Why is it that men and body image issues are never discussed? Is it because there is a taboo against it? A stigma that it is a girls-only problem? Will the man look weak or too sensitive?
From an early age men are taught that they should be the big, strong protector that will ride up on their white stallion slaying the bad guy to win the girl just like in the fairy tales. Superhero costumes can send the same message, just a cute and fun costume for young boys or sending a deeper message saying men should strive to have a perfect physique, thin build, and big muscles.
Are men suffering in silence because they think that men should not have a body image disorder? Is it women’s fault that men are staying quiet about their body dysmorphia? Women have always spoken about the tall, macho man protector; like the hunter in the Palaeolithic age. Does this make it women’s fault that men’s issues are being overlooked or dismissed?
Men who suffer from body image issues may: combat steroid use, be exercise dependent which leads to overtraining and increased injury, entertain ambiguous “fad” diets, immerse themselves in their sorrows, and/or seek refuge from public events and social gatherings.
In a book called Shattered Image: My Triumph over Body Dysmorphic Disorder, author Brian Cuban spoke about how he has suffered from body image issues since he was a child. He explains, “my mother used to say, ‘hey you dumb bunny, you eat too much'”. This played a huge role in leading to Cuban believing he was that he was fat and stupid. Cuban goes on to talk about how there are not many resources out there for men who suffer from body image disorders which reinforces the stigma that this is a “girl-only” problem. One place that does focus their attention on suffering men is in Austin, Texas called Cedar Springs Austin. Brad Kennington is the executive director and COO there and he says that those who are most vulnerable are: men who are constantly checking themselves in the mirror or weighing themselves, those who count their calories or over exercising, athletes, and gay and bi-sexual male teens. In a recent article, Daniel Armbruster says, “While it is a topic most guys want to avoid, we were able to find a few on the UT [University of Texas] campus who would admit they probably know someone struggling with body dysmorphia. Both Kennington and Cuban say more guys must come out and share their stories if society is going to change its attitude on men with body dysmorphia” (Nov. 7, 2013).
Research done by Aaron Blashill and the American Psychological Association found that male teens who perceive themselves as too thin or too fat when they are actually at a healthy weight are more likely to develop depression. They also found that those boys who believed they were underweight are bullied more often and most likely to turn to steroid use. Blashill says there is little evidence-based research on effective therapy for steroid use, but also says that cognitive-behavioural therapy has been proven effective for body image and he recommends therapists to keep a mindful eye on possible steroid use.
Some statistics that I found from a study out of the University of the West of England from 2012 indicate that more than four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body compared with the 75% of women that speak negatively about their body.
- 38% of men said they would sacrifice at least a year of their lives in exchange for a “perfect body” which was again higher than women.
- 30% have heard someone refer to their “beer belly”
- 19% have been described as “chubby” and 19% have overheard talk about their “man boobs (moobs)”.
- 23% said concerns about their appearance had deterred them from going to the gym.
- 63% thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough.
- 29% thought about their appearance at least five times a day.
- 18% were on a high-protein diet to increase muscle mass, and 16% on a calorie-controlled diet to slim down.
To me it is clear that something needs to be done about the growing rate of men’s body image issues and that we need to realize that this is not just a female issue as most would think. Parents of those with young boys should encourage them to look beyond what they see on the outside and to learn to love themselves for who they are.