"Cheesecake" to describe a a sexy, attractive woman flaunting her appeal is nowadays a rather archaic term. Likewise "beefcake" in reference to a "hunk" with rippling muscles, now also seems rather outdated. Not that sex appeal itself is in any way passé, it's just that new terms and expressions come along into each succeeding generation describing the relative appeal and attractiveness of males and females. Let's take a look at the origins of two classic terms of sex appeal: cheesecake and beefcake.
Curiously, the term "cheesecake," in connection with a beautiful woman, seems like a fairly recent term. It has a kind of a 1920s or '30s sound to it. But no, cheesecake was used in Britain in the 1660s! Even then, the term was used to describe overly sexy or promiscuous women.
It can be found in Poems and Songs Relating to the Late Times, published in 1662. Shortly after Oliver Cromwell died, it was used to regret the occasion of Cromwell driving certain ladies (of questionable repute) out of the town:
But ah! It goes against our hearts,
To lose our cheesecake and our tarts.
But a more influential usage was inaugurated more than 250 years later. Fast forward to 1912, when James Kane, a photographer, was working for The New York Journal. One day James was posing an attractive young woman when a breeze blew her skirt up. When more leg than usual came on display, Mr. Kane (who reputedly loved cheesecake) exclaimed, "Wow! This is better than cheesecake!"
And a universal metaphor was born.
Although both sexes have occasionally been seen as sex objects in the eyes of others for as long as human beings have been around, it probably comes as no surprise to any of us that the male counterpart to cheesecake was coined much later.
In October of 1949, The Chronicle Telegram of Elyria, Ohio, made a reference to a growing trend in the movies. The paper noted that moguls were beginning to realize that the female half of the population enjoyed seeing well-built men. So in the movies, males with muscled chests were increasingly featured stripped to the waist. The Chronicle Telegram reported that movie cameramen had started to use the term "beefcake" to describe the phenomenon.
From whatever exact source the term derived from, it gained a much wider trend after a United States Coast Guard named Robert Moseley made a weekend tourist visit to Hollywood. Moseley was spotted by an alert agent, Henry Wilson of Vanguard Pictures, and renamed Guy Madison.
Madison appeared shirtless in his first movie in 1944. This appearance drew thousands of letters from women and led to a career as a television and movie star.
Hollywood historian Robert Hofler (in The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson) and D.K. Holm (in You'll Never Write a Book in This Town Again) point firmly to show box columnist Sidney Sklosky for the popularization of the term. Skolsky used the term beefcake to describe Guy Madison and this helped put the expression in the public arena.
So now, when you see Guy Madison in an old movie on AMC or TCM, you'll know his contribution to the world of pop culture nomenclature.