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.
Loved this post. Interesting insight from male perspective. Whether male or female some people are just genetically gifted. Everyone’s idea of perfect is different and unfortunately the media exploites certain body styles. Then we feel the need to live up to that standard or starve ourselves and live at the gym to get there. I appreciate your reflection of other countries. The men in France were slender or leaner maybe is a better word and I currently live in Korea and rarely see a muscle bound guy. Though there are a few here and there. The hardest part whether you are male or female is accepting what you have to work with and making the best of it while living a healthy lifestyle There was an interesting section in my leadership textbook that said men who are tall with broad shoulders command more respect -initially. ?
Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. And that is totally true, I live in Span right now and have seen maybe two muscular guys and both worked at the gym. And yes as a tall broad shouldered guy I’ve definitely noticed that effect. Thanks for stopping by 🙂
This is such an informative post! I’ve known this is an issue, but it’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone talk about it. Thanks for starting a conversation again!
No problem! It’s something I’ve been feeling since I went to college so it’s a conversation I think is worth having.
Great post. We have strange ideas of the ideal male physique in the US.
I know! It’s really strange how men are the one’s who police their own bodies in the US more than anyone else. I’m not sure what to do about it but it’s worth having a conversation about.
Interesting post. I sometimes question my “look” or my physical characteristics. But, I also know that I am just the way I’m supposed to be. Yes, I want to be healthier. But, I also know that my mental health is more important
It is certainly true that working out can be addictive. Having worked in gyms and been a trainer there is in most cases some underlying reason that people come to trainers to train them. Motives are varied from lack of self confidence in how they look or because they need to get fit for a particular goal to be more competitive is certainly a big factor to have something over your peers or to fight that relentless march of time to want to be young or at least compensate for lack of condition that they perceive will attract woman. Some simply have time enjoy the social interaction and become “hooked” on the chemicals released and the reinforcement of seeing changes. The media as you say promotes action movies which are very popular and in most cases casting casts fit muscular actors in physically demanding hero roles which is what we expect in the west. Culture is a big factor in what our priorities are in life and how we live our life. Sport is very prevalent and most sports do require some form of extreme conditioning.