Men's Body Confidence: What I've learnt
I'm pretty ashamed to admit it, but I've been a bit of a hypocrite. For the last two years I've made really strides to empower young women to embrace their bodies and have started a journey to radical self love. Last year I organised a Body Confidence week at my college in university from the get go the whole team was on the same page about inclusivity. We wanted an equal spread from the so-called 'plus size' community to those considered too skinny and everyone in between. Early on one team member pointed out the importance of including men as well. This wasn't something that I'd initially considered, but immediately I was in agreement.
Last year I'd watched a particularly gruelling documentary on YouTube about gym and supplement addiction. Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder, or MDD, is one of the fastest growing eating disorders. Although, men can also suffer with anorexia typically associated with the LGBTQ+ community, there's a burgeoning endemic of primarily heterosexual men who are obsessed with getting bigger. You're probably familiar with the gym lads of Geordie Shore snorting creatine, living with a protein shaker glued to their hands and never far away from accusations about shooting roids. And, yes that is at the extreme end of this problem. But, the reality is, like most eating disorder, often times it takes men reaching their worst physical destructiveness before people start realising something's wrong.
I've spoken before about how some of the hardest addictions are those that are socially acceptable. MDD is a classic example of this. From photoshopped pictures of David Beckham or Justin Bieber to pro athletes, men are constantly bombarded with the narrative bigger is better. Derogative words like scrawny and chubby only compound this problem. So, with more and more men pushing their bodies beyond the healthy limits what's the future for tackling this problem?
MDD is really tricky to deal with because it normally starts from a pattern of healthy behaviour. Men start becoming more conscious about their diet and eat more lean protein. Starting out at the gym and lifting heavy weights all in moderation is great for the body. The main problem here is motivation. If you're starting to make changes to your lifestyle from a foundation of self love, where you want to feel mentally stronger and physically better that's fantastic.
However, the issues start to arrive when the starting point is one of self hatred. For example, maybe a teenager was mocked at school for looking like a rake and he internalised this dislike of his body. In this instance lifestyle changes can be used to perfect or control their physical appearance, which doesn't have any natural end. Alternatively, maybe someone starts out at the gym with good intentions, but as a result of external pressures starts to rely heavily on improving their physical appearance to feel better. I mean beyond the endorphin rush of exercise, more towards needing the gratification of larger biceps or more defined obelisk as a condition of loving themselves.
I'm pretty sure most of us have been guilty of objectifying men. Most of my friends love swooning over male celebrities or the eye-candy in our lives. On a night out everyone I know has decided whether they liked someone based on their first impression. It sucks, but it seems like as a society we're obsessed with a Greek God-like man to come and save us. Just look at superhero movies and the way people set Thor or Black Panther as their wallpaper. But, if we could take a step back for a minute we can start to appreciate how this can make insecure men feel.
Just like female body dysmorphia we all have a part to play in encouraging these destructive behaviours. From applauding guys at fashion shows who have transformed their bodies since Freshers to asking how much people lift. Everybody places so much pressure on themselves and every time we glorify these ideals of male beauty we are screwing people over. Screwing men over to believe their primary value lies in their physical appearance and screwing ourselves over by focusing on the superficial. Don't get me wrong I believe physical attraction is really important when thinking about dating, but can we all just try and judge a little less the men in our life?
In the UK, the biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide. I find that shocking. Mental health stigma, which I believe body dysmorphia undeniably overlaps with, is killing smart, talented and amazing young men. We really need to start opening up the conversation about the internal and external pressures we put on men in our life. Body confidence is a great place to start.
One thing I want to make crystal clear for any guys who might be reading this, the amount of pressure you put on yourself to look a certain way will always be greater than any amount of judgment potential partners could dream of. Like all eating or body dysmorphic disorders there are industries that profit off of false expectations. In reality, most humans are just trying to get by and for the most part the loving individuals you want in your life are open-minded and forgiving. Please don't drive yourself crazy because you think your love interest will only settle for a Calvin Klein model or pro footballer. Take a step back to realise that kindness, dedication, compassion and a good sense of humour will always win out on the long run. Beyond superficial first impressions.
I guess what I'm trying to say is you are your own worst critic and the second you choose to look after yourself from a loving place is the moment you open yourself up to the possibility of real love. In it's crudest form self-hate is not attractive. If you don't look after your mental and physical health who else will?
I, for one, want to apologise for all the times I've made comments about men's appearances, told someone to 'man up' or asked how much someone's deadlifting. Life's too short for all that bs and I make a vow today to do better for the men in my life.
Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder information:
Mind Male Mental Health Support:
World Suicide Day Prevention information:
All my love, Sam