Traditionally, women in our society have been the ones to deal with crippling body image issues brought on, in the main, by the media and the way it has forged an erroneous concept of objective standards of beauty. Although this is still very much the case, recently there have been major moves towards female body diversity in the media, led by body-positive internet personalities like Loey Lane, prominent plus-sized models like Ashley Graham and promotional initiatives by companies like Dove and the lingerie manufacturer Curvy Kate.
It could be argued that male body diversity has never been an issue in the media, since the majority of male celebrities do not have their bodies routinely criticised and discussed. Many famous male hollywood actors are overweight, unfit and far from ‘conventionally attractive’, but the same cannot be said for female actors. Rebel Wilson is something of a breakout personality in this regard, though even her acting and comedic talents often come second to discussion of her body shape and attractiveness. Whilst there are subsets of male celebrities held up as ‘sex symbols’, this status generally comes after they are famous for their acting or musical talent (Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dwayne Johnson, Ed Sheeran, Tom Hiddleston, etc).
However, it must be said that there ARE many men, probably more than ever, who are very insecure about their bodies. Society tells men, as well as women, that overweight equals unnattractive, and that only particular body types are ‘healthy’. Whether this is due to changing fashions or simply an inevitable price we pay for greater equality it does suggest that there is an emerging issue that needs to be addressed.
Perhaps there are seperate, entirely male issues as well, though. For the most part, the media presents female nudity as universally sexy or sexual (even negatively sexual; naked fat women used as ‘gross out’ gags for example). Male nudity, though, in every area of the media besides modelling, has usually been presented as funny. Men have grown up with an opposite view than women have about themselves, that men aren’t supposed to be sexy. Increasingly, though, beauty products and treatments are marketed at men, fashions allow for them to be seen to take greater care of their bodies and to dress flatteringly. Men wearing makeup to feel good about themselves is not the taboo or novelty that it used to be. These aren’t in themselves negative things; it’s important that people are more free to express themselves without fear. Men are just now finding themselves presented with contradictory images of ideal ‘maleness’ which are almost impossible to reconcile. Male models have usually been cast as role-models for maleness, rather than objects of desire as female models have been. There has, perhaps partly due to this, been no equivalent movement to spotlight plus-sized male models, and although there is some headway being made by brave men on sites like Tumblr, no particular internet personality has come forward as a body-positive male role model.
Some argue that comic-book depictions of idealised male figures are as demeaning as those of female characters. I disagree in general; one look at a line-up of characters will reveal that male characters vary widely in size and shape, but female characters mostly fit the same silhouette. That’s what we mean when we talk about a need for body diversity for women. The male heroes are idealised too, but in a male-dominated media they are as much male fantasies as are the female characters. Rather than sexual fantasies though, they represent aspirational fantasies, whether that be a massively muscular body, superior brain or superhuman skill. The important thing to take from this, I think, is the crux of this entire issue; men are faced with body image issues too, and often these are not the same issues that face women. Men fear the judgement of other men, as well as women and struggle with contradictory messages from the media. Perhaps this represents an in-between phase as we head towards a more inclusive media, and perhaps in part it’s a retaliation from a more old-fashioned mindset against a difficult period of change.
So, I do think it is time for men to have access to an inspiring body-positivity movement. It’s very clear that men don’t suffer from body image problems in the massive numbers that women do, but that doesn’t mean that the needs of those that do can’t be met. Particularly in the arena of fashion and modelling there is room for more focus on body diversity; men want to be able to feel attractive and they are no less entitled to that than women.
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