Too Taboo? The Secret of Male Body Image


The world we live in today is one of social struggle. The feminist movement has put women’s issues at the forefront of society, with criticism befalling anti-woman laws, sexist stories and misogynistic images. Our world is one in which the smallest slight against a non-white can generate a month’s worth of leading headlines. Sexual orientation, disabilities, class- all of them have become hot topics of discussion in the war for social justice.

But one thing that’s gone unnoticed amidst this bubbling brew of controversy is the issue of Male Body Image.

It seems strange, doesn’t it? To question why one would even need to discuss male body image. After all, men are in charge of the media and therefore public perception. It’s women whose bodies are paraded around on television screens or advertisements. They’re the ones whose bodies are in the public spotlight, judged and critiqued and scrutinised for any imperfection or flaw.

But is it only women?

It seems every male celebrity these days is sporting sculpted shoulders and a six-pack of abs, ready to unleash at a moment’s notice. More and more of our young male’s idols are appearing as ripped, manly heroes, whether in the form of sporting stars or literal superheroes. And if these are the people they aspire to be like, then they’re also the people they compare themselves against.

According to the Australian Psychological Society, male body image dissatisfaction has tripled in the last 25 years, from 15% to a staggering 45%. Similarly, medical experts at the Royal College of GP’s warned that men’s eating disorders was being sorely overlooked, telling Newsbeat that it was a taboo topic among men. Research found 1/4 suffering from an eating disorder was male.

So what is the perfect male body? Is there one? Is there one for women?

The look for the perfect woman has changed throughout time. Back in the 50s, curvy blondes like Marilyn Monroe ruled the scene. Now, it’s the super tall, super thin, super tanned models who rake in the money for their stellar looks.

Although the media and society has faced backlash for putting emphasis on tall, skinny, fair women- is it really true to say women are pressured more than men to obtain the perfect body?

Let’s look at some of the most lauded beauties of today:

They’re considered epitomes of beauty all around the world with body shapes that are all wonderfully different. Flat figured, full figured. Skinny legs, thick legs. It shows that whether fair, dark, curvy, slim, short, tall, women of all body shapes can be considered beautiful.

But does the same ring true for men? Let’s compare with some of the hottest males names.

Chiselled jaws. Muscly arms. Rock hard abs. Is there room for anyone that isn’t tall, dark and handsome?

The ideal standards for an attractive male have long been a 6ft stature, rugged good looks and a washboard body. No matter how unrealistic, these standards are seen time and time again in the media. And despite the margins for male attractiveness being far narrower than women’s, women’s is seen as worse.

A lot of body shaming, whether towards men or women, is usually justified by health woes. With obesity and diabetes reaching almost pandemic levels, there’s been genuine panic among the general public that people are simply getting too large.

However, that doesn’t seem to be the only concern. Health magazines, gyms, diets: the majority of them today aren’t selling healthiness of body but attractiveness of body.

Recently, the BBC reported on the Credos advertising industry think tank which conducted a survey into male body image. The results found that 55% of 8-18 year olds would diet to get a better body and 23% believed that perfect male body did truly exist.

55% felt dieting was a gender neutral issue and 48% thought extreme exercise was also a gender neutral issue. This is contrary to what the current social narrative would tell you about girls being the only ones concerned with dieting and weight loss.

According to the survey, the boys were influenced on body image by:

  • friends (68%)
  • social media (57%)
  • advertising (53%)
  • celebrities (49%)

Comparison against friends, followers on social media and the figures on television all do a number on our psyches, and men are no different.

Even though men are just as pressured into getting this ‘perfect’ body, a strong taboo exists preventing them from speaking up about it. It could be because discussing feelings, looks or opening up is seen as weakness and vulnerability amongst many men. Men might also feel discouraged to speak up, afraid their concerns will be attacked, made fun of and their looks held up to even more jokes. This can be often veiled under seemingly benign ‘banter.’

Furthermore, the frequency with which women’s body issues is discussed may cause men to feel as though their problems aren’t worth mentioning. There is also the idea that there are no male specific problems within society which couldn’t be further from the truth. Men are unjustifiably treated regarding custody affairs, domestic abuse and more.

However with the new generation so quick to spot the subtlest errors in society, perhaps it will only be a matter of time before men, male body image and more male-specific problems get the attention they deserve.





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