Body Insecurity and Body Dysmorphia: Not Just for Girls
While patriarchy has inflicted centuries of pressure on women to conform to impossible ideals of beauty, men are not immune to anxiety and self-loathing regarding their bodies. Now, women have responded with the Body Positivity movement, and we have many avenues of support. Men aren't as lucky. There are few safe places for them to air their concerns. Even online forums devoted to male body issues are riddled with insults and bullying.
Should we feel sorry for men, when women have suffered so much more, and at their hands? Absolutely!
Our husbands and sons shouldn't feel afraid of going to the beach. Our male friends deserve the same support and sensitivity as our female friends. Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a mental condition that causes life-impairing obsession with perceived physical flaws, affects nearly as many men as women. Social media affects men in negative ways just as it does women: Greater use is associated with lower self-esteem across genders. A new study finds that frequent checking of dating apps results in significant body shame for men.
Cultural pressure on men to look great and feel great may be more insidious that the never-ending advertising imagery aimed at women, but it exists everywhere. Men are teased about "dad-bods" or excess body hair. Men compare themselves to models and athletes with chiseled six-packs, just as vulnerable to airbrushed perfection as women are. But while women are fighting back with calls for body acceptance, men mostly suffer in silence.
Personally, I've felt fat my whole life, even though by most standards I am slim. I blame fashion magazines and the beauty industry but just as important, I blame my dad, who loved to point out everyone's physical flaws. He worked out in a gym well into his 80s, and felt it was his business to tell people how much better they'd look if only they would lose some weight. Thinking about his influence on me and my sister, I forgot to think about how his warped insecurities might have affected my two brothers. Maybe it's no coincidence that one is a competitive body-builder and the other is covered with tattoos from head to toe.
Male friends have complained to me about feeling fat, and I always just scoffed at them. Now I feel bad for dismissing their anxieties. Men are expected to rise above such thoughts, while at the same time they are expected to look young and vigorous, lean and muscular, effortlessly in control of themselves at all times.
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports that in the last 15 years, the number of men undergoing cosmetic procedures has increased by more than 325 percent. Young men are worried about crows-feet, double-chins, and crooked noses. Botox ads directed at males tend to pitch a more "rested look," careful to avoid words that imply the petty and unmanly sin of vanity.
When men feel unattractive, their feelings of masculinity are on the line. Our culture needs to redefine masculinity (as well as femininity) and divorce it from physical attributes. Normal women don't require a muscle-bound Adonis to fulfill their romantic desires, but men aren't receiving that message.
To make matters worse, men are bombarded with ads urging them to increase their testosterone, even though just two in 100 men have a deficiency in testosterone. The supplement industry exploits fears about masculine archetypes like strength and libido, peddling products that haven't been properly researched or regulated. Testosterone use in men between the ages of 18 and 45 has quadrupled in the last ten years, thanks to these stupid ads and the propaganda spread by Instagram "wellness" influencers.
Men feel bad about themselves if they lack energy or don't want sex. There is constant pressure to perform, and to look relaxed and young while they're at it. Compared to our misogyny-fueled insecurities as women, men's struggles may seem minor to some. But shame is a toxic and devastating emotion.
We should do all we can to help liberate men and boys from the pressure to conform to unhealthy stereotypes. We should respect their insecurities and do what we can to alleviate them, just as we do with women. We are all up against the same challenges to our self-esteem and sense of individual dignity. Your male friends may not ask you if their butts looks okay but they have their worries just the same. Let's keep that in mind, in between selfies.