It is probably fair to say that men don’t talk about body image (positive or negative) as much as women. Why might this be? Men are exposed to the same imagery of “ideal” as women and the impact that this can have on them just as significant. Some of the factors that may contribute to a negative body image in men include: teasing in childhood and adolescence (being called too thin, too weak or too fat), peer pressure among teenage boys to be physically 'tough' and 'strong', a cultural tendency to judge people on their appearance, the emphasis on male sports players as role models for boys, advertising campaigns and media coverage featuring idealised male images, as well as promotion by society of the 'ideal' man as always being strong, lean and muscular.
These pressures are all evident in the amount of money that men spend each year on “improving” their physical appearance, which is increasingly on a par with women. Hair transplants, cosmetic surgery etc are all on the increase.
But what does this mean for men? Well, a negative body image can be a risk factor for a range of self-destructive behaviours, such as:
- fad dieting
- eating disorders - men account for around 25% of people living with an eating disorder
- exercise dependence or 'exercise addiction'
- steroid abuse - young men, gay men, elite athletes, competitive bodybuilders, men who train with weights, and security guards are some of the male groups most at risk of using performance and image enhancing drugs to promote muscle growth or reduce body fat.
Unsurprisingly, because they don’t share that they are struggling, there is a strong correlation between body image and anxiety and depression in men. So what can be done? We need to encourage a community of openness and willingness to talk about body image as an issue that affects both men and women; we need reassure the men in our lives and look out for signs of body dissatisfaction to enable men to seek help, advice and support.