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Men Have Body Image Issues, Too

June 09, 2016

Apparently, women aren’t the only ones who grapple with body image issues. According to a recent study, men may worry just as much about their body image as the opposite sex.

To be fair, women are bombarded with images online and on newsstands that present a certain body ideal — tall and slim with just the right amount of curviness. That’s why we’re seeing an emergence of all these body positive campaigns (singer Meghan Trainor, for example, recently got a lot of buzz for calling out excessive retouching in one of her videos). However, it appears that we need to give men a healthy dose of body positivity, too. The more men are comfortable with their body the more likely they may be to go see a doctor and not worry about physical exams. A survey by Orlando Health recently found the physical exam is a top excuse for them not to go see their doctor.

According to a recent survey conducted by researchers at Chapman University, 20 to 40 percent of men were unsatisfied with either their physical appearance or physique, including their muscle size and weight. This unease with their appearance also affected men’s sex lives, as 20 percent of straight men and 39 percent of gay men said they had tried to hide one part of their bodies during sex — usually their mid-section. An average of 56 percent of study participants also said they exercised to lose weight in the last year. Another 29 and 37 percent, respectively (both straight and gay men were surveyed), said they went on a diet in the last year to lose weight. 

Researchers surveyed men ages 35-50 and found that they felt societal pressure to maintain their appearance. They also felt pressure from the media to look attractive and frequently thought about their appearance. The study found that gay men were more susceptible to this pressure, with 77 percent saying they felt judged because of their appearance.

There are thousands of men’s magazines out there that project an ideal male body image — typically one that’s muscular and strong. Unfortunately, it makes any man looking at that image think anything outside that ideal is abnormal and unhealthy. But you don’t need to have bulging muscles to be healthy. We all have different body types, and we should embrace them. Some of us are lean, some us carry a little extra weight around our bellies or have skinny legs. It’s all good, as long as you make a concerted effort every day to eat right and stay physically active.

What’s concerning about this study is that body image issues typically don’t start in adulthood. I’d guess that many of these men started experiencing these issues in middle school or high school, when most of us become more self-aware about our bodies. Studies have shown that in the same way girls may wrongly consider themselves overweight, many boys may consider themselves underweight. In extreme cases, these feelings can lead to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which occurs when someone is extremely preoccupied with a small or imagined defect in their physical appearance. Believe it or not, eating disorders also are a risk for men: the National Eating Disorders Association estimates that 10 million American men a year experience these disorders.

We all have something that we wish we could change about ourselves, but self-acceptance is key to realizing that these things, however imperfect, are part of who were are. Body image issues are all too common, but we can’t let the images we see in the media affect the way we feel about ourselves — after all, these images create false perceptions (ever heard of retouching or photoshopping?). As long as you work hard every day to become a better version of yourself, physically, mentally and emotionally, you’ll achieve a sense of contentment. But that starts with accepting yourself — flaws and all.