Body image issues are prevalent within our perfection-focused society. We are told to conform to impossible beauty standards, to fit a certain body shape and that if we don't look a certain way, we aren't beautiful. We have diet fads and crazes thrust upon us to try and encourage us to get that "perfect" figure that everybody seems to want and we are picked apart by the media and told to rebuild ourselves in their perfect ideal. But women are not the only ones to suffer.
Men are also given the 'perfection' blueprint. They should be strong, muscular, show no emotion. They are told constantly to "Man Up" and to "Be a Man." The size of a man's penis is constantly bought up in many a conversation between girlfriends over lunch, much like his performance in the bedroom.
Some of you ladies reading this may scoff and roll your eyes, thinking "Welcome to my life!" Yes, us women have had to deal with this sort of scrutiny for much of their lives, but we shouldn't be under the assumption that men don't know the feeling. Truth be told, we are all victims of the media. No one is safe.
Only within the last few years have fuller-figured women been in the media. We have our own plus-size models and clothing stores that cater from size 14 upward, and even chain stores carry plus-size clothing. The fuller-figured gentleman does not have this luxury. You will almost never see a heavyset lumberjack-esque man gracing the cover of a clothing catalogue. Or a fashion magazine. Or an in-store poster.
You will, however, see taut, toned, oiled and well-endowed men gracing the glossy pages of almost every magazine you reach for, every chain clothing store and everywhere else. It is an unrealistic expectation for men. And a lot women love the way these male models look, so that adds fuel to the fire in the male mind. Like women, they feel they have to fit this extreme standard in order to be found attractive by the opposite sex.
We, as females, have been dealt a cruel hand by way of the media. Our bodies truly are under scrutiny. The tell us that celebrities with curves are too fat, but when those same celebrities decide to lose weight, they are too thin and the media suggests that they are suffering from an eating disorder.
Now, we don't keep quiet anymore. We kick and scream and tell the media we want more diversity of size, sex and gender, and sometimes they listen. But men, like they've always been taught, remain silent. They don't complain and they go with it. The 'strong, silent type' is how men are conditioned.
When a chubby school boy is bullied by his peers about his weight, barely an eyelid is batted. When he is called a slob by his workmates, he is expected to let it roll right off his back. In today's society, the ideal man should be tall, rugged, handsome, muscular, be well-endowed, be an excellent lover, be strong, emotionless.
A picture has been circulating of a young man holding up a handwritten sign reading "It's just as hard to be Ken as it is to be Barbie." I posted this particular picture on my personal blog to very mixed reviews. One particular blogger reblogged the picture and commented "Cry harder white boy."
This is not the way things like this should be handled. We should be understanding of those men who do suffer from body image issues and eating disorders, we shouldn't be scolding them because we've had to experience this cruelty for longer. As a whole, we all need to understand the damages the media can cause. If we can do that, we will be well on our way to a more body positive society for all.
Undue pressure is put on men by women, their friends, other men and their parents, especially their fathers. "Be a Man" is something that is easily said, but carries a lot of weight. Slamming a man with this phrase is telling him that he has to bury his emotions and his feelings, to take life on the chin and to never show weakness. If he cries, he is weak; if he is kind, he's a wimp. This simple phrase has the ability to be crippling. Telling the young man this will give him extreme feelings of inadequacy. It insinuates that he's not man enough, he's not strong enough.
Nowadays, hitting the gym is in. Bulking and gaining is the next big thing. Being big and muscular is where it's at. Is it any wonder why the thin gentlemen and the chubby gentlemen avoid the gym? At least us women have ladies-only gyms that promote friendship and acceptance to all. Hitting the gym is a big deal for anyone who hasn't ever been, or doesn't go frequently, and that is made harder by the snickers and glares received from more muscular men over by the weights.
The truth is women are not the only ones who can suffer from poor self-image. And to assume that men don't is absurd.
As a society, we're all being force-fed images of this race of "perfect" people. We're told how to look good in certain outfits and how to dress for our shape; we're encouraged to lose the baby weight because Kim Kardashian did so in record time; and we're urged to get fit by Summer.
Whatever your gender, we are not safe from low self-esteem and poor body image caused by much of our society and our media.
Don't buy into it.
Jessica Lovejoy is a Positive Body Image Advocate and writer.
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