Robert Redford has officially retired from acting, and in spite of his long and storied career as an actor, director, Sundance founder and elder statesman of film, he has also spent his life as a looker. As a pretty boy, he says, being taken seriously has been a decades-long battle. In interviews, Redford notes that he actually enjoyed getting older because he “didn’t have to worry about being admired for his looks” so much.
Turns out you don’t have to be Robert Redford to have this problem. What is it like to go through a “normal” life being too good-looking? I spoke with two men, one gay and one straight, both of whom have always been objectively, empirically, ridiculously hot, and encouraged them to be as candid as possible.
Both men preferred to remain anonymous for this interview. And who could blame them? The last thing any good looking man wants is to identify himself not just a being good looking, but knowing it. But that means I have their photos and you don’t. Sorry. [Editor’s note: Yes, they’re extremely handsome.]
Both men shared a number of overlapping experiences growing up this way: They remembered realizing they were attractive from a very early age based on how other people responded to them. No awkward teen years, just heartthrob status from early on. Both ended up gravitating toward musical careers where they’re the frontman. Both said the onslaught of constant attention made them shy.
‘I never did homework, never went to class, and I got away with it’
“When I was younger, everyone was always telling my parents, ‘You need to put him in a commercial,’ and that kind of talk,” says Chris, a gay 40-something man. “I was a pretty baby,” he said. “I was even pretty through my puberty years.”
Chris, who has bedroom eyes and a gray-flecked beard, recalls skipping classes throughout high school with no consequences. “I would even pop into other classes and hang out, and make jokes to teachers, and everyone let me do it. I never did homework, never went to class, and I got away with it.”
His physical appeal wasn’t stated explicitly to him until his senior year, though. “I was making out with a girl and we kissed one time,” Chris recalls. (He hadn’t come out as gay yet.) “Right afterward, she said, ‘This is every girl’s fantasy.’ I didn’t comprehend what she was talking about at first — I asked, ‘Is that a line from a movie?’”
Then finally, one teacher had enough with his breezy, overly attractive nonchalance. “I was in a rehearsal for a play, and my drama teacher made a scene in front of everyone because I hadn’t memorized my lines. “She said I had ‘cuted my way through high school and I was not going to cute my way through this.’”
‘A modeling scout saw me and flew me to New York’
For Steven, being too good-looking was also clear from the start.
“To be honest, it almost goes back as early as I can remember,” he says. “Even to, say, kindergarten. It’s part of my earliest school memories.”
He knows this because all the cute girls always tended to have crushes on him. Even teachers and adults would say things like, “Wow, he’s a looker,” and “Going to a be real ladykiller.”
“As you get a little older as a kid, you just see this flirtatiousness,” he said. “Even from adults. In an innocent way, really.”
For Steven, the attention got to him. “It started making me shy and introverted,” he said. He got hit on. A lot. “Even women older than me, even men. I only had one girlfriend pretty much all through high school, but the attention made her very, very insecure and worried about my fidelity. It was jarring.”
He also said it started to feel bad that, whereas other guys were being praised for abilities, he was only getting attention for his looks. “I think that’s why I went into athletics in college,” he said. He wanted to prove he was good at something other than looking good. Off a basketball scholarship, he double-majored in theoretical physics and engineering.
But even while playing basketball, his looks surfaced again. “I was training in the offseason for basketball and a modeling scout saw me, flew me to New York and took me there and introduced me to some people.”
What was supposed to be a summer job to make some good money became a chance to stay and live in New York, sign up with a major modeling agency and spend three years modeling. He went to Milan and hung out with other beautiful people.
“By then I was more comfortable with my looks, and it sure beat being a bartender or waiter in terms of money, hours and lifestyle,” so he kept it going, he says.
For Steven, hanging out with other lookers was a crash course in how well some people wear it, and a roadmap to how he might lean in. There were some models who were simply gaming their looks to make a lot of cash in a short period of time to pay for medical school. Others were just beautiful people with no other marketable skills. But their looks were more matter-of-fact for them. Still, something in it just felt bad to him. Even though it helped him get past feeling uncomfortable with his physical blessings, it just didn’t feel right.
“It’s not a dis to people in the fashion industry who find love and art in it,” he says. “There’s so much that’s true art in it. But being a model, I didn’t find much emotional or spiritual substance in it. Wasn’t getting anything out of it. I could only be so good at it because my heart just wasn’t in it.”
‘All this has a passive-aggressive, negative effect on your subconscious’
In New York he met his wife — who is, of course, also ridiculously good-looking — and they moved to Nashville to pursue a band. But there, in a town searching for gritty authenticity in its songwriters, they both met a lot of skepticism about being too good-looking to be believable or talented at the music itself, something he said still happens to the both of them after a show.
“You get people who come up and say they saw how you look and just didn’t think you could play,” he said. “For my wife, a drummer, the sound man will go up to her as she’s setting up her drum kit and say, ‘So, where’s your drummer?’”
Sometimes the sense that people think he can’t be intelligent comes up in other ways. “It will completely take people aback that I have a degree in physics,” he said. “Then you have the whole people-calling-you-‘Mr. Perfect’ thing. All this has a passive-aggressive, negative effect on your subconscious if you’re not careful.”
In other words, you start to doubt yourself: “Do I have all this because I earned it, or because I’m good-looking?”
The ‘Don Draper effect’
While Chris was pursuing a musical career, he worked odd jobs in coffee shops and restaurants, where people called him “Pretty Chris” and “constantly made jokes about how dumb I am.” A very nice, good-looking dumb, but dumb nonetheless.
“I’m not vapid,” he says. “I have a point of view, I have awareness. I’m a lot of things, but I’m not dumb.”
That presumption about his looks directly reflecting a shallow mind got old too, so every now and then he’d take advantage of it, just like in high school. “I existed [at one job] five or six years, and [being presumed to be dumb] never quite went away,” he said. “I just learned to go with it. I could get away with things if everyone thought I was dumb. If I didn’t do my side work, I could pretend I spaced out or something. Things I would not normally do.”
This isn’t always how it goes for good looking men, though. Like women, research shows, some men benefit from a similar “halo effect,” which presumes better-looking men are nicer, kinder and smarter. It’s also called a Don Draper effect, where excessively handsome men get away with being alcoholic, narcissistic cheats for longer than an average man pulling the same shit could. For men in particular, being attractive means their business presentations are even better received.
But a few years ago, Tinder noted that men who are too attractive don’t get as many swipes in the romance and hookup department because women tend to associate it with “arrogance and narcissism.”
Constant sexual harassment
The yin and yang of this ultimately manifests in a kind of double-edged sword: A man’s exceptional good looks can open some doors but close others. That’s been the case for both Chris and Steven, too.
Getting away with stuff: check. Getting whisked away to model: check. Landing a well-off boyfriend who’ll pay for everything, as happened to Chris: check. Strolling into jobs and being hired on looks and charm alone, even when you lack the relevant experience: check.
Not being taken seriously: check. Mildly harassed: check.
Chris says he’s been touched nonconsensually throughout his life working in service jobs and theater. “Just drunk people feeling uninhibited,” he said. “Always had a lot of ass-slapping, from men and from women. I’ve always worked in cultures of sexual inappropriateness, like theater and restaurants. I’ve been heavily groped in theater and work scenarios. A lot of weird dressing-room moments with other gay men. Also, women approach me a lot and don’t know I’m gay.”
It’s almost as if one of the best things that happened to either of them — being really, really hot — is also the worst thing that’s happened to either of them.
Neither man thinks anyone should feel badly for them, of course. It’s just this is the hand they were dealt and it’s not all the attractively arranged peas and carrots you’d think it is.
‘No one’s looking at me like they used to’
For a while, Chris tried stand-up comedy in Los Angeles. “I was told over and over that I’d be funnier when I’m older and fatter,” he said. “That I’d be way better at this if I gained some weight and got older.”
Finally, that happened. Now in his mid-40s and a few pounds heavier, Chris says he gets fewer looks than he used to. We discussed my theory of “peak hotness” and the fact that for many people there’s a phase where you’re at peak attractiveness and the world is your oyster. The catch is, you don’t realize it until it’s over.
“Yes,” he says. “My peak hotness phase was 29 to 35. Then 35 to 40 was questionable. Then I feel like, after 40, I have definitely had an awareness that there was a drop-off of guys responding on gay hookup apps. Could be guys have that age filtered out. But a hundred-percent noticeable drop-off after 40, for sure.”
He notices he gets less attention when he goes out, too. “If I go out, when I walk into a room now, I feel like no one’s looking at me like they used to. But maybe I’m just making it up.”
I point out that this is more typical of a woman’s tale of aging: That after a certain age, women become invisible to men on the street, and that the result is a mixture of relief and sadness. But that for men, aging is often associated with greater attractiveness. Is it possible it’s specific to gay culture?
Chris admits he has not aged badly at all, other than needing to maybe drop that 20 pounds. “If I turned myself more into the daddy/bear type, I would attract that thing,” he said. “I just don’t exist in that either. I don’t have big arm muscles. There’s a specific look — a daddy/bear thing — I don’t have. Right now I’m just kind of pudgy.”
Still, he’s enjoying getting older and the lack of attention, because with it has finally come the holy grail of being taken seriously. “That sexual attention — it’s not wanted,” Chris says. “I was always kind of asexual. What I probably want more than anything in life is to be taken seriously. Whether it’s with my music, or the films I’m creating. I’ve had many experiences in my past where they didn’t take me seriously and I think it’s very much because of how they perceive my appearance.”
‘In the long run it’s made me grow and own who I am’
For Steven, at 44, he too feels he’s finally being taken more seriously, but only because he’s been at music for 20 years now. However, combined with his attractive wife, both performing musicians, the attention has not let up in the slightest.
“We’re in our 40s now; we’re still attractive — very,” he said. “People still look at us. Both of us get hit on all the time. By men and women. They come on to both of us, individually and collectively. Sometimes for sure it gets old. Then sometimes it’s still flattering. It depends on the circumstances.”
He admits that everyone wants to feel beautiful, and the physical part of it is absolutely a part of it. “If somebody spots that in you and it’s coming from that place? It’s flattering. If it’s sleazy, that’s taking it a bit too far.”
But now, he says they’ve figured out how to own their sexuality and looks in their performances. “It’s literally the thing we’ve had to overcome in our music career, but in the long run it’s made me grow and own who I am.”
Don’t get him wrong. The judgment is still there — people still act surprised they can even handle an instrument. He just doesn’t care anymore.
“I know people think we’re vampires because of the way we still look,” he said. “I know they think we’re witches.”