Why we need to talk about harmful male body image pressures in the media

We all know that women face unrealistic body image expectations every single day – when they walk through a shop, pick up a newspaper or open their social media channels. But have we ever stopped to think that this exact issue is affecting men every day, too?

There has always been a certain amount of body pressure for men in the media – if you think of any Gillette advert featuring a chiselled, muscular, lean model for example.

However, nowadays we are seeing an added influence coming from social media channels such as Instagram and television shows like Love Island, portraying often unrealistic or unachievable body standards for men.

Men don’t just feel the need to be muscular – there are a number of body issues that men face daily. For example:

  • height,
  • baldness,
  • facial hair,
  • genital size,
  • foot size,
  • body hair,
  • skin tone,
  • signs of ageing,
  • perfect teeth,
  • body fat,

…these are just a handful of the body pressures that men come up against countless times a day. And the effect this has on adults in today’s world could be detrimental.

In a study by the Mental Health Foundation this year of 4,505 adults, 1 in 8 (13%) of them had considered taking their own lives because of body image concerns. And a third of the respondents said their body image left them feeling anxious (34%) or depressed (35%). We need to start practising a bit of self-care to enable us to let go of our body tie-ups.

Spotting the signs

If you are concerned that you – or someone you love (be it a relative, friend or partner) – may be struggling with body image, keep a look out for some of these tell-a-tale signs:

  • Anxiety in public over appearance, or avoiding social situations because of how you think you look
  • Frequently feeling ‘ugly’, avoiding looking in the mirror due to being ‘repulsed’ by your own reflection – despite being complimented on your attractiveness by others
  • Focussing obsessively on a particular part of your body that you consider a ‘defect’ – maybe even avoiding social situations because of this feeling
  • Never feeling ‘big’ enough, spending all of your spare time working out to get more muscular, putting your obsession with getting ‘ripped’ before your general health (i.e. taking too many supplements) or before important life events like work or family do’s.
  • Being unable to stop comparing your body to others – be it models, actors, friends or relatives.  

How can we deal with these issues?

It is very easy to say ‘stop focussing on the bad and focus on the good’ when you’re not in the shoes of somebody who is feeling low self-esteem with their looks. However, there are a number of ways you can train your brain – and filter the information you are receiving – to help prevent a negative body image from taking over your life.

  1. Unfollow anyone (yes, anyone!) who makes you feel unattractive due to their unrealistic body standards. This could include influencers, reality TV stars, celebrities or brands.
  2. Talk face-to-face with a male friend about your body hang-ups. They might be experiencing similar issues or may be able to offer some useful advice.
  3. Remind yourself that the images you see in the media are totally unrealistic and unachievable. It’s ok to challenge these images and how they make you feel.
  4. Consider counselling if you feel you need to discuss these issues with a professional. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help. There is always someone there to talk to.

If you are in a crisis or are feeling particularly vulnerable, please remember Hector’s House has a crisis text line – and it is open 24/7. Text Hector to 85258. You are not alone.

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