In a study published online by the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity, it was found that 20 to 40% of men have body image issues. Like women, some men are self-conscious about their physical appearance – whether it is because of hair loss, obesity, or skin disorders, or any other physical quirk or imperfection.
It is easy to assume that body image is a female issue because it has been talked about in the media for longer. But with this comes more help tailored to women and fewer tips for men struggling with the same anxieties. In this article, we aim to restore the balance by pointing out why some men are faced with body image issues and how they can overcome them.
Causes Of Negative Male Body Image
Although the reasons for male body image problems differ from person to person, there are a few common factors. For instance, caving into societal beauty standards 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 let’s be real!
Negative body image is often caused by toxic masculinity, over-exercising, and the idea that men can never be vulnerable. Whatever the cause may be, men 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 develop self-esteem issues as they grow up. Children, especially if they are underweight or overweight, are the majority of those who are bullied.
It doesn’t matter how many times or how often you were teased about your body as a kid, it can lead to self-esteem issues in adulthood.
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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. As a result, we have an image of masculinity that is burned into our collective consciousness, creating bodies that are anything but normal. This phenomenon is known as the superhero effect. The pressure to maintain the same body type as famous actors can linger and may lead to self-destructive behavior.
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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.
Remember that people usually only share images of themselves that they want others to see – “me on my best day” as one psychologist put it. This can affect the way you see yourself, of course. Consider taking a social media detox for a few weeks to avoid this. Instead, you can clear your mind and practice body positivity.
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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
In order to improve, one must first be aware of what it is they want to improve on. This means being honest with oneself about one’s weaknesses. It can be frightening to be vulnerable, but it’s necessary. 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
Fit your body with the right fashion
Learn how to center yourself and become one with your body by practicing meditation
Read books on self-love
Wear clothes that make you feel good
Celebrate people with similar body types on social media
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
Knowing that social media and blockbuster movies influence negative body image issues in men is one thing. 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. One way you can make a difference and help break the social stigma surrounding this issue is by educating yourself on the importance of male body positivity.