VIDEO: In pursuit of Adonis - is beauty really skin deep?

The myth goes that Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexuality, was so smitten with the physical perfection of Adonis that she took him as her lover.

While the image of that physical ideal may have morphed through the ages, we have exalted earthly male beauty in painting, sculpture, music and virtually every other art form ever since.

Today, bodybuilders struggling for that much-acclaimed six-pack – or preferably, eight-pack – ab definition refer to the two shallow grooves running from the hip bone to the pubic area as “the Adonis belt.”

Every day, scantily-clad men with handsome faces and beautiful bodies grace the covers of magazines, look down at us from larger-than-life billboards, and appear on increasingly provocative reality TV shows. Wonderful eye candy, to be sure, for gay men who sometimes seem obsessed with appearance and desirability.

But is this apparent skin-deep infatuation with body image the sum total of gay male culture? Is the modern-day Adonis an iron-pushing gym rat? A circuit party boy working it on yet another dance floor? Or is the pursuit of an Adonis-like persona completely unimportant to many of us?

In "The Adonis Factor," a follow-up to his earlier film, “The Butch Factor,” Christopher Hines takes viewers on an eye-opening journey through circuit parties, gay porn and avant-garde fashion photo shoots, all of which promote their own kinds of idealized physiques.

While offering its share of enticing visuals for Body Beautiful fans, "The Adonis Factor" is also a thoughtful examination that captures a diverse range of voices — from those who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of mainstream male beauty, to those who openly spurn it.

“The Adonis Factor” ultimately poses the question: Does a man’s fixation on body image make him any happier?

Although “The Adonis Factor” will run on the Logo cable TV channel in March 2011, you can see it even sooner, while also benefiting Desert AIDS Project client services, at the film’s Palm Springs premiere on Sunday, Dec. 19, at 2:30 p.m. at the Annenberg Theatre.

This director’s cut of the film will include some of the sexiest parts, exclusive to the theatrical release. After the film, there will be a Q&A session with the director, who lives part time in Palm Springs, before the cast reception at Trio Restaurant.

“The Adonis Factor” covers all sides of the body image issue – from the party scene and fantasies to breaking the mold, fighting labels and dealing with aging – much of it from a local perspective as viewers are sure to recognize men they might see every day in Palm Springs, Los Angeles, San Diego and elsewhere.

Scott Cullens, a regular at World Gym in Palm Springs appears in the film, in which he says: “How I look has made my experience as being a gay man better.”

But Cullens also used that same physical appearance to help his community earlier this year when he participated as one of the “studs” in the first Stud Auction fundraiser for Desert AIDS Project. Held at the Tool Shed, the auction was greeted by an enthusiastic and generous crowd, who helped raise almost $14,000 for D.A.P.’s dental clinic, the only HIV-specialty dental clinic in Riverside County.

“Studies have shown that attractive people do better at their jobs, they make more money, they have better friends. People in the community view them as better people,” Palm Springs dermatologist Dr. Tim Jochen says in the film. “There are objective factors to making a man handsome. It’s important to have wide-spaced eyes, a broad, solid nose, a square jaw and even skin tone. But it’s really dimensions and proportions that make a person attractive. Most people say they’d rather have a smoking hot body on a person with an OK face.”

An interior designer in Los Angeles sums it up even more succinctly, “I’m a very visual person. If you want the poster boy, you have to look like the poster boy.”

“It’s probably one of the issues I deal with most,” says a therapist with a large gay male clientele. “When many people talk about their looks and attractiveness – their place in society – they often talk about not being valuable, if they don’t have certain looks.”

Although it may seem that the beautiful male physique rules supremely in the gay community, “The Adonis Factor” also includes lots of footage of people whose self-esteem clearly is not determined by those constraints. While they may recognize what’s important to some gay men’s, there are lots of bears, twinks, and Average Joes just as happy NOT pursuing Adonis.

“The Adonis Factor” deftly balances diverse viewpoints and voices to paint a picture of a complex world where beauty is too often considered skin deep. No matter where your opinion lies on the body-image-spectrum, you’re sure to enjoy “The Adonis Factor” as a revealing look at gay men’s love or lust for all things pretty.

If you go

"The Adonis Factor" film premiere and cast reception, benefiting Desert AIDS Project, begins at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19 at the Annenberg Theatre at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Tickets are $20 and are also good for admittance to a cast reception at Trio Restaurant, 707 N. Palm Canyon, at 4:30 p.m., featuring complimentary hors d’oeuvres, raffle prizes and a cash bar. Tickets are available by phone at (760) 323-2118, ext. 266 or online at

Film preview