Recently, body positivity surfaced as a movement encouraging women to battle against media expectations of appearances and body shapes. #Bodypositivity gained more than 11.5 million tags on Instagram towards the end of 2019, including images of women being confident in how they look and what they’re wearing.
It’s become widely known that media can be harmful. Many have learnt to feel that way through television and media. Think back to when you were a young child and were blissfully unaware of the pressures of looking good, wearing that swimsuit that stuck to your stomach like a second skin and you couldn’t have cared less.
Granted, social media is amazing in that we can connect with so many people we wouldn’t have ever had the chance to, however constant exposure to what the media presents as the norm can make it difficult for people to accept and love themselves, constantly striving for unrealistic beauty standards.
Body positivity is certainly being talked about more than ever, revealing that women aren’t the only ones that are affected. Statistics have shown that men are unhappier with their body image than ever before. And due to the toxic masculine culture that is been purported today, many men are finding it difficult to speak out about their struggles. It’s becoming increasingly important to start a conversation about male body positivity and confidence. Although as mentioned, the Instagram #bodypositivity hashtag has lots of tags, a quick look on the app reveals that there’s only the occasional male taking part.
Men and Body Positivity
Here, we gathered data exploring body positivity in both men and women, revealing what this suggests about men and women’s beliefs about their own bodies.
It was found that 26% of male participants said they weren’t comfortable with their body —statements were made such as “I would like to be less skinny, only muscular men are portrayed in the media”, “men are always portrayed with six packs in male beauty and grooming adverts”, “I wish I had abs instead of a beer belly”, and “even tiny imperfections on the skin are corrected, which poses unrealistic expectations on both the self-image and desirable partners”.
Over half of men stated that they want to be a size medium, with 96% of women wanting to be a size small. Although women tend to strive to be smaller sizes, men are often pressured to be muscular.
33% of male participants also agreed that seeing content on social media influenced their negativity about their own bodies, with 72% of women. Although the rate is significantly higher for women, it shows that around a third of men are being negatively affected by what they see online — a further 36% of men believed that they would be more comfortable with their bodies if they weren’t exposed to content on social media, with 56% of women feeling this way too.
Similar findings have been reported in male body positivity. However, body dissatisfaction likely begins as youngsters, making something ingrained in us at a young age that is harder to shake. Shockingly, a 2016 survey conducted by the BBC found that 55% of boys between the age of eight and 18 said they’d change their diet to improve their body image. The four main sources creating pressure and body dissatisfaction were friends (68%), social media (57%), advertising (53%) and celebrities (49%). Furthermore, over half of the respondents said they’d find it difficult to speak about it.
How Can We Help?
Evidently, there’s an issue. So, what can we do to support men and encourage them to open up and feel comfortable in their skin?
Stop following those Instagram influencers
If your Instagram follows fitness inspiration accounts, be wise. Celebrities in the 21st century have taken the form of Instagram influencers. It’s their job to look a certain way, and while a little style or makeup inspiration is good, don’t worry about looking exactly the same. Everyone’s appearance is unique!
We all use social media daily, so this level of exposure to idealised body images is bound to have an effect on your own self esteem. A large review of data found that platforms like Instagram are a leading contributing factor when it comes to negative thoughts about your body.
If you don’t accept yourself, how can you be body positive? Cut this toxic energy out from your life and view these accounts as inspiration, not rules! Follow your friends, and content that you enjoy that is going to make you happy. It’s important to remind yourself that what you see on social media isn’t often the truth. Images can be manipulated and edited — it’s likely that the person you’re striving to look like doesn’t even really look like that.
Don’t forget the most important part — you’re perfect the way you are. You look the way you look because that’s who you are, you aren’t anybody else nor should you look like anybody else. Individualism is one of the most wonderful and important things in life, so embrace every unique aspect about your appearance!
Stop making passing comments
We’re not blind to the fact that we often pass judgements on people. As cruel as it sounds, we’ve learned to form judgments on somebody about their appearance to gauge things like their characteristics and personality traits. But if there’s one thing that’s true, it’s not to judge a book by its cover.
‘He’s a man, he won’t be bothered!’ — this couldn’t be further from the truth. Making little comments and making fun of somebody’s appearance on the assumption that they’ll see the joke is toxic behaviour. Think how you’d feel if somebody made a comment about something you were already self-conscious about. If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. And we don’t necessarily mean to somebody’s face for a joke. If you’re in a bar or restaurant or walking somewhere with your friend and make a passing comment about a stranger’s weight or appearance, this is contributing to the problem.
Get involved with raising awareness for the need for diversity and inclusivity. Supporting clothing brands that encompass and purport diversity will encourage other brands to follow suit. For example, online retailer Zalando launched a diversity campaign ‘Free to Be’, encouraging customers to be free in what we wear and look like. Models are used to represent true diversity in ethnicity, gender, backgrounds, size, and shape. The more successful campaigns like this are, the more likely it will become the norm.
Check up on your loved ones
Opening up a supportive dialog between you and your nearest and dearest is an important step as it demonstrates honesty and trust. If you feel like your friend is down or is making negative comments about themselves and the way they look, address this and talk. Don’t ignore the signals, encourage them to speak up about how they feel, and be there for them.
Although we’ve a long way to go, important steps are being made. Acknowledging that men can be affected to will help us to enforce the importance of body positivity!