In modern day society there are no shortage of problems surrounding body image. I’m not the first to point this out and I won’t be the last. However, America is currently in the midst of a cultural shift in terms of the ideal male body image. This is true to such an extent that male body image issues currently dominate the minds of many men I know. And that includes me.
In a recent Times article about the subject of male body image issues, Dr. Harrison Pope, director of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at McLean Hospital, has the following to say:
“If you think about the changes over the last 30 to 45 years in how men are depicted in Hollywood, cartoons, magazines and action toys, you’ll see that men’s bodies [today] appear much more muscular.”
If you think about it, this seems like a no-brainier. Ever since Arnold and Sly Stalone heralded in the 80’s depiction of the ideal man this has been the case. And with workout culture at an all-time high, its no wonder that men and women alike are feeling the literal crunch of body image issues. But changing ideals come at a cost. And that cost is male body image issues. Pope later points this out this growing frustration with men’s muscularity.
There’s this drumbeat that muscularity equals masculinity, and so we’re seeing more and more young men with muscle dysmorphia,”
But really, the biggest cause of male body image issues is other males. Unlike how females judge male bodies, male body image issues are wrapped up in masculinity. And that V-shaped muscular core with big arms is the only way that a lot of guys feel masculine. More importantly, it’s the so-called objective standard that men judge each other by. To women, and even to gay men, there are multiple standards that men’s bodies are evaluated. These range from bears, cubs, and even chubs. In other words, both to women and gay men, anyone from John Goodman to John Travolta can be considered attractive, particularly if they have features like broad shoulders or a wide back.
Still, it’s hard to estimate how many of us have male body image issues. As I travel quite a bit, it’s interesting to see how the male ideal changes from country to country and even from region to region. For example, in Granada I have yet to see a man who was jacked and didn’t work at the gym. In fact, being overly muscular is discouraged in the majority of European culture. Instead, the male ideal is to be lean.
It’s interesting to think that these American standards are not necessarily the standards that the rest of the world holds, especially when it comes to male body image issues. But in order to start to put issues like this behind us, we need to expand our idea of what masculinity means. Being muscular is nice, but not at the cost of muscle dysmorphia. But as men, it’s something we need to be working on. I know I have to.