In between mood swings this week, I stumbled upon a few illuminating articles and links about men and body image issues. I share them with you today while noshing on some cheese. (Seriously—aged cheddar to be exact!) The first goody came from Down Under via the Sydney Morning Herald. The headline: “The dangerous quest for an ‘ideal’ body.
In a bold, revealing read, the Herald chronicled some of the significant issues surrounding men and body image today—those addressed in the book I co-wrote, “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!” and others that will be addressed in my forthcoming book, “Shut Up, I’m Eating!” Basically, that there are more than a gaggle of men out there—both straight and gay—who deal with body image issues and don’t really discuss it, either amongst themselves, or with others close to them. At all.
Which is why … I like to discuss it.
One of the best paths toward “recovery”/ clarity is just to begin having a discussion about what dwells beneath the surface. We live in an era where we’re told (through media and peer pressure) that if we don’t look a certain way—for men, buff and muscular; or lean, lanky and “skinny”—then there is something unacceptable about us.
Shut up, to that!
The time has never been more ripe for guys come out of the closet about the issue. But the first step is talking about it.
The article in the Herald notes that there is ample support for young girls and women—those with weight/diet obsessions that can eventually lead to eating and body image disorders—but that when it comes to men, it’s an entirely different animal: While considerable attention is focused on helping women overcome the eating and exercise disorders that often result from such insecurities, scant consideration is being paid to the effects felt by the men currently battling similar issues.
Megan O’Connor, the communications and media officer for Eating Disorders VIctoria, is quoted: “Most body image experts agree that some men with body image problems or eating disorders don’t get help due to the shame and self-imposed silence that goes with experiencing a so-called women’s illness.”
But it’s not a women’s “illness” any longer. In fact, it never (just) was.
Flashback to five years ago, and you will discover research indicating that men spent:
• $4 billion on exercise equipment and health club memberships
• $3 billion on grooming aids and fragrances
• $800 million on hair transplants
Other research indicates that today’s college men have greater levels of body dissatisfaction. A University of Iowa Health Care study published 10 years ago reveals that “males associate their attractiveness with increased muscle definition, and are concerned about body shape.”
Some more facts:
•Eating disorders in males typically involve a constant competition to stay more defined than other men (University of Iowa Health Care, 2002)
•Gay and heterosexual men have equivalent levels of body esteem, satisfaction with body shape, and desired levels of thinness.
And then … there’s this delicious gem from Noah Brand, the edior-in-chief of The Good Men Project, a super new site I stumbled upon whose mission, it seems, revolves around re-shaping the “male” image, among other things: “Men are conditioned from childhood not to talk about these issues. I knew that if we were going to get anyone seriously talking about them somebody would have to do something really confrontational. And I was raised to believe that when you think someone ought to do something your next thought should be, Hey, I’m someone.”
Brand is referring to his decision to bare all in one of his Good Men Project’s post (see below) in which he unabashedly notes: “I’m Done Being Ashamed.”
Photo: Good Men Project
In his own post, Brand writes: “I have a body type one sees a lot: male pattern baldness, plenty of body hair, builds both muscle and fat very easily. You see guys like me all the time, with our wide shoulders and wider beer guts. Burly sonsabitches, often rocking the shaved-head-and-beard combo. It is not, it’s fair to say, a body type that is highly lauded by media culture … I didn’t always look like this. When I was a teenager, I was so skinny I won awards for dressing as Jack Skellington, which sounds like a joke and isn’t. When I was twenty, I dressed as Nightwing for a costume contest, and the woman MCing the show called me “the reason spandex was invented.”
That was a long time ago. Nowadays, I’m technically considered obese.”
Kudos to Brand and the Herald for addressing these über issues to winning ends. Every time I discuss the matter—via interview or book signing, etc.—I notice the energy heightens. There’s somewhat of an a-ha moment that takes place. Let’s keep the dialogue going.
So, how satisfied are you with your appearance?