By Sylv T
“Wow, it looks like she put on some weight. Even her face is broader.” I heard people in one of my friend groups say this when they first saw me after a long while. They taught me that words can pierce right through to the heart.
Thanks to other friends, I learnt my lesson quickly: real friends cherish you not for how you look, but for who you are. I subsequently stumbled upon the female body positivity movement. It was immensely encouraging to see women championing other women no matter their physical appearance. Do men have similar support?
Has the Gender Revolution Changed Things?
A body positivity movement for men has arisen thanks to the ongoing gender revolution breaking old-school norms. Despite its hatchling status, it is an essential step to begin freeing men from unattainable stereotypes.
As this gender revolution continues breaking traditional norms, male and female roles, at work and at home, have become more fluid. Men are now increasingly seen in previously female-centred jobs and are also taking on more active roles in parenting and the household. A 2015 study found that men’s recognition of the traditional male gender roles significantly affects their longing for the perfect male body. Now that gender norms are more flexible, men should also feel freer and more accepted regardless of their physical appearances.
An Escalating Adonis Obsession
Unfortunately, men are still very much subjected to the idealistic “strong and muscular” body image, much like the Greek god Adonis. This stature is associated with being “strong, powerful, confident and attractive”, so even with a gender revolution, there is growing societal pressure to be perfect. The male participants of a 2019 BBC Sports video, considered strong and muscular, highlighted this as one of their common struggles. All the participants—professional footballers and Olympic athletes included—feel the sting of society’s pressure to change their bodies, and many of them still hear the term “fat boy” (even though most of their body mass is pure muscle).
As they grow, boys don’t want to be known as either small and skinny or round and fat, according to James Ellington, a British national sprinter and one of the video participants. He feels lucky to be an athlete because at least he’s always somewhat fit. He admitted that he “didn’t know how [he’d] feel if [he] wasn’t in shape…”
Research shows that internalisation of this male ideal can cause men to criticise their bodies and that men can be more critical of themselves than women. This can lead to an unhealthy body image preoccupation with disastrous consequences like depression and eating disorders. If even top-tier athletes face these issues, what chance has the everyday guy?
What’s a Guy to Do?!
Having personally had to break through negative body image thoughts before, here are three simple and practical tips that I feel can help anyone who’s trapped in these limiting beliefs.
Realise that bodies come in all shapes and sizes: Take a look at each year’s 100 most influential people in the world. Do they all look like your regular buff model or Instagram fitness influencer? I’m betting my bottom dollar that the answer is no. Did they still change the world massively? Duh.
You, too, are so much “more than [your] measurements”, as body-positive model Ashley Graham says. Know how incredible your body is just by existing: your arms allow you to hug your loved ones, and your legs bring you places. And then, focus on developing character traits and capabilities you appreciate about yourself. These attributes can create far-reaching ripples of impact, way beyond what we’ll ever realise.
Audit your friend circle: Make a list of your friends. Stay close to those who cherish your character, and give yourself permission to put distance between you and those who are overly concerned about appearance or weight. Even if your whole inner circle is in the latter group, there are tons of friends-to-be in your community or neighbourhood who aren’t. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Restrict your exposure to body-shaming media influences: Research findings suggest that media images of unrealistic male bodies can adversely affect men’s body satisfaction and moods, to the point of increasing depression, anger and anxiety rates. Having experienced the onslaught of negative feelings when looking at a seemingly impossible ideal of the female body, I understand. That’s why, nowadays, I readily block such sites and accounts. Doing that has been nothing but refreshing—I highly recommend it!
Body positivity may not yet be as normalised among men, but it’s happening! You, the reader, can be a part of the solution—for yourself and your loved ones. If you’re starting your body-positive journey today, here’s my two cents: begin with the one thing that’s easiest for you, and fight your negative thoughts one moment at a time. And ladies reading this—support the men in your life on this journey to self-love. So even if you don’t get to hear this from anyone else today, know that you matter. All of you.