The Tragic Objectification of a Boy

Bjorn Andresen

“I wish I were objectified” yearned a male BroadBlogs reader. Other men have said the same, if less directly. I eventually turned the discussion into a blog post, warning: be careful what you wish for. 

“Objectification” and “desire” are commonly confused. Beauty, charisma and confidence can each spark the latter, which is likely what these men wanted: to be desired.

Sex objects may be desired but they are also treated as if they are merely objects that have no thoughts or feelings to fret over. All that matters is someone else’s pleasure or purposes.

Consider the tragic objectification of one boy.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World

Bjorn Andresen was 15 when he won the role of boy ingenue for the 1971 film “Death in Venice” which gained him the title, “the most beautiful boy in the world.” He may have been. But the resulting attention pretty much ruined his life.  

That moniker is now the title of Kristina Lindstrom and Kristian Petri documentary of Andresen’s life. And it isn’t pretty.

Bjorn lost his parents at a young age and gained a “stage grandma” who pushed him into showbiz just as director Luchino Visconti was putting Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice” on the silver screen. The story revolves around a stunning youth who catches the eye of a great writer who at first feels liberated and uplifted by his desire but grows increasingly obsessed with him. Mann describes the boy’s hair as honey-coloured, his eyes the colour of water, his beauty like a Greek god, and his being cold as a statue. This is the look and feel that Visconti sought to capture.

Like the fictional “great writer” the real-life director Visconti, who was openly gay, was captivated by Andresen’s beauty. For the screen test Visconti asked him to strip down to his underwear, walk around and look into the camera. The 15-year-old was shocked by the request and giggled nervously but complied. Such direction would be viewed as sexual harassment of a minor today. 

During filming Andresen said the director was pretty much focused solely on “go, stop, turn around, smile.” A bit like Roger Ailes’ FOXNews casting couch. Visconti also forbade his crew from looking at the boy, hoarding his beauty for himself.

Yet when Bjorn and Visconti toured to promote the film the director made base jokes about the boy’s lost looks — the now 16-year-old having aged a year. He didn’t care whether he hurt the boy. But then, an object’s feelings don’t matter. And while objectifiers are typically less attractive than the objects they demean, the object is held to narrower standards. It can be hard to hold on to self-worth when it is tangled up in fleeting beauty, whose standards are so cramped in the first place.  

But others were not so particular, still finding the youth lovely for many years. That did not help. 

After a post-premiere banquet his team left a very drunk Bjorn alone and easy prey for a group of guys who brought him to a gay club, where he was in no shape to make responsible choices or defend himself from advances. 

Soon after, he was marketed as “the most beautiful boy in the world,” which catapulted his celebrity. But as his fame rose his happiness fell. He went on a whirlwind international tour, including becoming a hit singer in Japan. The pace was so hot and fast that he was given pills to keep up. Meanwhile, a parade of men treated him like a piece of meat, or big game to be won, as he put it years later. By the time he was 21 Bjorn was receiving money and gifts from men who he thought were friends or nice fans, but now he understands they were merely using him as an escort “trophy.” One Parisian set him up in a lovely apartment and provided Bjorn with money and gifts. Looking back he says, “I felt like some kind of wandering trophy. I wanted to be somewhere else, and be somebody else.” In later years he became a depressed alcoholic.

He now calls the whole experience a “living nightmare.” 

Sexual objectification, existing for others’ purposes and not our own, makes it hard to grow into full human beings, or to even see yourself behind the projected object.

Related Posts
Anything Good About Being A Sex Object?
Does Porn Objectify? Experts Disagree
Why Men Objectify

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 22, 2021, in objectification and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 44 Comments.

  1. Actors like Bjorn and similar actors (particularly women and minors) are one of the many tragedies of the film industry. Disney and the many other corporations that have been accused of grooming and sexual harassment to minors remind me of Bjorn’s experience. As this post points out, objectification is about dehumanizing and projecting oneself selfishly onto another. Desire is then more of a reactionary feeling that should and can be analyzed to see if it’s a passionate hope for intimacy or an ignorant fantasy. Objectification occurs and is normalized in teen romance tropes and characters; media today has to rise above this if we are to teach and lessen its standardization in society.

    • Do you think that objectification occurs and is normalized in teen romance tropes and characters? Do their partners act like they are objects such that thoughts and feelings are of no import, and that they are simply objects to be used for sexual pleasure? I haven’t ever noticed that. If you have any examples I would be interested to see them.

  2. This article was interesting to read. It was interesting because it captivated my interest on how an individual became so stuck and immersed with himself with having people fall for this looks, that when he began to fall behind, he fell into the usage of drugs. He felt of place in the world to the point that he needed a substance to keep with his image and his new world. This is what led a large number of people to drug use in the 60’s. The worlds beautiful man fell to darkness when he wasn’t able to keep up. This article captures the rise and downfall of this individual.

  3. The idea of the perfect someone, when you build the concept of a person in your head, you forget that they are a person and one with feelings. The example of Bjorn Andresen is one of many in the movie and television industry. Like those who catcall on the street, these people are not real to them, objects that are to be used and abused becuase even if they understand, they are real people with feelings this irrelevant to them and their goals despite the mental and physical health of the individual.

  4. Unfortunately objectifying people is not uncommon in pop culture. It is sad that these humans are used more as props and crutches for people to get where they want to be in society or in a career. It is definitely common for both men and women, but I have to say it is more prevalent for women to be objectified. The lack of respect for women hasn’t helped this issue at all. There is a stigma we are here to please and wait on people, and men in particular. So women should just do what they are told, whether that is sexual favors or just “obeying” when they tell us to. This poor young boy was orphaned and then taken advantage of in many ways. He was objectified so much that he lost himself, he didn’t even have a chance to find himself. He was pushed into this life style and became an object for people, mostly gay men to prey on. Who knows what really happened to him during these unfortunate times, but I imagine none of it is good. So of course he self medicated with alcohol, I am sure he was very lonely during these times of his life and he just wanted to be loved.

  5. Upon reading this post, I was reminded of something I had seen recently. I had just watched a video of a male who had experienced street harassment as he was walking around town. He said that he felt somewhat good, but also said that he feels like he got a glimpse of what it was to be a woman. In the above post and in the video I watched, it’s very clear that males also experience objectification. The person in the video had felt desired, but he also understood that he was being objectified and he didn’t feel good about it. Ultimately, I think “desire” can have a negative connotation and falls into the same category as objectification. Just because someone “desires” you, does not mean they value you.

  6. I think this article is very sad but eye-opening. In the article objectification is talked about as if the objectification of men is less prominent than the objectification of women, and personally I disagree. I believe that there is an equal amount of objectification from both men and women, and society allows us to turn a blind eye to that. In the media, the portrayal of the “ideal” man is a guy with chiseled abs, and toned muscles, a sweet side, but with an ability to dominate. This narrative increasingly encourages men to be narcissistic and materialistic, striving for perfection with the fear that they might not be enough to match up with society’s standards. This double standard is what I think constantly drives this issue of objectification because everyone who is affected is fighting constantly with their self-image, trying to please everyone around them as they try to form themselves in the most acceptable or “desired” image that society portrays. If we stopped for a second and asked ourselves if we are truly uncomfortable in our skin or are we putting on this façade to feel “pretty/handsome” to please the people in our society. I think that the people who claim to be “comfortable” in their own skin but still objectify others are just projecting their own insecurities in hopes of gaining a sense of acceptance whether its false or not.

  7. Objectification is a sad experience. To be stripped of your entire mind and soul and only seen as a body is depressing and tragic. Growing up with that kind of behavior makes you confused about what desire is and what objectification is. Do they see you as a tool for use, or a human being with a past, present, and future. A being with dreams, opinions, idiosyncrasies, and desires. It is terrible how earlier on one can be objectified. Good looking children are praised for their looks early on and also restricted more so early on. For example, a girl going through puberty will be told to cover her chest and dress modestly, but later on in life those same features will be the subject of praise. For men, it is the same. A boy’s muscular physique will begin to change and already adults are praising him, but instead of telling him to hide it, they will encourage him to maintain it. If he doesn’t he will be deemed as undesirable. Children are conditioned to believe their value comes from only a small part of their entire being.

  8. Men oftentimes don’t understand the actual meaning of serious terms like objectification. They want to be “objectified” when they really just want to feel desired. The topic on Bjorn Andresen was a heavy one, and I wouldn’t wish that kind of treatment upon anyone. It’s understandable he became depressed and sought escape in alcohol, many people would be the same way if they went through the same thing he did. When anyone is objectified or treated this way, it’s usually always the “victims” fault for whatever poor excuse someone can come up with, but this is never the case. I wish there was a way we could just change the way people are and give them the right state of mind to feel for these types of things, and then maybe they wouldn’t happen to often.

  9. I find it somewhat funny or cruel maybe ironic that I clicked on this article because I was familiar with Bjorn Andresen as the inspiration for pretty boys in those cool looking 70s Japanese manga (particularly the work of Makoto Takahashi and Rose of Versailles comes to mind) and also I personally think he’s adorable, so I clicked on this. Now knowing his story I feel like an awful person! This reminds me of a voice actress who kept getting high profile roles in anime so people started saying she was sleeping with casting directors. I suppose it’s rather common that beautiful people (more often men than women) are shot into stardom and accused of this sort of behavior. Now for Bjorn these things were real (not that it was his fault, poor thing) but I personally feel like women who do not sleep there way into the top are accused of doing so, I wonder why when a man is successful we don’t accuse them of the same thing Bjorn was very young when this happened too, I feel like if we looked at more recent young celebrities we could see the same thing happening as well. I remember a few years ago when the new It movies came out lots of people where tweeting pictures of the main boy (i don’t know I’ve never seen the movies) and saying things like “oh tell me when he turns 18” and stuff. Maybe this kind of thing is more common in young men than we realize like theres so many jokes and stuff about how messed up child stars become, makes you think.

    • Well, there is nothing wrong with finding him attractive. Finding people attractive is how we create the next generation. The problem comes when we act in hurtful ways as a result, not caring about the objects feelings, as often happens with this boy.

  10. Marilyn Castaneda

    Great article! To be honest, I thought Objectification was only related to women. That is why we see more females being treated or used as an object. I know back in the days the law was different, first of all why is a 16 yr old boy asked to be stripped down, also they left him drunk, he was not supposed to be allowed to drink at the age of 16, it sounds like he was sexually abused. In the beginning, Bjorn thought this is a good “experience” being in a movie, gain popularity, and be recognized. He was not aware of the consequences that fame brings, also, he didn’t have no one to talk to or give him advice, sounds like his grandma was no help at all. Overall, objectification should not apply to anybody- male or female, once somebody feels like that person is an object, they feel they have power over them forgetting that they are humans, and no human should be treated as an object.

  11. I think you are right that the reader did not know what it means to be objectified. Bad things tend to happen when we regard someone as an object rather than a person. Bjorn is an excellent example of that.

  12. I have also been given a moniker by my better half, that is MAG which is in fact MAGNET. She believes that I got some kinda divine power to ‘Pull the Opposite Sex’ and make her do whatever I want. God knows.
    In return I gave her a moniker too, which is too short to pronounce, ‘KAW’… yes Kaw. I gave her an Italian name… CARO. It means Dearest in English. 😁

  13. But does this count for this story though? A lot of men would feel that way hearing about man or men treating a boy or other men as a sex object. When men say this it’s about women toward them or situations seeing women acting visually lustful toward a boy or men and the woman sexy, and beautiful or pretty, cute atleast. The story seemed to show how men regardless of sexual orientation seem to have a good knack of objectifying even if the target is another male instead of female or men have a knack of acting like pervy pedophiles a way way way more than women regardless of sex or gender these men are attracted to

    • Hi Bob. I don’t totally understand the first part of your question. On the second part, it is interesting that men seem to be stronger objectifiers of others. I can think of some possible reasons as to why that is. Women are taught to objectify themselves while men or taught to objectify others. Men’s sex drive seems to be stronger, too. Partly because it is less punished. I wonder if there is anything in male culture generally that encourages objectification generally. I know there is in straight male culture.

      • I was just trying to point out when I saw article and it was about a male. It was to point out how objectification is bad and how men can deal with it too. But it doesn’t completely show that point since it’s an example of a boy being sexually harassed and objectified by another gay man. It just brings more of the point home that men seem to be better at objectifying any sex and it’s not something tho straight men feel from women nor women do.

      • Ok. Got it. Thanks.

  14. In an age where every obscure sexual proclivity is celebrated, I find it odd that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to you that different people want different things. I’m reminded of the book, “The Sexual Life of Catherine M.” which is the reminiscing of Catherine Millet, a Parisian woman, documenting her exploits in the 1970s in an endless stream of gang bangs, group sex, and anonymous sex, Some have said her book made the Marquis de Sade look like a hopeless romantic. Commenting on her steady boyfriend, who was a participant in these events, she said it wasn’t until “I’d met a thousand others” that she knew he was the one.

    And her book sold millions of copies. Could it be that actually, most yearn to be objectified… and to assuage our disappointment in not having been, we will keenly latch on to counter-narrative stories like that of Bjorn Andresen, to try and convince ourselves that, what we really want is bad… it wouldn’t have been good for us anyway, so let’s put those thoughts away from us and focus on our boring little suburban life and paint another coat on our white picket fence. But what we’re really doing is cherry picking the data to enforce debilitating social constructs. About as academically rigorous as tracking down a born-again “reformed” homosexual to decry how terrible that lifestyle is.

  15. Objectification and desire are definitely different things. On top of that, only those who have experienced true objectification in my opinion are really able to differentiate the two, because one is much more intimidating and out of your control than the other. For “the most beautiful boy in the world”, it is unfortunate that such a series of events betook him at such a young age, but I think it is another story entirely that at the end of the day and his fame, he was able to live the rest of his life to his choosing and can dub the experience in past tense like it is done for. Women on the other hand are not so lucky and face the rest of their existence in their society being objectified, the only thing that changes is the type of objectification as women begin to age.

    • re: only those who have experienced true objectification in my opinion are really able to differentiate the two

      I must admit that I REALLY got it when I experienced it, myself.

  16. Objectification is not a good thing and people should not want to be viewed like a trophy. Bjorn Andresen was only fifteen years old and his director, Visconti sexually harassed him by making the poor kid strip down to his underwear and walk around the room for Visconti’s own sexual pleasure. Bjorn was labeled, “the most beautiful boy in the world”, and this wasn’t a good thing for Bjorn. Being viewed as an object or trophy just because you are beautiful is never acceptable. When people objectify another individual, they view that individual as empty headed and incompetent, unable to process emotions and what’s going basically. Bjorn grew up unhappy because he was given money and gifts left and right by random strangers, which he grew up to learn that those individuals who adored him so much were objectifying him. This can cause anyone to go down a miserable path in life and can also affect someone’s mental health severely.

  17. To know that one life changing movie will make a person’s life turn in a total nightmare. I feel so horrible for Bjorn Andresen and what he endured during his youth. He was objectified for his boyish charm and pretty face. The director of the film “Death in Venice” is who started the objectification upon him. He wanted him to himself which made me believe he was bisexual. Mainly men were attracted to him because of his looks and labeled in a wrong sexual way. Later in years the attention from the men became worse and it led Andresen to drinking and not being as successful as he should have been. The entire experience led him to his downfall in his career

  18. My heart hurts for Bjorn, this type of situation is devastating no matter who it affects. People deserve to be known for something other than their looks, especially when they are so young. We see the objectification of women everywhere, told to dress a certain way or act a certain way to appear small and vulnerable to men. What about inferiority is so attractive? I think it ties back to a man’s need for power in order to feel superior, since they don’t have the capacity to feel empowered within themselves. Regardless, this behavior is uncalled for and extremely demoralizing. The objectification of men, women, and children, is something that needs to be eradicated from society, but what are our first steps?

  19. It is such a heartbreaking story of Bjorn Andresen. I agree with one of the commons saying that there is a longstanding history of objectification towards women in many cultures, so sometimes people are not sensitive enough to spot objectifying when it happens. Objectification could be used in many ways, including but not limited to sexual assault, like what happened to Bjorn Andresen, and rape, verbal abuse, etc. Some might not even be directly connected with sex, with statements like women are born to bear kids, and some might be sugarcoated. But in all cases, the manipulators do not care for the objects’ feelings or emotions rather than their own goods. Respect as human beings are nowhere to be found in those cases. I hope people would care for themselves more when feeling objectified.

    • Yes, this is the key to the problem with objectification: in all cases, the manipulators do not care for the objects’ feelings or emotions – They only care about what they think is good for themselves.

  20. Bjorn’s story is most likely how a lot of men and women feel being overly sexualized /objectified I feel like that topic in general is very hush hush and swept under the rug and almost kinda normalized when it shouldn’t be just because girls get objectified more than a guy may be objectified doesn’t mean their emotions and feelings are invalidate when it does happen . I haven’t seen one person that genuinely cares when a guy gets objectified because women are so use to that , the reaction is so low when it happens to the opposite sex . It shouldn’t be low it should be a equal reaction Bjorns story is very sad because although he was coined the most beautiful boy in the world he wasn’t happy , and that title led to his alcoholism not to mention during this he was a minor which is a whole different disturbing topic by itself . In order for society to understand both genders . The genders themselves have to understand each other when things like this happen

    • Interesting thoughts. I imagine women could be more sensitive to female objectification and men to male objectification.

      • I’m not sure, because men’s horniness often blinds them if it involves a pretty woman being lusty to a boy. Look at the cases of adult teacher having sex with a 16 or 15 year old boy and men are like “lucky boy”, I wish I had her as a teacher when I was in school. Lust overrides the meaning of objectification, because dudes are so horny and desperate for sex from pretty women, they are or think they are willing to be treated like a trophy if it means being sexually desired. It’s a starved lust and a starved ego that brings this. Women usually aren’t “starved” in that way, because how yearned they are by men regarding sex and how easy it is to come by if choose so not to men how much more selective women are about deciding who they want sex with. Whereas guys are pretty “easy”. It’s interesting how ppl can “degrade” themselves for great desire they have. Remember the show fear factor? Regular ppl just really wanting big chunk of money so they can have a better financial life? But swallowing spiders doing gross stuff in the game show? Why would one degrade themselves right? For an ordinary person, desperate to pay the bills, that is degrading but they understand doing it. A wealthy person or rich person, would probably be looking at such stunts for money and be like “what are they doing”‘? Because they have all access to their desires and needs and this higher standing.

      • Part of the reason men are more starved for sex is that women are punished for being sexual which makes them down down there sex drive and actually works to lessen it, frequently. Which is why around 40% of women have a low or no sex drive. Sex negativity is obviously a real problem. When women objectify and degrade themselves they often do it for love and connection. So there is a parallel with your example.

  21. After reading this blog it made me realize how much people don’t understand what it means to be objectified . I believe that this is a topic that we should be more open to having in society as well because every time someone complains about being only wanted for sex. I have heard people make fun of them ( especially guys ) and tell them that they should shut up and stop complaining . The story of Bjorn Andresen is very heartbreaking it doesn’t matter who , no one should ever be put in a position like that .Bjorn Andresen’s story is eye opening to the experiences celebrities must feel often . Which is why I also believe when people like to objectify celebrities as well it is not okay . In the end we are all humans that want to be treated with respect and love . What people want to feel is attractive for who they are because a lot of people nowadays deal with low self esteem issues because of the high demands from society when it comes to beauty standards . Unfortunately though I believe this can land people in the darkest holes in their lives because there is a difference between being desired and being found attractive rather than being straight up objectified .

    • Yeah, since women are so commonly objectified we take it for granted, including take for granted our misunderstandings. So I think it helps to understand better what the concept means when you see it happen with a male.

  22. When men say “I want to be objectified!” what they MEAN is “I want to retain the respect that I receive as a male AND I want to be desired as well.” Those feelings are normal, but that’s not what “objectified” means.

    If they actually got to be “objectified” – if their worth was determined by their compliance with arbitrary beauty standards, if they were disrespected and ignored, and they were deemed “worthless” after they no longer comply with arbitrary beauty standards (because they aged or had a major surgery, etc.), I don’t think they would enjoy being “objectified.”

    Because men are usually the ones doing the objectifying, they tend to be blind to the impact of those on the receiving end of being objectified.

    • Yeah, there is a lot of confusion among both men and women about what objectification is. Both women and men commonly confused objectification and desire.

      Thanks for helping to make the clarification!

    • I think men feel that way, because they are so starved of sexual desire that they are wiling to take objectification if desire comes with that. When a person is desperate, it’s easy for them to fantasize about a lot of sex even if it means objectificaton or lust or ego blinds the otherside of objectification. Or maybe it’s some male sub bdsm fantasy a man has with being objectified, who knows?

  23. Patricia Gallardo

    The tragic objectification of a boy who was known as the most beautiful boy gained him international recognition and was used for other’s purposes. Bjorn was left alone and drunk that other’s prey picked him up and took him to a gay club where he was in no shape to make a responsible choice. This blog reminds me of Spanish actresses who were obligated to sleep with the directors to gain a part in a soap opera. Some actresses who wanted to be famous were told they had to have dinner with businessmen or politicians to be a part of their network “Televisa.” Some actresses claim they were raped by the producers and were used as sexual objectification. When they speak up they are canceled from the show and are no longer ever allowed to participate in any of their network shows. Bjorn was used and no one cared about him. He was used as a trophy as he states to the point that he suffered depression.

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