I never really understood why we constantly talk about the impact that media images can have on a woman or young girl’s body image, but we never address it with men.
I do understand that women are suffering from eating disorders at alarming rates and are much more likely to permanently damage their body or die because of dysmorphia. I get that. I am not diminishing that in any way. But I think we need to recognize that it is difficult for men, and maybe in a lot more ways, but also maybe for different reasons.
For women, traditionally it is just be skinny. But there are right now trends also towards being voluptuous, as well as ripped. But the pressure is always from the same two areas: I have to look this way to be accepted by society, or I have to look this way to find and keep a man. The weight of these things is enormous, and also reinforced by how society does actually work this way to a large degree (isn’t it amazing that all of the best female actors in the entire world are so hot too??? HOW WEIRD!).
But there is also a part of me that thinks that the constant warring against photoshopped images and hip-hop music videos is also misogynistic. You mean to tell me that me that I cannot show my daughter an image of a beautiful woman without her being able to think rationally about her own body? Because, you know, women can’t think rationally, right?
Men face this today as well, maybe more than ever before. While it is still common to see an overweight or bald or hairy or short man on TV or in film, often playing successful men, it is still more common to see hard to attain bodies. This isn’t necessarily new though, Gene Kelly certainly set a standard in Hollywood back in the 1940’s that still rings true today.
But now it isn’t good enough to be skinny for men. You can also be too skinny, or not muscular enough, or not defined enough. You can also be too hairy, or weirdly void of hair, but it is important to have the right amount of hair in the right places and absolutely no hair in the others. You have to be able to grow great facial hair, even if you stay clean shaven. You can’t lose your hair, well, some of you can, some look better, but it is not common. You cannot be too short, like, less than 5’8”. You also cannot be too tall, nothing over 6’3”. Your hands and feet have to be large, but you cannot look like a clown either. You cannot be effeminate, let alone gay. And all of this is to say nothing if I don’t mention that you have to pack some heat when your fly gets unzipped.
And those are just the body issues men face. I don’t think they are as devastating to the average man as much as the average woman because, like I said, we do see examples of successful men and role models and whatever that do not look like this, whereas women generally don’t. But, men generally face a lot of other stressors that women don’t generally have to.
Men have to make a lot of money, they have to ‘take care’ of the family even when they make less money in the house, and oh by the way, they can’t make less money. They have to have “better” and “more interesting” jobs, and work more hours at those jobs, wait, not jobs, careers. They have to show their “sweet side” around animals and kids. They have to be the decider, who will get the blame in the event of the wrong decision but when the right decision is made things will be said like “behind every good man” and “he couldn’t do it without his wife”, which is probably true but why not also share in the failure? They have to be the disciplinarians and the bad guy with the kids. Athletic or brilliant, no other choices, but both is best.
I mean this stuff isn’t like the ‘he cuts the grass she does the dishes’ kinds of gender roles bullshit that should stop basically only because it is dumb. This is serious stuff that defines manhood in America. And, more importantly, crushes the souls of countless men every day.
The earlier stuff, about physical appearance of a man is an issue, certainly. But women seem to be a lot more open to marrying a fat asshole that works for minimum wage is than in reverse. More types of men are accepted, both in appearance and temperament. For every man I know, finding a woman is only made difficult by their own standards.
But the other stuff, most women might not even know that stuff exists. They certainly don’t place it on us in a personal way. A lot of that is driven by other men! Men do a lot of things based on being on par or better than another man. We identify what a “man” is and we try to move as close to that image as possible. And if we cannot get there, it is very difficult to bear.
It is a larger contributor to depression then you might think. It is something very commonly discussed in therapy sessions and often the reasons men leave behind in suicide notes. There is a major problem with people going to extremes because they feel on the outside of normal, whether it be how they look, what they think, or what they do. It needs to be remedied immediately, as it is completely fictitious and extremely harmful.