The soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo is, indisputably, the deep-tan color of unctuous gravy. He is always the color of unctuous gravy. A pale Ronaldo would probably signal the end of the world.
But he wears his gravy so well, and this week his studly body has been on display in both the tabloids and his own social media, particularly a picture of a grinning Ronaldo in a pair of tight black swimming trunks—a dash of licorice in the gravy, if you like.
When the 31-year-old Real Madrid star—whose relationship to clothing is as flimsy as his swimming trunks—shares his body with the world, he does so with a big, go-ahead-objectify-me smile. He doesn’t care who’s looking. And he knows many will.
And so it was when he posted to Instagram a picture of himself from his holiday in Ibiza this week, knee-deep in water, in a skimpy pair of swim shorts, his tanned, muscular, six-pack body on proud display. The message: “Enjoy.”
This was followed by another Insta-snap, “Pool time with my boys,” which was our Ken doll hero, now palled up with two other guys, also hot and muscular, on the edge of a pool. They are flexing and smiling.
Both images have garnered just shy of 3 million likes at the time of writing, and there’s a lot of predictable heavy breathing in the comments below them too, which is just what soccer’s most unapologetic peacock would want.
Other images have shown Ronaldo with his 6-year-old son, Cristiano, relaxing on inflatables in the swimming pool. Both father and son look blissfully happy.
It’s no surprise to see Ronaldo’s body on display: This is someone who rejoices in his sexiness, or what he perceives is his sexiness. The strange thing with Ronaldo is that he is papped while on his boat from hundreds of feet away, and then—via his own social media—he sends out into the world just-as-candid images of himself wearing not much at all.
Rather like Kim Kardashian and other social media maestros, Ronaldo seeks to make the jobs of all those who follow him around with telephoto lenses null and void.
What’s the point of photographing the world’s sexiest soccer star from behind a tree if, via his own social media accounts, he will take a better picture of himself? Ronaldo isn’t exactly hiding.
Ronaldo is another celebrity, then, determined to take charge of his own celebrity, knowing that his body is the commodity that requires the most diligent selling. He has his own underwear line, CR7, and is opening a five-star hotel Friday—what timing to be all over the tabloids flashing his six-pack!—in his native Funchal in the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira.
He knows he is a brand and that his body is central to that brand. And so it comes out regularly, like a shopping display, whether to sell underwear or rooms in a smart new hotel.
It says something that Ronaldo would strip off, ostensibly for a straight man’s magazine like GQ, clad only in a pair of red underwear—and though he has a similarly skin-showing Alessandra Ambrosio draped around him, it is Ronaldo who is the focus for the photographer, and for the straight male readers.
Ronaldo’s own sexuality—as with all true superstars—is regularly questioned. There has been an endless, tabloid-friendly stream of girlfriends and rumored-to-be girlfriends, and the mother of his son remains a mystery. The latest set of images from his holidays show him to be with just-as-hot male friends.
He doesn’t seem that bothered by the rumors. There were whispers that kickboxer Badr Hari was Ronaldo’s lover, and then whispers Ronaldo had been visiting a girlfriend, not Hari. As Mark Simpson wrote in Out, Ronaldo has been targeted with people shouting “faggot” at him while playing soccer.
Ronaldo may be gay, he may not be, but one of the most impressive things about this very rich, very talented soccer player is that he doesn’t care what is said about him either way. He still displays his fantastic body, his wealth, and the fun and games he has with the people closest to him when he’s not playing soccer.
Ronaldo appears not to be inhibited by the many insults and awful abuse that come his way. He probably knows that homophobia is the chosen vehicle of mass, collective envy on the part of his abusers.
Indeed, he takes pleasure not just in his body but in all the intrigue that swirls around it.
That lack of apology, or looking rattled, that lack of explanation and his sheer delight in showing off his beauty, may signal both bravery and narcissism on Ronaldo’s part, but outweighing it is a confidence, playfulness, and mischief. Ronaldo shows us a lot on Instagram, but he reveals nothing at all. It gives him a lot of freedom, and the rest of us a lot of viewing pleasure.