As a kid growing up in the 80s, body image wasn’t something discussed by men.
No one ever said, ‘My legs are so skinny. Like two little twigs. I wish they were more like yours.’ Or, ‘I don’t feel comfortable taking my shirt off at the beach, I mean, ugh, look at me’. Or even, ‘I can’t eat that. I can’t even look at it cause I’ll put on weight and need to go throw up after.’
You’d never chat about your body image down at the pub. In fact, to do so would somehow make you vain and vulnerable.
That fear of speaking out has hindered real, meaningful conversations about self-esteem and body positivity for men.
And yet, it affects so many of us.
Body image in the media
Recently, actor Christopher Eccleston opened up about his experience with anorexia. In his new autobiography I Love the Bones of You, Christopher explains:
“Many times I’ve wanted to reveal that I’m a lifelong anorexic and dysmorphic. I never have. I always thought of it as a filthy secret, because I’m northern, because I’m male and because I’m working class.”
People were shocked, but he’s not the only one.
Despite this, chiselled abs still dominate. They come in two forms: impossibly lean and waif-life or bulked up and brawny. Either way, fat is non-existent. And it’s not just relegated to the filtered pages of Instagram. These ‘aspirational’ male bodies are seen everywhere – from advertising campaigns to catwalks, reality shows to superstar blockbusters.
Let’s be clear: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best, working out and choosing healthy foods. If you have a six pack, good on you! But it shouldn’t come at the expense of your mental health.
Body image and beyond
Unfortunately, it’s not just body shape that we’re struggling with. Now, we can add hair loss, height and skin to the list.
Going bald has been linked to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and depression, with the hair loss industry estimated to be worth $13.6 billion by 2028. Shorter men are less self-confident, struggle more with dating and generally have lower self-esteem. While male cosmetic surgeries like liposuction, nose surgery and facelifts have seen a monumental rise – almost 325 percent over the past 30 years.
It’s no wonder that men today feel way worse about their bodies than they did in the 1970s, according to research done by psychiatrists at UCLA. We feel pressured to live up to impossible body standards.
Just like women have for decades.
The difference is that for too long men have been left out of the conversation. The women’s body positivity movement has made great progress, albeit slowly, and the objectification of a woman’s body is now increasingly being called out.
Women are being told to love themselves for who they are, thanks in part to brands like Dove who have championed self-love and given women of all shapes and colours the platform they so deserve. Plus-size models are making the covers of magazines and, to an extent, curves are being embraced.
The conversation is getting louder.
So as eating disorders and body image concerns rise amongst men, shouldn’t we follow the lead of women? Rather than mocking dad bods, shouldn’t we be celebrating men of all shapes, sizes, colours, abilities and ages?
Of course we should.
Breaking the stigma
We all need to engage in the conversation if we are to break down the stigma associated with body image. We must do more as a society so that all men, particularly the younger generation, feel supported, represented and reassured of their place in our world.
It’s a big reason MINT was built upon inclusiveness and diversity – to empower men to feel confident in their own skin.
We challenge other brands to do the same, to use talent of differing ethnicities, colours, shapes, sizes, sexual orientations and ages. But above all else, we cannot think that men are immune to nasty comments about how they look. That has to stop.
Let’s embrace our differences. Support each other. Check in on our mates. And create a safe space to talk about how we feel.
The men’s body confidence movement is here.
We hope you’ll join us.
MINT WEAR - New Zealand's first inclusive underwear brand for men of all ages and body shapes.