually attractive.” (They were afraid that “women wouldn’t be able to control themselves around him.”) The other is Kylie Jenner’s bodyguard Tim Chung, also known as “the hot bodyguard.” Chung finds the time to post high-quality photographs of himself dramatically leaving a private jet and staring pensively into the distance.
Then he stares into the distance again while wearing a snug suit.
He is also known to take a bite out of a pizza while wearing a white tuxedo in the middle of a desert.
While there is a growing number of men who fit the definition of the male thot, it’s difficult to get them to admit it. Most guys I reached out to while writing this article told me that they wouldn’t consider themselves to be thots and that their decision to upload pictures of themselves was either to “show off my look,” or more commonly, that it “helps me be confident in the way I look.”
In fact, no male Instagram thot was willing to speak to me on record, mostly because they had problems with being associated with the term. Those who were happy to define themselves as such tended to moonlight as models and referred me to their managers and demanded the interview be paid.
After days of frantic messaging on Instagram, however, one man did get back to me: Peter Derock, a 28-year-old blogger, “fashion innovator” and “brand promoter” who lives in Berlin. By day, he works as a marketing manager. But one of his passion projects is running an Instagram account dedicated to male thot pictures that he gets from all across Instagram.
The account shows your standard male thot pictures — men with defined abs and pecs, staring into the distance; men wearing tight suits and sunglasses, also staring into the distance or checking their phones casually. Every guy on Peter’s page is muscular.
Peter decided to create the account after seeing a “demand for high-end fashion pages for men on Instagram” in 2015. He had noticed that women had “a lot of pages they could go to if they wanted fashion tips, inspiration, workout tips or just to post pictures of themselves.” Men, on the other hand, had little back then. He had initially wanted to create a page for fashion, simply reposting images he’d find on GQ and Esquire.
But as Peter’s followers increased, he noticed a bigger demand for “authentic men” who weren’t professional models but who wanted to look as ripped as one. “Some guys would message me and ask if I could upload a picture of them they had from a photoshoot,” he says. “Other times, I’d find a guy on Instagram who had pictures of himself posing in a suit.”
More often than not, it’s the pictures of topless guys that get the most the likes, from both men and women. They also receive the largest number of thirsty comments, calling the men “daddy” or providing more detailed and not-safe-for-work descriptions of their thirst and fantasies.
When I ask Peter what he thinks of the term “thot,” he laughs. “I don’t know if ‘thot’ is the right word!” he says, suggesting that thotting has more to do with trying to convince people to sleep with you. At the same time, Peter believes the number of guys who are looking at pictures of male thots is increasing. He attributes the phenomenon to “a big culture change, where men just want to be better, and a lot of that includes dressing better and looking better. They go onto Instagram and see these guys, and they’re inspired. They want to make positive changes, and they can use these images as a way to do that—like a blueprint.”
Peter says more men are definitely taking “thot” pictures, in that they carefully curate their Instagram feeds and are “conscious about places where there’s good lighting.” They will “even hire professional photographers to shoot candids,” but the objective isn’t seduction or to have sex, he adds. He believes it has more to do with personal branding, and that many guys use Instagram as a visual resume when applying for jobs or seeking promotions.
“Social media isn’t just a social space, it’s everything. So if a guy is looking to get promoted, or he wants a top job, it’s not his actual résumé that matters, but other things that employers find. If you have a killer resume, and you can also show on your Instagram that you dress well, you have hobbies, that you travel and do exciting things and that you look good—well, it definitely fits that saying, right? Dress for the job you want.”
When it comes to thot pictures I found, there appeared to be a double standard: While both women and men can use thot pictures to make money and advance their personal brands, it’s less shameful and somehow “professional” when you do it as a man.
To Peter, the male thot space differs because, even if photographs are being used to seduce or manipulate, “the ‘male thots’ could post thirst traps on Instagram,” but they could use them on LinkedIn, too. “Women can’t do that,” he admits. “If they posted a picture of themselves in a tight work dress that showed off their legs or chest, they’d be called sluts or hos. Men definitely get away with more.”
All of which makes the male thot trend on Instagram indicative of the gender politics that still permeate the platform. Instagram still places arbitrary rules around nudity that disproportionately affect women more than men. (It takes down any post that even outlines a woman’s nipple.)
“Male thots won’t be policed for quite some time, I believe, just because they’re dudes,” Elias says about this gender imbalance. Moreover, Elias thinks, the phenomenon of male thots indicates a wider cultural issue whereby the standards set for men are considerably lower. “Women are naturally better at taking selfies and stuff because, I think, we’re more aware of how we look to other people and we’ve been practicing poses,” she says. “It’s still a novel thing for men.”