The concept of body image is an ever-changing notion that a person must look a certain way, for society to call them beautiful. Today, the media is obsessed with displaying pictures and videos of women who are generally very skinny and often employ the use of image doctoring to get their point across. But what also seems to be under the radar for much of society’s attention, is the ideas and perceptions of male body image. While women are expected to be thin and have larger breasts or thicker hips, men are often expected to have a very athletic ability, preferably tall and muscular. In a sense, many females are usually trying to lose weight, while many young males are trying to gain weight through muscle mass. Even characteristics such as the size of a man’s genitals are taken into consideration when determining how much of a “man” someone is. It’s not uncommon that negative characteristics of personality in males, are sometimes attributed to having a small penis.
A website called My Body Gallery for Men is a blog dedicated to sharing stories about body image from the perspective of men. While there are indeed submissions from overweight men, one striking difference from the women’s section is that more submissions in the men’s section are about looking older, bigger and being heavier. One submission titled, “Small Guy with a Big Heart,” is a brief window into the experiences of a 29 year-old man and his struggles with body image. I found that I was able to relate to a lot of his experiences such as being asked for a identification when purchasing items he was old enough to buy (such as alcohol at a bar). He later writes, “I joined this site so that smaller guys can understand that some of them won’t gain mass (like many advertisements say) and they should appreciate what they have and not be dissapointed.”
Upon reading the nameless authors post, I found it striking how at a glance, he seemed physically large but in reality, he was very thin being 5’-8” and weighing only 119 lbs. I find that many males in my generation can relate to working out at the gym and taking lots of supplements and protein rich foods to gain muscle mass, or even to replace fat with muscle. But what really strikes me is that he, a third year nursing student reveals the fact that some men will just simply not be able to gain large amounts of muscle mass such as himself. He notes as well, that, “I also want the bigger people to understand that it’s equally difficult to become smaller.”
In the past 20 years and beyond, the millennial generation of males will often see media that depicts males with chiseled abs and large muscles often times these images depict these men as essentially being dominant. As such, young men are often quick to boost the perception of their masculinity through boasting about how much they can bench-press. This begs the question, why are young boys so concerned about their not-yet fully developed bodies being so different from what they see in the media?
Aside from the media, another source of perfectionist body-image ideas may come from a young man’s family and friends. The phrase, “man up” or “take it like a man” build upon the idea that a young man needs to not only be strong, but burry his emotion and mask pain with bluntness. Such pressure creates feelings of inadequacy and can lead to even extreme attempts at trying to fit society’s idea of manliness. A study conducted in 2012, published in the Journal of of the American Academy of Pediatrics has shown that 34.7% of middle—school and high-school aged children used protein supplements and 5.9% reported steroid use. Most behaviors were significantly more common among boys. The study later concluded that the sharp increase in recent years is a major cause for concern by pediatricians.
While women have certainly been under a similar scrutiny for years, especially younger women, the point here is that everyone is a victim of the media. It is without question that women standing up to the media’s hypocrisies are indeed a victory, but why is it that the male audience remains silent? Growing up, I myself questioned if any male could have ever questioned what we saw. Do the expectations society holds have such a profound influence, that one cannot simply “man up” and talk about it?
Eisenberg, M. E., Wall, M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2012, November 19). Muscle-enhancing Behaviors Among Adolescent Girls and Boys. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.