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From body dissatisfaction to muscularity, A Journey of Men’s struggles with body image

The issue of achieving that perfectly toned body and the toll it takes on males, let’s talk about it in the real world.

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How do you feel about your body? Male body image is something that isn’t often talked about, but it’s an issue directly linked to mental health.  The absolute lack of people talking about this issue is genuinely disturbing and borderline horrifying. While everyone is aware that women do not have it easy and are grouped up to fight back, men, on the other hand, aren’t able to do so because of the shame which ensues stereotypical attitude of society and often their counterparts. Gender conditioning like “strong independent, successful in all areas without any help” and phrases like ‘men don’t cry’ etc. are imposed on boys from a young and impressionable age.

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Looking at yourself in the mirror, it’s sometimes hard to judge yourself because you don’t have a point of reference for what makes an “ideal body” and on the other hand, you watch the guys in commercials with 6 pack abs and toned bodies, that are jacked or you have male models in fashion magazines who have an attractive, yet different kind of bodies altogether. All of them look good, and it’s tough because sometimes you don’t know where to place yourself in the whole grand scheme of different body types and then in the real world you get such a mix of people that it’s confusing to know what the reality is and what isn’t.

An article by IndiaTimes argued how Men are subjected to body shaming“I was shopping for a suit for my sister’s wedding and the man taking my measurements failed to acknowledge the fact that I would require something smaller as compared to the average size. His words still ring in my ear – ‘Sir, aap jab shaadi karoge toh dulhan ko apne coat ka size mat batana. Aapke size ka toh banta bhi nahi hai.’ It made me feel extremely uncomfortable. I do not want to go about my life, justifying or explaining my ‘short’ height. I am what I am and my height is a fact. Society needs to accept that their nose belongs on their face and not in my life.” 

Representative Image (Credit: Indiatimes.com)

Many people think that body issues and low self-esteem are issues one-dimensionally related to women but that’s not true, men too are subjected to stereotypes of having an ideal physical image. Masculine inferiority complex has always been a thing yet is never talked about. How are people just starting to recognize that men have body image issues, too? Oh, right. Part of being “masculine” is not talking about your problems because that somehow makes you “weak”. Society and its double standards. 

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Why are male body image issues on the rise? 

Men are falling prey to the images of ideal bodies splashed across magazine covers and social media. Unlike their female counterparts, most men aren’t hitting the gym to get skinny, instead of for bulking up and getting some ‘muscles’. Fitness inspiration through social media handles like Instagram provides an endless source of comparison to digitally altered images. Research shows that greater exposure to extremely tall looking and muscular physiques results in more body dissatisfaction. Body image concerns may also be exacerbated by family members or friends mocking each other that later leads to depression and anxiety in isolation. With a culture that pushes constant comparisons, it’s easy to feel you haven’t got the “right” body. If you look around, bulky guys have taken over billboards and social media platforms while being skinny is mocked at. 

What Are My Weaknesses? - Quiz - Quizony.com
Representative Image (Credit: Quizony.com)

Psychologists are warning of a surge in the number of men using steroids to enhance their bodies which leads to eating disorders and mental health conditions down the line. Constant punishment eating, vigorous exercise routines, and drug use are aimed towards achieving muscularity and not thinness. “You see guys that go down the gym because they want to be like these muscle guys and they just don’t know where to stop. And they end up looking like they’ve been inflated by a helium pump” argued James Makings in a campaign by Men of Manual intended at helping men to stop hating their bodies.

Eating too much or too little- Eating disorders in men.

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Eating disorders in men have been around for many years. Today, Anorexia, Bulimia, and especially binge eating disorder are on a rise in the male population. Anorexia is now diagnosed in boys as young as 8 and around 40% of binge eating disorders affect males. Dissatisfaction with body weight or shape is typically the core of the development of an eating disorder. The desire for increased musculature is not uncommon. 25% of males who have a normal BMI also perceive themselves to be underweight and 90% of teenage boys exercised to bulk up. “Because of stigma and stereotypes, males often have a harder time being diagnosed and receiving treatment for an eating disorder”. Says Lauren Smolar, Director of programs at the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).

Credit: Pinterest.com

How to overcome body image issues in men?

Men have to be tall, muscular, handsome without acne scars and strong as they have to earn for their family” is a preconceived and disturbing notion. They are also brought up with the idea that crying is a sign of weakness. These ideas often cause feelings of inadequacy as they grow up and result in low motivation and withdrawal symptoms from social events. To tackle this notion, here are a few pointers that may help:

  • Make a pact with yourself to treat your body with respect, which includes eating well and not embarking on punishing exercise routines.

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  • Develop reasons for exercising that are not focused on your body’s appearance solely rather one which will keep you fit and healthy.

Representative Image (Credit: Pinterest.co.uk)
  • Analyze the perception you have about your body image. Ask yourself if you are simply reliving the commonly perceived notions or is there a possibility of thinking beyond the rigid mindsets.

  • Crying, feeling upset or expressing emotions are all signs of strength. It helps you become humane.

Lastly, remember that the only opinion that ever truly matters is of the one staring back at you in the mirror.

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