The silence surrounding male body image

Published

Credit: Kirsten Colligan

Euan Findlay
Writer

With increasingly prominent female body positivity movements sweeping the globe, Euan Findlay questions why we have yet to see campaigns encouraging men to love their bodies

Body image is a subject that has been increasingly at the centre of many positive movements and campaigns attempting to push for an accurate and fair representation of all body types. These projects are vitally important in tackling the social stigma and imagined template of what “conventional attractiveness” is. As someone who has always struggled with his own body image, with that struggle often being made more difficult by anxious thoughts and feelings, I welcome these campaigns and want to see more of them. But with these movements going forward, and bringing acceptance of all different shapes and sizes with it, I can’t help but feel a little left behind.

I am disgusted by my own body.

When I see my own body, I feel shame. On every beach I’ve ever been to I have kept my top on to swim in the sea because god forbid anyone lays eyes on the horror that lies beneath it. From PE changing rooms to locker rooms at the gym, I have partaken in a rushed routine of minimal body exposure all the while sucking in my stomach. I have never been happy with my shape or size, and part of this is due to my own low self-esteem often brought on by anxiety about people seeing my body. Another part though, I truly believe, is because of the image of conventional male attractiveness that we have all been exposed to.

In the body positivity campaigns that I am aware of, most – if not all – of them are directed at women. The stigma surrounding conventional female attractiveness is a serious issue. In a recent study published in the Journal of Health Economics, conclusions were drawn that, “social stigma is a mechanism through which weight affects mental health for white women.” I am not, and would never, question the importance of allowing women to feel comfortable and attractive in their own bodies. But while we are thankfully seeing more plus-sized models in the media and overall diversity of shapes and sizes of female bodies being represented, there remains only one attractive body image for males.

When I was a child I adored superhero movies – I still do! These movies portray brave, selfless, inherently good male characters. What do all these heroes have in common? They all have very similar body types; the “ideal” male form (or as I like to call it, “The Chris Hemsworth Template”). This is the conventional attractive male body type you will find represented in media; tall, broad shoulders, defined abs, muscles and a chiselled jawline. I understand that this isn’t always the way male bodies are portrayed, but when the goal is to represent attractiveness or sex appeal, this is the body type you will find.

I’m not saying that this body type isn’t something that should be a goal to work towards; the “Chris Hemsworth Template” takes a lot of determination and physical training to achieve (Chris, if you are reading, give me a call, you’re a very attractive man – conventionally or otherwise). But I wouldn’t think it unreasonable to say that for the average male, this body type is often unattainable. Either way, I should not need to attain this shape and size to feel attractive.

When I look in the mirror I do not see this template of attractiveness. In my personal case I see fat on my stomach, love handles, a complete absence of muscle definition and prominent stretch marks. I see things that make me want to keep my body hidden. Things that make me believe I am unattractive.

I hold a large amount of fear towards having any sort of an intimate relationship with a woman that involves a lack of clothing. An insecurity for even taking my top off in front of a woman for fear that she’ll be put off by the ugliness underneath it. Thoughts such as “I’m not what she wants” and “how could anybody like this” are commonplace when I think about my body’s attractiveness to the opposite sex.

Perhaps these fears and insecurities around my body image are just projections of my own lack of self-worth, but I refuse to believe that I am the only male that has feelings along these lines. I have an incredible amount of respect and admiration for the movement women have created in the direction of love for all shapes and sizes, from plus-size models to the beauty in stretch marks. I just want to ask that on this journey women are taking towards self-love, that you take us men with you.