I’m sorry to say this, sorry to think it, sorry even to type the words. Please accept my apologies in advance.
Jeff Bezos is buff.
I don’t want to ponder the fine slope of his traps, the curve of his shoulders, the pertness of his pecs, his sculpted biceps, his abs glistening perhaps with oil. I can’t look away; I must look away. Please, dear God, make it stop.
The tabloids have been bursting with paparazzi photographs of Bezos “cavorting” (because people in the tabloids are rarely not cavorting) with his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, hosing each other down on a super-yacht off St. Barth’s. Bezos allegedly bought out Hotel Le Toiny during the Christmas holidays, ground zero for what TMZ called their “PDA Xmas tour.” I say “allegedly,” but I know he was there, because I was staying in a villa next door. I passed Sanchez on a morning hike with a group of her friends plus someone who may have been a bodyguard.
Sanchez also looked buff, FYI. Along with the rest of the world, I studied Bezos’s New Year’s Eve Instagram post from St. Barth’s, where he posed in skintight pants (please, make it stop), a form-fitting shirt (“Basically a tattoo,” said Scott Galloway on the Pivot podcast), and heart-shaped sunglasses, with Sanchez plastered to his side.
O.K., sure, it was a “crazy disco party,” to quote @jeffbezos. But on New Year’s Eve, what isn’t? These images of the world’s second-wealthiest man looking like the entertainer Pitbull have made more than a few people lose their composure. It disturbs the general equilibrium, upsetting the notion of what a billionaire should look like. It’s a long way from here to Warren Buffett.
No one seemed to mind when Bezos was a 40-year-old tech nerd in baggy Dockers with a fuzzy pate. But now this man, known for his cunning efficiency, has taken that drive and applied it directly to his B.M.I. “This is a guy who is used to winning and mastering what he wants,” says Jacque Lynn Foltyn, Ph.D., professor of sociology at National University, San Diego, and co-editor, with Laura Petican, of In Fashion: Culture, Commerce, Craft, and Identity (Brill). “He believes in winner takes all, from Amazon and delivery to space. He’s conquered everything. And now he’s bringing it down to Earth to rebuild his body.”
Some believe the transformation started when news broke of Bezos’s affair with Sanchez, along with those cringey texts, in the National Enquirer. But Dr. Foltyn, who analyzes these things in an academic setting, traces the makeover to 2013, when he shaved his head. “That’s important. Shaving the head is a sign of virility and ownership; it looks better than a half-bald head,” says Dr. Foltyn. “Look at Yul Brynner, look at the Rock.” And Pitbull.
It disturbs the general equilibrium, upsetting the notion of what a billionaire should look like. It’s a long way from here to Warren Buffett.
There’s the obvious contrast of Bezos with MacKenzie Scott and Bezos with Sanchez. Sanchez is “body-conscious, looks conscious, and that rubs off on him,” says Dr. Foltyn. “You can’t underestimate what the sensuality of a new love does to self-perception and to public perception.”
Since the divorce, Scott has quietly given away a significant chunk of her wealth and married a high-school teacher. While she wears a halo, Bezos wears heart-shaped sunglasses. As Brad Stone, the journalist and author of Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire (Simon & Schuster), wrote about the National Enquirer scandal, “Bezos’s colleagues at Amazon could only watch and wonder: Did their C.E.O. still belong to them, or to some alternate dimension of wealth, glamour, and international intrigue?” Clearly, the latter.
What, exactly, did Bezos do to achieve such buffness? Steven Teitelbaum, M.D., associate clinical professor of plastic surgery at U.C.L.A. School of Medicine, shuts down some of the rumors. “There’s no hint that Jeff Bezos had plastic surgery,” he says. “Surgery doesn’t do that; it doesn’t increase muscle mass.”
Might he be taking a substance that’s banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency? “A lot of my wealthy patients are on growth hormones,” says Dr. Teitelbaum, although he isn’t suggesting Bezos is, because he doesn’t know. Nevertheless, “you don’t take them and immediately get a good body. You do gain more muscle mass if you take them and work out.”
Apparently, Bezos travels with his rumored trainer, Wes Okerson, who posted his own pictures from St. Barth’s—lifting a rock, making friends with a turtle—over the holidays.
Perhaps it isn’t fair to scrutinize Bezos—or anyone—this way. Women, especially notable women, have long been subjected to worse. Just ask Madonna, Adele, and Nicole Kidman. Rewind to Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor. By going to flashy parties with movie stars, by vacationing on super-yachts in the Caribbean, by being the target of the paparazzi and seeming to pose for their telephoto lenses, Bezos also joined the club.
“You can’t underestimate what the sensuality of a new love does to self-perception and to public perception.”
“We objectify celebrities. They’re public images and public property,” said Dr. Foltyn. “If they put themselves on social media, then it feels like fair game. And people have always been fascinated by people who change their bodies.”
All the snark and caviling have some origin in jealousy. Still, it seems almost justified to take shots at someone who pays only a tiny fraction of his income in taxes. No one can read about the Amazon workers who urinate in bottles because they can’t take bathroom breaks and feel happy about the big boss cuddling with his lady friend on a raft tethered to a yacht in the Caribbean Sea.
The body obsession, the PDA, the cowboy hats, the phallic rocket: they’re a performance, they’re cartoonish, a distraction, a deflection. Jeffrey Preston Bezos just turned 58 years old. Killin’ it, bruh.
Bill Gates, don’t get any ideas.
Linda Wells spent 25 years as Allure magazine’s founding editor in chief, served as Revlon’s chief creative officer, and currently consults and sits on the boards of several beauty and apparel companies