For a certain type of young male heartthrob, booking a shirtless Calvin Klein campaign is something of a rite of passage. But the ones that starred Shawn Mendes in early 2019 were so steamy, they also marked a moment for the internet, which promptly tore itself to shreds. One would think the rapturously thirsty response would have made for a major boost of confidence, but instead, it gave Mendes a case of impostor syndrome—one that endures today. “I was seeing myself shirtless on the monitor with my body oiled and I was like, ‘The craziest thing about these photos is I can never live up to that guy,’” Mendes told Wonderland in an interview accompanying his most recent shirtless photoshoot.
“Any shoot where you’re basically ‘sexy’ in any type of way can really mess with your psyche because you’re struggling every day to live up to that guy,” Mendes told interviewer Kevin Abstract. That was especially true when the first of his Calvin Klein ads started going up on billboards. “You know, the lighting was there, you have makeup and a hairstylist there. People are there to make you look amazing. And then they capture the photo for one second, and you look at it like, ‘Wow.’ But realistically, you can’t really fit the shoes of that person in that photo—even as that person.”
Mendes couldn’t have escaped the ads if he tried. A second batch dropped later that year, sending his legions of thirsty fans spiraling and inspiring a James Corden parody. Mendes was spiraling, too, but not in the good sense. “I felt like after my Calvin Klein shoot, I had body dysmorphia through trying to be that person all the time,” he recalled. “I don’t even know if that person is real.” In any case, he doesn’t want to be that person, and seems to feel it’s his duty to make that clear: “Striving to be that person is not fair to anybody.”
As you may have noticed, Mendes hasn’t stopped stripping down for the camera. But he has changed the way he approaches doing so—and occasionally even has fun. A photo, he’s realized, doesn’t have to represent the real Shawn Mendes: “It can just be me as a piece of art.” Amen.