By ANDREW SHEN, sophomore
Self-image as a concept elicits a variety of images: people with eating disorders wasting away from anorexia, looking in the mirror unsettled by the reflection staring back, or burdened by societal expectations of beauty. Yet when we make these associations, we often do not think of all people; rather, we picture mainly adolescent girls and young women in these particular roles. Popular culture today focuses much of its attention towards improving the confidence of young women with inspirational music such as Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” and challenging traditional beauty norms by including all types of women in advertisements. Seldom does it cover self-image issues of males, and the idea that males too could struggle with eating disorders is virtually nonexistent. This erasure of men from body image discussions is unreasonable; self-image problems are universal, and society must play its part in bringing male self-esteem issues to the forefront with females.
Although self-image issues have usually been attributed to women due to the traditional sexualization of females, there has been a lack of recognition of these issues relating to males. While acknowledgement of male self-image issues is minimal at best, there is widespread evidence to show that these issues are anything but insignificant. Around 53% of men are unsure about their appearance at least once a week and 18% of boys are highly concerned about their physiques. More disturbingly, young men who want to adhere to societal standards sometimes turn to steroids or other muscle-enhancing drugs; a recent study shows that around 6% of adolescent males have used steroids. Despite preconceived notions that men do not suffer from eating disorders, studies have indicated that not only have 3% of all men suffered from eating disorders, but also that the number of men with eating disorders is increasing. These numbers tell a clear story: the pressure for males to look good is growing, and the lengths that men go to achieve their goals can incur obviously harmful effects. We cannot keep assuming that body image issues are exclusive to one gender, and we must try to rectify these problems for both genders. The correlation between men and body image issues is not something to be ignored, and society needs to bring these hidden truths to light.
The increasing societal pressure on male appearance in recent years has caused an even greater occurrence of self-image issues in men. The appearance of men has also been subject to sexualization, and just like women, men are also bombarded with models and celebrities with bodies they are pressured to emulate. Actors such as Henry Cavill and Chris Hemsworth, who play muscular superheroes and grace the covers of magazines like Men’s Health, subconsciously communicate that men must make their bodies attractive in order to be accepted by society. Moreover, young boys are not excluded from these societal influences. Action figures, such as G.I. Joe, have built muscle over the years and encourage an unrealistic body image from a young age, not unlike the effect Barbie dolls have on girls. Society should reduce the promotion of unrealistic body images as well as its judgment of both genders. Otherwise, the incidence of self-image issues will only continue to increase.
As members of an ever-changing society, we need to be the ones to acknowledge that both genders do suffer from body image issues and alleviate this problem. While young girls are now gaining confidence because of popular culture, society has yet to recognize or help men who struggle with their looks. Although women self-image issues still need to be focused on, the main problem affecting men is the dearth of recognition. Self-image problems are universal and need to be addressed; for men, this starts with a simple acknowledgement of their struggles.
While reflecting on self-image often leads us to think about female struggles, it is evident that girls are not the only ones affected by body image dilemmas. Statistics show that men are also affected by these issues and that culture also plays a role in promoting unrealistic hyper-masculine images for men to adhere to. It is evident that we must be the ones to include men in body image discussions and understand their issues. Both men and women deserve to have their struggles recognized and rectified, and this all starts with small steps. As we have come so far as a culture today, it is ridiculous that we are still shaming people for their appearances, and imperative that we come together to stop these actions.