Male body image. Not something we talk about often. Not something we consider an extremely important topic to bring to people’s attention. It is an important topic though, and here’s why: there are increasing cases of men suffering from eating disorders. There is an increasing number of men suffering from mental health issues, with male suicide at the highest it has ever been. Many of these cases arise from the pressure men are under to conform to the ideal body type. What’s even worse, men are not being treated correctly, if at all, for these conditions.
The rise in the above cases is not solely because of body pressure, however. It has been suggested that men are struggling to cope with modern-day pressures in the workplace, at home, and in relationships. Is it possible that this is due to the changing gender roles? Not that the change in gender roles is necessarily a bad thing; Western women are in the best position they have ever been, in terms of equality. The problem though, is that while many women have succeeded in moving forward and changing their lives, the same cannot be said for the men.
Men still face many pressures and accept them as their manly duty. This includes being breadwinners and needing to look ‘masculine’ in front of other men. Further, whereas female suicide rates are declining, male suicide is rising. It’s safe to say, this is not just about body image issues.
Of course, conforming to certain socially-created body image ideals has always existed and had an impact on men. Just as women have been and continue to be under pressure, the ideal male body type has changed drastically over time. Studies show that throughout the centuries different body types have been deemed more desirable, linking them to greater male potency in terms of being able to provide for yourself and your family.
The ideal body type has depended on such factors as living conditions, especially if poverty was high or food was scarce. However, the closer we come to the twenty-first century, the more we see the ‘ideal’ body type being influenced by celebrities. Considering that the majority of celebrities have a team of specialists helping them obtain these perfect forms, the rest of us, realistically, don’t have much of a chance to attain the same results.
Should we even aspire to this? There’s no reason we need to look a certain way if we are happy with our own idea of ‘perfect’.
The big question is this: if the pressure on men to conform has always been there, is it necessarily such a bad thing?
As a society, we want to promote the best from our culture and people. We are a proud world and like to show off the things we have achieved. A small part of that achievement includes being able to have a beautiful body, which we enjoy promoting. Somehow, I can’t see this changing any time soon. So long as the ideal body type continues to change, society will continue to encourage others to aspire to new aesthetic standards.
The definition of ‘perfect’ will differ from person to person and from period to period. That is why, we should seek to foster our own ideal of beauty, rather than focusing exclusively on society’s.