Body image is a big deal in society today. A quick search of the term on our website will bring up a plethora of articles about celebrities, bloggers, moms, and women who have struggled with their self-image and want to speak up about it to empower others. But what about men? How do they fit into the equation?
Body image woes are certainly not gender-specific, although it is well known that women are more outspoken about it and a lot of the media and advertising is targeted at making women scrutinize their own bodies.
But because we are a site dedicated to empowerment and feminism, this means bringing up issues every now and then which concern men. Not because we need to prove ourselves—because it is important and damn time stigma about body image in the media just wasn’t an issue anymore.
Actor Ron Perlman, best known for his role as Clay Morrow in Sons of Anarchy, as well as the hit comic book character Hellboy in the movie franchise of the same name, spoke about more than just his iconic roles at the recent New York City ComicCon. Fans expecting him to be the tough guy they are used to seeing on screen got more than what they initially thought, as he opened up about body image and depression.
He mentioned that he has suffered with clinical depression and it took the life of his younger brother. He also said he understood what Robin Williams was going through. Sometimes we see these successful, iconic celebrities and forget that they too are still human, and underneath the glamorous exterior lies a heart and a soul that beat like the rest of humanity.
Aside from his struggles with depression, Ron, aged 64, said body image was another thing he struggled with. It’s not often we hear about adult men, especially of his age, being open and vulnerable about their struggle, so we are in awe of what a statement this will make to many of his male fans. Let’s not forget that Ron is a baby boomer and comes from a generation where men were taught to be the tough, manly guys who didn’t show emotion.
Ron said he struggled with his own body, and it wasn’t until he was 40 that he started to feel less self-conscious. It was playing the title character in Hellboy that became a turning point for him professionally, as it allowed him to let go of the warped self-image he had and let him express his true self, albeit underneath a costume of red rubber.
At the press conference, he spoke about his new memoir Easy Street, where he mentions how much of an influence his own father was in shaping his beliefs, thoughts, and experiences, and. Judging by his admission of body woes, it indicates something very important: men need role models in their lives not just teaching them to be manly, but how to cope with issues that the media or society doesn’t really tackle for them.
Another male actor who has spoken somewhat candidly about body image of late is Parks and Recreation‘s Chris Pratt, who admitted to feeling the pressure bulking up for his role in Guardians of the Galaxy:
“I’m sure I can’t relate to what females go through in Hollywood. I’m sure I can’t. But I do know what it feels like to eat emotionally, and… to be sad and make yourself happy with food… I know what that’s like. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s a very real thing. I know what it’s like to have body image issues…”
It is a rarity to have both young and older men talk about such a “feminized” issue, because that’s what it has become.
Glamour magazine recently did a massive survey on body image, their first in 30 years, to see what had changed. They interviewed 1,000 American women, and evidently some men. The women ranged in ages from 18-40, and what Glamour found was that since their initial survey in 1984, women actually feel worse about their bodies. An overwhelming 41% said they were unhappy with their bodies.
The survey cited the increase in obesity rates and social media influence as a reason for the lack of self-confidence in women today. When they asked the men in the survey “what would make them the happiest,” they said “success at work”; as for women, they mostly said “losing weight.” But perhaps we would’ve gotten a more comprehensive insight if they delved a little deeper into what men think about their bodies and how both genders can empower each other.
Over in the UK, they have celebrated the inaugural Body Confidence Week, aimed at promoting positive body image messages and campaigns toward women. Over 2,300 women were surveyed, and they came to the conclusion that 10 million British women feel depressed about their bodies, and many of them don’t exercise because they feel anxiety about how they look. In essence, body image worries hold them back.
Body Confidence Week was started by the Be Real Campaign, which was launched in 2012 after a government report found the state of British body image was suffering dismally. Almost four-fifths of women agree that the UK is suffering from a body confidence epidemic, and 54% of women think issues relating to body image are increasing.
“Through this campaign, we’re driving change through three priority areas. We want to ensure children and young people are educated about body confidence from an early age, to promote healthy living and wellbeing over weight loss and appearance, and to encourage the media, businesses, and advertisers to recognize diversity and positively reflect what we really look like,” said Caroline Nokes MP, chairperson of the organization.
What we find is missing from this crucial conversation is the voice of men. Recognizing diversity means having an insight as to how the media and advertising affect them also. Sure, we don’t want to overshadow the important work they are doing helping women, because we know that is definitely needed! But Ron Perlman and Chris Pratt’s comments reiterate how effective celebrities can be where other industries or organizations fail to represent a group of people, and why more men and women need not be afraid of speaking up in the name of vulnerability, empowerment, and encouragement.
So men, if you are out there reading this, share your stories with your friends, family, and community. For once, follow the women on this one. Make an impact and stand in the gap, because your voice needs to be heard. You don’t want to have to wait until you are 40 to feel comfortable in your own skin.
This is why we are super excited that the team behind the incredible Miss Representation documentary is focusing on boys in their next feature documentary, The Mask You Live In, to be released in 2015.
“Compared to girls, research shows that boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives. The Mask You Live In asks: as a society, how are we failing our boys?”