While the term “body image” is more commonly associated with women, it is clear that male body image is just as prevalent and important. A positive body image is always encouraged in women, and there has been an abundance of campaigns to encourage a body positive mindset for women. However, the same cannot be said for male body image. The disconnect between men and a healthy body image has been growing for years.
Body image is different for men and women, but there is a common thread between the two topics: as time has progressed, bodies have gotten thinner, fitter, and more unattainable for both men and women. Body image is powerful. It affects your mental wellbeing as well as your overall health, both emotional and physical.
How Does Body Image Develop?
Men can develop a body image in their childhood. This is usually based on parental guidance, be it subliminal or otherwise. This progresses during their time in the education system and as they are exposed to the media. Advertisements and fitness magazines are primary sources for unrealistic body expectations.
In a perfect world, men would develop a body image that is realistic. They know what a healthy body weight, shape, and size look like and feel like. They have healthy expectations of what they should look like, feel like, and weigh.
However, this is not usually the case for most men. As they develop a body image, it is usually skewed by criticism. The media plays an influential role in this development. As men are exposed to more unrealistic expectations via the media, they may develop a more harmful relationship with their bodies. Their understanding of what it is to be healthy becomes unattainable and their health suffers because of it.
For example, boys who play with action figures can easily develop an unhealthy body image. If said action figure were brought to human size and scale, he would be taller and much more muscular than an average human male. He would be in the same category as the largest bodybuilder there is. This becomes ingrained at a young age; boys grow up thinking that this is the ideal body to strive for.
What Are The Current Problems With Male Body Image?
As time goes by, more and more men report feeling inadequate or dissatisfied with their bodies. This statistic grows when men are regularly exposed to fitness models in magazines. The constant exposure of men to unrealistic bodily expectations continues to negatively affect their body image.
Increasingly, men also believe that their appearance affects what others, mainly women, will think of them. They believe that the opinions that others develop about them are based mainly on their outward appearance. The rate of cosmetic surgeries to alter physical appearance in men has skyrocketed in recent years. While cosmetic surgery is not inherently bad, there are some risks involved as well as a high expense.
Eating disorders continue to rise in men as well. However, the amount of time spent discussing and raising awareness for eating disorders in men is not being elevated to compensate for this rise. A negative body image is not always the cause of the development of eating disorders, but it can be a strong contributing factor.
It is normal for men to feel insecure about their body occasionally. It is normal to have features that you would like to change if you were able. However, when these changes become obsessions and they begin to have reign over your thoughts and actions, taking hold of your daily life, it is time to make a change.
How Do You Address These Problems?
While changing your body image may involve a certain amount of professional, therapeutic help, there are also steps that you can take to help encourage a positive body image. Because your body image has been developing over the course of your entire life, changing a lifetime of thinking habits can take time and effort.
Reflection is a wonderful place to start. Think back on your experiences in childhood and adolescence and find what has influenced your body image. Starting from the beginning with your body image can help you reformulate the toxic thoughts that you have carried with you for your entire life.
Try to weigh or check (measuring, pinching, etc.) yourself less often. Focusing less on size, shape, and weight can help you focus on what is more important: health and strength, physical as well as mental. Shifting into a focus on how your body is functioning is much more beneficial than how it looks. Try to remember all that your body does for you in a day.
Research body image issues. There are many resources online for those who struggle with a negative body image. Reading about the experiences of others and potentially sharing your experience can help you to reflect, learn, and grow in your journey.
Try to do your best to treat your body with the respect that it deserves. Eat to nourish your body, rather than to punish it. Drugs, crash diets, and punishment via exercise are not kind on your body and not kind to the mind either. Find reasons to eat healthfully and exercise that do not revolve around your outward appearance but based on how you feel. You choose improving your energy, concentration, or relieving stress. Anything you choose can be a beneficial point of concentration rather than changing how your body looks.
If your mood is constantly being affected by your body image and how you feel about your appearance to the point where you can think of little else, professional help may be a good option for you. Additionally, if you are having trouble with damaging behavior, such as binge eating, over exercising, or crash dieting, professional help can help you as well. Counsellors and psychologists are trained professionals and they can help you reflect on your body image, beliefs, and behaviors and develop a plan to change it, thereby helping to you to lead a full, happy, and healthy life.