Many people suffer with body image issues due to our perfectionist, media-driven society where unrealistic beauty standards reign supreme. With the recent push towards promoting self-love and positive body image among young girls and women, it is important not to forget that men often struggle with self-image too. With a largely male student population here at GA Tech, it is essential to address this issue and help young men feel comfortable and confident with who they are as an individual.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association and an AOL Body Image Survey, 43% of men are dissatisfied with their body, 63% of men “always feel like they could lose weight,” 53% of men don’t like having their picture taken, and 41% of men said they worry that people judge their appearance. These are staggering numbers that highlight the gendered discussion of body image and dismissive atmosphere surrounding men’s body insecurities in the U.S. Furthermore, transgender individuals are almost always left out of the conversation.
While we know that the “ideal” women is portrayed as tall, thin, and perhaps blonde, what is the “ideal” man as depicted by popular culture? First, he is extremely masculine and almost always portrayed with a “hot body” meaning strong and muscular – just think of how all the super heroes and movie stars look like today. The loveable yet schlumpy male icon is no more. The pressure men now feel to be lean yet muscular is synonymous with the pressure women feel to be thin. That’s a lot! Second, he is confident and stoic – i.e. men don’t show emotion. How many times have you heard the phrase “Man Up,” “Be a Man!” or “Grow some balls!” to encourage young boys and men to toughen up, hide their feelings, and soldier on. This can greatly affect a man’s self-worth and create deep feelings of inadequacy and shame for showing or even having emotions. Finally, he is portrayed as tidy, groomed, and well-dressed – he must be the best to get the ladies, right? This is highlighted by the more than 70% increase in the men’s beauty and skin product industry globally between 2012 and 2014. Ultimately, men are supposed to be protectors, providers, warriors – just manly all around.
So what does this mean? The body image conversation in the U.S. needs to expand to include men’s issues and to create an open environment where men are encouraged to share and where they feel comfortable voicing their opinions about topics not generally viewed as “manly.” Ultimately, we must break through the hypermasculinity ideal rampant throughout society and embrace the diversity of shape, personality, and manner of all men.
By Sarah London