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Male Body Positivity: A Positive Change

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We all deserve to feel comfortable in our own skin, regardless of our size, gender, or color. Unfortunately, societal expectations of how men should look and behave have made it difficult for many to achieve this level of self-love. In fact, a study by the Campaign Against Living Miserably found that only 26% of men between 16 and 40 were happy with how their bodies looked. But the male body positive movement is on the rise, and we're on the road to changing that for the better.

Unrealistic Expectations

Media, particularly film, TV, and wider media, has played a significant role in shaping how men view themselves. Men have been conditioned to look at the heroes and love interests on-screen, who are almost always perfectly lean with straight teeth and gapless smiles. One increasingly common theme with body expectations among men is the superhero body transformation. Actors who haven't traditionally been connected with properties like Marvel or DC regularly go through huge physical changes to fit the aesthetic we associate with superheroes. But what these transformations don't show is the intense amount of work and upkeep that goes into producing the body, and is frankly unattainable by everyday standards and resources. This distorts male body image into something unrealistic. This makes sense given the enormous pressure that's long been placed on females to conform to a certain beauty ideal – and the fact that women's bodies (unlike men's) have always been up for public discussion. Yet, as male eating disorders and body image concerns escalate, surely it's time men followed the lead of women and started championing diverse shapes.

Toxic Masculinity

From a very young age, men are taught that displaying emotions isn't masculine. This has led to outdated ideas of masculinity becoming deeply ingrained in society, and men who conform to these ideas become socially isolated as they get older. This, in turn, affects their physical and mental health. By conforming to this worn-out idea of what it takes to be "masculine", it gives men less of an opportunity to not only express themselves but also limits what they're willing to experiment with when it comes to styles of dress.

Breaking The Stigma

While it's clear that a staggering number of men feel this way, for things to get better men need figureheads and people willing to start the conversation. A fantastic example is Jonah Hill, who made a public statement on Instagram asking people and news publications to not comment on his body, which prompted a massive positive response from the online community. Harry Styles is another public figure who decided to push back against the traditional by wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue. While there's been a female body positivity movement as brands acknowledge everyday women, we need to encourage the same standards for men. A 2019 study by the UK's Mental Health Foundation revealed 28% of men felt anxious about how their bodies looked and 11% had suicidal thoughts due to body concerns, while a 2020 YouGov survey found younger men struggle with body confidence nearly as much as women. Body dysmorphia, in which individuals obsess over perceived flaws, affects men and women in equal numbers.

Male Beauty on The Rise

We've recently seen a positive change in how men approach beauty products. Whether this is a desire to break away from the norms forced upon men or an effect of 'Love Island', we're seeing a statistical rise in male beauty products. It's brilliant to see more men embracing the new culture of painted nails or simply trying out self-tan drops for a confidence-boosting glow. There's no wrong way to begin the process of self-love. Plus, with 34% of males at the start of 2020 saying they felt more confident about their looks than in the previous year, there is definitely a male body positivity movement change on the horizon.

Every Body Is A Good Body

In the end, we only get one body, and we deserve to feel comfortable and confident in it. Despite the unrealistic expectations and values that men are taught from childhood, the work of influencers is beginning to make real social change. More and more men are learning that it's okay to feel good about themselves and their bodies.

As a result of the desire to break from this pattern of conformity, a number of male body-positive influencers have emerged and begun teaching men that loving the body you're in is not a shameful practice, as well as celebrities cracking the mould of what it means to accept yourself. And though statistics show that we still have a long way to go before these issues become something that can be freely discussed among friends, we can hope that in the not-so-distant future, it becomes commonplace to assure the men we care about that they look good and deserve to feel good too.

It's important to note that male body positivity isn't just about accepting oneself; it's also about being aware of the negative impact unrealistic beauty standards can have on mental and physical health. By embracing and celebrating diversity in body shapes and sizes, we can combat the damaging effects of toxic masculinity and the media's portrayal of the ideal male body.

Wrapping Up

The male body's positive movement is essential, and it's gaining momentum. Men are beginning to realize that they are enough just as they are, and the rise of male body positivity influencers and celebrities is helping to break the stigma surrounding male body image issues. By celebrating and embracing diversity in body shapes and sizes, we can combat the negative impact of unrealistic beauty standards and toxic masculinity. Everybody is a good body, and it's time for men to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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