It’s kind of a long story, but I’ll try to summarize.
I read a book called The Lolita Effect by Gigi Durham, which discusses media sexualization of young girls. As I read it, I kept asking myself, “What about boys?” My concern was not about the sexualization of boys, but of negative gender portrayals of boys and men and the impact of these portrayals on young boys.
Around the same time, I read a book called The Courage to Raise Good Men by Olga Silverstein and Beth Rashbaum. The book talks about the pressure to make little boys into men at a young age. The authors reference traditional views of masculinity, described by psychologist Ronald F. Levant in yet another item I read as including: “the requirement to avoid all things feminine; the injunction to restrict one’s emotional life; the emphasis on achieving status above all else; the injunction to be completely self-reliant; [and] the emphasis on toughness and aggression.”
Silverstein and Rashbaum note in The Courage to Raise Good Men that this narrow view of manhood has been with us since ancient times, first appearing in the stories of mythical heroes like Hercules, Jason, and Achilles. Hence one reason for the link to Achilles: he is a character that epitomizes the traditional view of real men as aggressive, capable of tremendous rage, and physically dominant.
In my book I also talk about the devaluing of femininity in children’s popular culture, including the tendency to remove a mother character from a boy’s life and then replace her with a male role model. This separation, as Silverstein and Rashbaum argue, is made to ensure that a boy is not softened by the feminine influence of his mother. This is the second reason I chose Achilles (as opposed to someone like Hercules or Jason): he had a stereotypically overprotective mother whose attempts to safeguard her son are widely known.
And the Image?
When I began looking for a cover image for the book, I knew I wanted an animated, almost cartoonish picture to fit in with the book’s pop culture theme. Because I talk a lot about the male warrior or hero character and his physical attributes, I also wanted an image that conveyed the stereotype of a hero as very muscular and physically dominant.
In my work as a social media writer, I use Dreamstime, a stock photography website. That is the first place I looked for images and I happened to find one that was absolutely perfect: Achilles on White by Martin Malchev. It was sheer luck that this perfect image turned out to be of Achilles himself.