Surveys have found that 20 to 40% of men have body image issues. Similar to women, some men feel self-conscious about their physical appearance – whether it’s due to hair loss, weight, skin troubles (acne, blackheads, or scarring), or any other physical quirk or imperfection.
Hear the words “body image” in the media and it’s easy to assume that it’s a female issue. Women have been dealing with it for longer, that’s for sure. But with that comes more help aimed at women and fewer tips tailored to men struggling with the same anxieties. Here we aim to redress the balance, with information on why some men are faced with body image issues and how they can overcome them.
Causes of Negative Male Body Image
The reason for issues with male body image varies from person to person. However, there are a few causes that some men may have in common. For example, caving into societal beauty standards and trends can cause men to have negative thoughts about their bodies. Yes, we’d all love to look like Cristiano Ronaldo with our tops off, but c’mon.
Toxic masculinity, feeling the need to overly exercise, and feeling that men can’t be vulnerable are a few other causes of negative body image that men often deal with. Whatever the reason, all men should know that they too can overcome their insecurities.
To do so, it’s important to understand the causes of negative body image.
Teasing and Bullying
Those who were bullied about their physical appearance can grow up with ongoing confidence issues. Unfortunately, children are the most susceptible to bullying and are the primary targets of teasing, especially if they are under- or overweight.
Verbal insults and, in extreme cases, physical assaults, cast a long shadow. No matter if it happened one time or many, growing up being teased about your body can lead to self-esteem issues later in life.
The thing about superheroes is, they don’t have love handles. Or receding hairlines. Or acne scars. Cape or no cape, the alpha males in the movies are often portrayed as strong individuals with impossibly large muscles. That image of masculinity is burned into the collective consciousness, creating “norms” out of body types that are anything but normal. This concept is known as the superhero effect. The pressure to maintain a similar body type to famous actors can linger and may lead to self-esteem issues for some guys.
Social media notoriously presents a distorted image of the lives we all lead. Photo editing apps now allow us all to remove our imperfections with a few taps and swipes. Our feeds are stuffed with unrealistic bodies and heavily filtered lifestyles that serve only to twist our expectations and feed our insecurities.
It’s important to remember that people usually only post images of their life that they want people to see – “me on my best day” as one psychologist described it. Of course it can affect the way you see yourself. To avoid this, consider a social media detox for a certain amount of time. This will allow you to clear your mind and practise body positivity instead.
Before social media there were billboards, glossy magazines and TV ad breaks. Advertising standards have long presented an unrealistic view of what a man ‘ought’ to be. Don’t like the Diet Coke guy? Us neither. Just as casting directors pick out slim female models with a particular look, so companies frequently use walking six-packs when a man is needed to advertise their products. Seeing this regularly can make people feel pressured to look like the models.
Things are slowly changing. Companies like American Eagle, ASOS, Nike and others are understanding the importance of body positivity and are including models with all body types within their campaigns.
Improving Your Negative Body Image
While it may seem impossible to avoid societal pressures, there are still ways to improve the way you view yourself. Listed below are a few tips to consider when attempting to improve your negative body image.
Be Honest About Vulnerability
To improve, you must first acknowledge what it is you’re wanting to improve. This means being honest with yourself about your insecurities. Vulnerability can be intimidating, but it’s a necessary step towards improving your confidence. Talk to your partner, a friend or look for a support group online.
Be willing to express your feelings fully and don’t be alarmed if you feel upset. Opening up more than you’re used to can bring on a sudden feeling of anxiety — don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you feel anxious or need someone to talk to.
Focus on Your Health
Prioritising your health — both physical and mental — has numerous benefits. This includes, but certainly isn’t limited to, improving your body image. Putting the effort into maintaining your health means taking the time to practice good nutrition habits and being active.
If you have difficulty maintaining an active lifestyle, then look into ways to spruce it up. Don’t hesitate to invest in new hobbies — like buying new shoes for running, or shoes for the gym, or even new boots for hiking. Take a moment to evaluate the current state of your health to see what areas can use improvement. Even researching local fitness groups for beginners is a great way to ease into focusing on your health.
Talk About It
Whether it’s with a trusted friend or family member, or a counsellor — talking to someone about your insecurities is a great way to overcome them. It can be intimidating, especially when there’s a stigma surrounding men who go to therapy.
Studies show that there are over 6 million men in America and around one-in-eight men in the UK are affected by depression and other mental health issues. Other studies show that men are less likely to seek therapy than women. Part of the reason for this disparity could be that men often feel attending therapy isn’t manly and that it’s a sign of weakness.
This, of course, isn’t true. It’s important to know that talking about your feelings with a professional can benefit anyone.
Embrace Your Body
Having the ability to embrace your body for all that it is is a powerful feeling. It comes naturally for some, while others need help figuring out how to practice self-love. Here are a few tips to be mindful of when learning how to embrace your body:
- Find ways to move your body that make you feel good
- Invest in fashion that fits your body perfectly
- Practice meditation to learn how to centre yourself and become one with your body
- Read books on self-love
- Wear clothes that make you feel good
- Follow people on social media who have a similar body type to yours and celebrate it
Embracing your body is important because it helps to shape your overall health. There’s no lie behind the popular saying “when you look good, you feel good”. When you speak highly of yourself and learn to love yourself, you will notice positive changes in both your physical and mental health.
Challenge Unrealistic Media Norms
It’s one thing knowing that social media and blockbuster movies can influence negative body image issues in men. Doing something about it is another matter. Challenge unrealistic media norms. Help spread awareness on the importance of a positive body image using your social media platforms. It means not being afraid to be yourself and embrace your flaws for what they are.
Men just as much as women deserve to be confident in who they are. They also deserve to talk about their struggles without feeling judged. Educating yourself on the importance of male body positivity and how to overcome body image issues is just one way you can make a difference and help break the social stigma surrounding this issue.