We Need to Talk About Male Body Image
If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.
Body image. It’s a subject that has been increasingly at the center of many positive movements and campaigns attempting to push for an accurate and fair representation of all body types. These projects are vitally important in tackling the social stigma and imagined template of what “conventional attractiveness” is. As someone who has always struggled with his own body image and that struggle often being made more difficult by anxious thoughts and feelings, I welcome these campaigns and want to see more of them. But while these movements are going forward and acceptance of all different shapes and sizes being brought forward with it, I can’t help but feel a little left behind.
I am disgusted by my own body.
When I see my own body, I feel shame. On every beach I’ve ever gone to, I have kept my top on to swim in the sea because god forbid anyone lays eyes on the disgust that lies beneath it. From P.E. changing rooms to locker rooms at the gym, I have partaken in a rushed routine of minimal body exposure all the while sucking in my stomach. I have never been happy with my shape or size, part of this is due to my own low self-esteem, often brought on by anxiety about people seeing my body. Another part, though, I truly believe is because of the image of conventional male attractiveness that we have all been exposed to.
In the body positivity campaigns I am aware of, most — if not all — is directed at women. The stigma surrounding conventional female attractiveness is a serious issue. In a recent study published in the Journal of Health Economics, conclusions were drawn that, “social stigma is a mechanism through which weight affects mental health for white women.” I am not, and would never, question the importance of allowing women to feel comfortable and attractive in their own bodies. But while we are thankfully seeing more plus-sized models in the media and overall different shapes and sizes of female bodies being represented, there remains only one attractive body image for males.
When I was a child, I adored superhero movies — I still do! These movies portray brave, selfless, inherently good male characters. What do all these heroes have in common? They all have very similar body types: the “ideal” male form (or as I like to call it, “The Chris Hemsworth Template”). This is most often or not the conventional attractive male body type you will find represented in media: tall, broad shoulders, defined abs, muscles and a chiseled jawline. I understand this isn’t always the way male bodies are portrayed, but when the goal is to represent attractiveness or sex appeal, this is the body type you will find.
I’m not saying this body type isn’t something that should be a goal to work towards; the Chris Hemsworth Template takes a lot of determination and physical training to achieve (Chris, if you are reading, give me a call; you’re a very attractive man, conventionally or otherwise). But I wouldn’t think it unreasonable to say that, for the average male, this body type is often a little unattainable. Furthermore, I should not need to have this shape and size to feel attractive.
When I look in the mirror, I do not see this template of attractiveness. In my personal case, I see fat on my stomach, “love handles,” a complete absence of muscle definition and prominent stretch marks. I see things that make me wish to keep my body hidden. Things that make me believe I am unattractive.
It’s because of this feeling of unattractiveness that I bear a large amount of fear towards having any sort of an intimate relationship with a woman that involves a lack of clothing. An insecurity for even taking my top off in front of a woman for fear she’ll be put off by the “ugliness” underneath it. Thoughts such as, “I’m not what she wants,” and “how could anybody like this,” are commonplace when I think about my body’s attractiveness to the opposite sex.
Perhaps these fears and insecurities around my body image are just projections of my own lack of self-worth, but I refuse to believe I am the only male who has feelings along these lines. I bare an incredible amount of respect and admiration for the movement women have created in the direction of love for all shapes and sizes, from plus-size models to the beauty in stretch marks. I want to ask, on this journey women are taking towards self-love, that you take us men with you.
Photo by Sarah Diniz Outeiro on Unsplash