I notice more and more that people find it weird and wacky whenever men admit that they have body issues as well. With women, this already is a public domain for a longer time: body positivity, body awareness, the fight against photoshopped fashion dolls in the media. We see way more curvy models on the runway and in more and more campaigns size zero is not tolerated anymore. That goes in the right direction, even though we are not yet there where we should be.
But I want to talk about men here because men have body issues as well. We also are insecure about certain bodily features, which externally gets fed by all the washboard abs, the trained pectoralis minor and major, the powerful jawlines, razor-sharp bi- and triceps and the full-grown beards and mustaches that we get hit in the face with by the depictions in the media. And I haven’t even mentioned the man bun here.
You only have to think of the male models in the jeans and aftershave ads, to hurl yourself into a depression. Their upper bodies chiseled like ancient Greek statues — all sculpted muscles, rockhard and incredibly defined abdomen and not a follicle of chest hair.
You see these sleek, arrogant, juicy lipped fitness gurus everywhere: On billboards and in magazines, in television commercials and shopping windows. Undeniably, it is nice to look at. But how does it make the average guy feel?
I can tell you, not so great. With all the attention these days on the effect super-thin models and actresses can have on girls and women, it’s worth noting that we men can suffer from body image problems too. And I can sing a song about that.
For a long time I have been quite insecure about my body: my sticky legs, my freckles, my not equally full growing beard, my starting baldness and my 40+ belly (isn’t this called a muffin top?) I thought my penis was too small, and my balls were unequal (because I have one very small one due to a childhood operation).
Before I got sick and had to endure several chemo treatments and a stem cell transplantation due to lymphatic cancer, I went to the gym every week and had this muscular, male body. After losing almost 15 kilos of body fat and muscle tissue and my incredibly full bush of thick hair, it was a hard pill to swallow to see the transformation from this firm guy that you could spot in the ads mentioned above, to my more current self. Yes, I have had many moments watching myself in the mirror and feeling ugly and desperate. Not feeling home in my own body anymore, not knowing how to move and be at ease with myself.
According to the latest researches, more men are troubled about their body shape and appearance than women do about how they perceive themselves. More than four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways about their image that advocates distress about their bodies by referring to weaknesses and flaws, compared with 75% of women.
Similarly, 38% of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body – again, a higher percentage than women.
(research done by Dr. Phillippa Diedrichs, from the Centre of Appearance Research at the University of the West of England).
These outcomes prove to me that men are anxious about their bodies as well, just like women. We already knew that body positivity issues and body shaming affected women and young people and now we know that it influences men as well.
Having body issues is a very personal, private thing for us men — something we don’t want to talk about with others. When we start to share our body shame, the general reaction mostly is that we should not whine and nag about it. We should toughen up. “You sound like a bitch, dude!”
When women share this, it is considered good and courageous. The battle against female body shaming is booming business.
But make no mistake. Getting into a nice pair of jeans is just as important for us as for women. We want to look good as well.
It is still a fact that lots of men worry about their physical appearance and compare themselves with models, celebrities and actors, athletes and poster boys. Where girls want to be slim, males want to be big and lean, and while it isn’t a bad thing for people to want to look better, it has become more like a competition instead of a healthy goal. Most men complain about their arms or chests not being muscular enough, about their beer bellies, their chubby frames, and their so-called man boobs. But they also seem to have issues with their baldness, their bodily hair, and the size of their penis and balls.
I think these verdicts are concerning but not surprizing. There’s been a big increase in the number of men having cosmetic procedures done (think of nose jobs, removal of abdominal fat tissue, eye lifts.) There is also a significant number of men that turn to all sorts of diets and fitness regimes to lose weight.
My question is: what could be the solution? I personally wish for more diversity in the range of depictions we see in the media, for both men and women. No more one-dimensionality, please. Give us a wider, more varied range of Marlboro men, of aftershave hunks and fashion models that strut down the catwalks. Give us something we can identify ourselves with.
Also in the porn industry (where – let’s be honest – lots of men get a big part of their insecurity issues from), we need more variety. Currently, all the actors seem to have giant cocks and big, round balls (or, according to a Dutch stand-up comedian, the porn actresses they use seem to be primarily selected on having extremely small hands). Why not have a bald man with an average size penis doing his way with a more chubby woman? That already would make such a difference.
But would it be THE difference we are waiting for, or is it more a matter of building up our self-esteem? I know in the end we will always have problems with accepting ourselves if we are not able to love ourselves wholly, or at least our biggest parts.
I can tell you I had to work and work on self-love, self-acceptance, and self-compassion as well. Yes, I’ve started to love myself progressively there, also with the help of women and men in my surroundings who found me attractive and handsome. And with the love of my woman for my body. I have done courses, programs to get in touch with my inner strength and potential, and yes, they helped me significantly to become the man I am today.
And I have to admit, as soon as I was able to see my inner beauty more and more, the outer appearance became more and more attractive as well. As within, so without, as above, so below. It is a universal law that the world around us changes when we ourselves change within.
As I grow older, I also can see the beauty of my aging body. The negative becomes more and more positive. I was a shy, insecure boy and young man. I’d hide and didn’t dare to live my hidden potential. But at 46, I don’t want to hide anymore. I mostly love my body. Even my muffin tops.
Here’s what I’ve learned: You’ve got to be careful with your body. It’s got to last you as long as a life time. Take good care of it. And love it! There’s nothing else to it!
Written by: Bas Waijers
Image by: Ali Yahya (via unsplash.com)