CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness and suicide which could be distressing to some readers.
In the media, men are often overlooked when it comes to body image. How often have you heard phrases like” Love your body, be proud of your body” and yet how many times have you seen a male figure representing body positivity?
Body image often refers to a person’s perception, belief, and attitude of their physical appearance. Today, we live in a society where high and unrealistic expectations have been placed around our body image. And often due to the influence of mass media, family and friends, people feel pressured to conform to societal norms to “fit in”. Body image issues are typically considered the domain of women and it often leads to men being overlooked.
It has been shown in several studies that male body dissatisfaction frequently leads to eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), one out of three people suffering from an eating disorder is a male.
Although body positivity movements among women are growing significantly, it is apparent that unfair portrayals of the male body image aren't getting the same attention.
The influence of social media
Therefore, what is the perceived “ideal body” for men? Through social media feeds, films, magazines, and male influencers, men are always depicted as hyper-muscular with lean, tall bodies. Often their success is attributed to their appearance. This leads to unrealistic and idealised body standards being set, inciting young adults to achieve the “ideal body” in order to succeed in their own lives.
Social media provides constant exposure to these perceived ideas. Adverts on TV have always sexualized and portrayed the perfect male body. In recent years, it has become more prevalent for men to be seen in less clothing in order to attract more customers.
How does this make men feel?
The Mental Health Foundation conducted a study in which 21% of the men studied, dressed in a certain way to hide their bodies. One in ten had suicidal thoughts and one in twenty admitted to self-harming due to how they perceive their body. “‘Boys don’t cry. Men are tough. Men don’t show emotions". From a young age, they are expected to not show weaknesses or emotions - this stigma prevents them from opening up and speaking honestly about their physical and mental health challenges.
Body image issues always fester under the surface. When a woman tells her friends she feels bad about her body she is offered advice and sympathy. Does a man receive the same support? Or is he just told to “man up”?
Mental health struggles
Men with negative body images are more likely to suffer from eating disorders, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence. A variety of mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, can also be caused by body image issues. It is believed that one out of ten males has had suicidal thoughts due to their physical appearance. Many men suffer from these destructive thoughts, leading them to engage in destructive behaviour, such as over-exercising and binge eating.
Whilst women focus on becoming thinner, men focus on gaining muscle. Body dissatisfaction often leads to muscle dysmorphia which in turn leads to eating and exercise addiction. Bodybuilding has become an obsession among young men. Statistics regarding Bigorexia are difficult to quantify because many young men are unaware that their muscle fixation constitutes a mental health condition. According to one research conducted in the United Kingdom, one out of every ten gym members suffers from muscle dysmorphia.
We don’t often hear about men and their daily body image struggles. However, there is societal pressure to look a certain way for men as well. It is important to talk about this in order to help encourage male body positivity.
We all know the perfect body does not exist. However, we live in a society where idealised male bodies have become the norm. Focus on men's challenges must be discussed as well, in order to prevent young adults from developing unhealthy habits. The conversation around male bodies needs to become more open and accepting.
Body shaming hurts men as well as women.