The Piece About The Body Image Struggles Of Men

The Piece About The Body Image Struggles Of Men

Originally published on huffingtonpost.com

The fruitless quest for a “perfect” body isn’t unique to women, though based on the body image conversations we tend to hear, it’s easy to think so.

Rather than obsess over attaining thinness, however, men are more likely than women to consider themselves underweight, and focus on getting more muscle tone, studies suggest. But there is a range of expectations for what a “masculine” body should look like – and negative associations with the ones that fall short. One study found that men linked being fat with “weakness of will,” while being lean and muscular was associated with “feelings of confidence and power in social situations.”

According to mental health experts, men may have a harder time accessing communication tools to express their insecurities and work through them. While there’s recently been more cultural celebration of a diverse range of body types for men and women, for men to communicate openly about body concerns still carries a stigma.

In an effort to demonstrate that men of all ages and sizes struggle with body image, HuffPost Women photographed 19 men, from those in their 20s to their 60s, without their shirts and spoke candidly with them about their body hang-ups.

Spoiler alert: Men have body insecurities, too, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

MB1“I don’t like sitting down with my torso hunched over my legs – it makes me feel gross the way my stomach reaches over my belt. Similarly, if I have my shirt off, I try to stay lying down or reclined so that my torso is elongated. I also flex my arms and abs almost constantly. The soreness and tension from working out makes me feel better.

I’ve always wanted a much leaner body type, so even as small as I am, it makes me wish I was thinner. Many of these conversations have brought me to the conclusion that I may have some minor type of dysmorphia.”

MB2“I’m realistic about my body. I take care of myself and exercise vigorously and regularly, but know that I’m not 30 anymore. I see a lot of guys my age whose bodies look, well, sad, and I am determined not to let that happen.

This is embarrassing, but I will sometimes press my fingers on the side of my stomach to try to convince myself my abs are ‘tight.’ I don’t talk to my friends about body concerns very often. I do notice that most of my friends are married and overweight — not sure if there’s a correlation between those two facts, but as a result, we don’t talk much about body issues.”

MB3“My relationship with my body has changed a lot over the years. I struggled with self-esteem as a young, chubby child. But I had a few important experiences — like having to use communal Japanese baths and swimming competitively — that made me quite comfortable with bare skin by the time I got to high school. Recently, I’ve been struggling more with that confidence. I often feel somewhat weak and flimsy and wish I had a more powerful body. I’m really grateful to have people around me who are very open about their own body issues — which is the key. Once one friend starts sharing, it sets the space for everyone else to do so as well.”

MB4“I feel terrible about letting my body go as I have aged. In my younger years, I was really into weight-lifting, and I know firsthand the costs of letting your body go and the uphill battle I face now from doing so. My son repeatedly asked me if I was pregnant when he was younger and now knows that I am very unhealthy, because he is taught in school to not eat what I eat or ‘I will become fat like daddy.’ I would say I have just given up. It’s almost comical.

I would be embarrassed to mention it [to my friends]. I am worried what they would think, not only because I am actually very fat, but how weird it would be to mention something like that in a man-to-man conversation? It’s simply not acceptable.”

MB5“I’ve always been very comfortable with my body, even when I was an awkward squishy pre-teen. But nowadays, I really like how I look. I’m also definitely more focused than ever on how my body feels.”

MB6“I hated my body for a lot of my life. Part of that came from being a ‘husky’ adolescent / teen and part of that came from being queer and feeling like I didn’t have a body that was attractive to other men in the ways it was supposed to be. But getting heavily tattooed and working out hugely changed the way I think about it. So many of the stories that were hidden inside of me — things I loved, things I was scared of, things that haunted me — were finally visible, and my body finally felt like it belonged to me because I had a hand in making it the way I wanted it to be. Now, when I take my shirt off, I’m happy with what’s there.”

MB7“I feel comfortable and free when shirtless. I feel that my body is a form of art. There are some areas I wish to improve upon, but I definitely love my body type.”

MB8“I feel much better about my body than I used to. Until I was in late college, I had an unbelievably fast metabolism, which I realize for many would be a blessing. For me, it left me looking, as my friends once described, ‘like a Holocaust survivor.’ Since then, my metabolism has slowed to a crawl. I occasionally go to the gym, which I think has helped my confidence somewhat.”

MB9“I’m OK with my body now. I’m still aware of where I can improve and personal ‘imperfections,’ but for the most part, I’m OK. [My friends and I] mostly talk about how we need to tighten up and get in the gym.”

MB10“Being 59-ish years old, things aren’t as firm as they use to be or even in the same places, but I have no problems about my body now or ever. I do chat with friends about how I should get back to a gym and get more exercise, just because I’m not getting any younger.”

MB11“When I take my shirt off in public, I am extremely aware of my body. It feels unnatural to be shirtless. I feel as though all eyes are on me and no one is liking what they see. I’m 6’4” on the outside and 5’4” on the inside.

I feel better about my body now than I did in the past. I don’t want a perfect body. I want my body to look fit, but also lived in. Having said that, I run 18 to 20 miles per week and do bodyweight exercises six days per week — and feel as though if I miss a day, it’s all going to fall apart. So, there’s that.”

MB12“I have always been comfortable with my body. Due to my skinny lankiness, I have always received the opposite kinds of comments, with most telling me to eat lots of cheeseburgers every day. When I was younger, it annoyed me. Now I just smile and tell them I absolutely would if it wouldn’t kill me.”

MB13“I feel good about my body overall, especially given my age of 55. With that said, I decided after doing the photos that I want to get back to my college ‘fighting weight’ of 199 not only for health reasons, but feeling better about myself as well.

I keep my shirt on, in no small part because, now that I am single again, I think most women prefer a guy in a nice shirt versus shirtless.”

MB14“I feel like I’ve disappointed my body. In high school, it was, ‘I’m so skinny, I need to bulk up,’ but now it’s, ‘I’m still so skinny, but I have a belly.’ My insecurities have doubled in that sense. Having skinny arms and a post-college beer belly is far from the muscular male archetype.

I talk to my girlfriend sometimes, but with friends, not really. Straight-guy friend groups aren’t immediate sources of empathy and consideration, from my experiences. My closest Asian male friend works out a lot and has an incredible body, so sometimes I feel ashamed when I’m around him. He has my ideal body, and as an Asian male, his own masculinity makes me feel inadequate.”

MB15“I always felt like I was inadequate. Lately, working [in media] has made me more comfortable in my own two shoes than any other time in my life. I have no idea why, but it seems learning about these spaces and ideas helps. With women I [discuss body image]. They’re always quite fruitful. With men, on the other hand, I avoid these discussions as men are constantly trying to avoid looking weak. It sucks.”

MB16“I feel like I could be healthier in how I exercise and eat, and the byproduct would be a healthier body and mind. Being healthy is the goal, and my body looking better is a perk.

I can eat pretty unhealthy and not gain a ton of weight. People get angry about that, so I try not to talk about it.”

MB17“I’m usually pretty fine without my shirt off, because I learned how to position myself about things I’m insecure about. My feelings haven’t changed about my body — I’ve always been pretty comfortable. Although I have realized I have to work out these days to maintain the same shape.”

MB18“Now, today, I’m not feeling great about my body. In the past, I really didn’t think much about how I looked shirtless — I just did it. But when I moved to New York, I found myself in a much more body-conscious community than my small college campus. So, I got a gym membership, worked out a lot, ate well and felt good about how I looked. But I’ve fallen out of that routine over the past year, and I’m having a hard time getting back into it.

I’ll wear my pants higher to tuck things in, and wear oversized or boxy shirts that hide my stomach and upper arms. If I’m really not feeling so hot, I just don’t go to certain places where I know people will be shirtless. So being a gay man in New York in the summer can be difficult.”

MB19“I typically feel like no one can tell I have a belly when my shirt is on, so I feel like I’m exposing a secret when my shirt comes off. I don’t remember a moment in my life when I felt totally comfortable with my body. It’s been especially bad since leaving college, possibly because of the insecurity that comes with new friends, new living arrangements and living in a new town. However, in 2015, I’ve started to become more secure with my body and more confident.

I rarely open up about it unless it’s with close friends. The handful I do talk to always give me the same reaction: Oh, you’re not fat! It’s nice to hear, but no matter how often I hear it, I don’t believe it. Some friends even tell me they think of me as ‘athletic.’ If anything, I think these responses confuse me, because I still can’t comprehend how I would look like I don’t have a big belly. It’s not that I’d rather them say, Yeah, you could stand to lose a few, but it makes it more difficult for me to process my insecurity against friends’ reassurance.”

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33 Comments

  1. Dennis Macaulay
    August 24, 07:01 Reply

    There is no such thing as a perfect body, you will never be satisfied. Eat healthy, work out very often and generally maintain healthy habits and love yourself quirks, warts and all.

    I totally love my body not that I have a perfectly chiseled body, but I love it all the same and never ashamed to take off my clothes in public.

    Don’t be looking at those men you see on Instagram ooo, they are often products of air brushing, photo shop and steroids!

    Love yourself

    • #Chestnut
      August 24, 09:04 Reply

      @Dennis: Yimu…it’s easy for u to say becos u’re hot. D rest of us that look like a half-empty sack of potatoes can’t afford to do without a shirt…(Preferably a long-sleeved shirt, and a sweater and blazer to hide EVERYTHING)

      • Dennis Macaulay
        August 24, 09:40 Reply

        Lol

        Shurrup! I know what you look like, you don’t have to cover everything!

        My dear I love my body, the other day at the pool Max stopped me from stripping down!

        No shame biko

  2. ambivalentone
    August 24, 07:57 Reply

    I’m really finding it hard to choose between 3 and 12 which is my body type. But that arm on 3 tho…they look like claws and 12is just too…flat. Either way, a perfect body for me is one whose…(whats that V-line called?)…do not project over the drawers. Its not even 7. My worst nightmare about them is the abs of today becoming the flabs of tomorrow. I think I’ll just go on with being skinny abeg

  3. Max
    August 24, 08:01 Reply

    Lol. I can relate. Use to be so insecure about my body in the past. Walking around with boxers and singlet was almost a taboo for me, because someone would pick on that and remind me how skinny I was. But then I grew up and added little flesh.. And my comfort and confidence kicked in. Ive been weighing the same for the last five years and I love it. I fat-shame people for sport because I don’t think they’re doing enough about their situation.
    Fast metabolism is nice.. 🙂

    • Pink Panther
      August 24, 08:04 Reply

      Fat-shame, huh? LOL. Oh I know one or two of your victims. *snigger*

    • ambivalentone
      August 24, 08:45 Reply

      You have no idea. I eat what I want, how I want and with as many helpings even at 1 am. Being skinny is not being in shape tho. There is this tub of lard who can out pace me and not lose breath. Watching him play soccer is fascination, disgust and admiration

      • Max
        August 24, 09:54 Reply

        Lol.. I’m very healthy biko. I might not have the same physical strength like buffed up men, but my health is very ok. Muscles doesn’t mean healthy…

    • Deola
      August 24, 10:57 Reply

      I seriously hope you were kidding about that whole fat shaming people for sport part.
      For someone who was and still is on the far end of the body size scale i would think following all the body shaming you got that you would know better than to do the same thing to people on the other extreme side of the size scale.

      You think “they arent doing enough about their situation”? Ummm and you know this how? Cause you’re living their lives?

      Uh uh dahling, you best retract.

      • Max
        August 24, 19:43 Reply

        Seems like I hit a nerve or two with that statement. Don’t take it personal honey, I can’t stand people who eat like there’s no tomorrow #gluttons… Its sickening. They’re the ones I fat-shame.

    • keredim
      August 24, 15:26 Reply

      Like the saying goes – Fat-shamers are usually one burger away from obesity…..

      • Max
        August 24, 19:38 Reply

        Not this fat shamer honey..

    • Ven
      August 24, 16:39 Reply

      Sounds kinda messed up that you do that tbh.

  4. JArch
    August 24, 08:01 Reply

    This piece resonated alot with me.

    I was very twinkish until some years ago when my body started taking the shape and size I wanted. Still there are times I feel self conscious about it. My friends are the same one who would ask me to wear a shirt cos I love letting it hang out there.

    Speaking of friends, I’ve lost friends cos apparently they preferred me when I was slimmer and twinkish and when I got fat (not bulked up), they wasted no time in stating how (in their eyes) I was no longer sexy…. Good riddance.

    But I’ve gotten more confident and I love my body now more than ever, though I am always on guard not to let it go overboard.

    I still let it hang and shake what my mama gave me

    #LoveThySelf

      • JArch
        August 24, 12:27 Reply

        My dear eh… It was shocking but in this day and age you’ve got to have a thick skin and must be worn 24/7, 365…

        One of them actually apologized about a year later. Cos I had ceased all forms of communication with he and the others. He noticed and asked why, I told him straight up, why I took such a decision. Till date even though we’re on speaking terms, we’re not as close as before.

  5. Diablo
    August 24, 08:55 Reply

    Everyone has body insecurities so this is nothing groud breaking. For most ppl its more a weight thing. I used to be really big and thought that i was “thick” and guys liked that. But then last year i fell terribly ill and lost alot of weight, and i noticed the change was instantaneous. Ppl were alot into me, and nicer to me. I wouldn’t say i’m exactly slim now, but I’m very conscious of what i eat and go running every weekend, plus the constant BRT hopping to work helps matters

    So If you’re insecure about something, like your body, then stop whining and do something about it.

    • Pink Panther
      August 24, 09:00 Reply

      Constant BRT hopping. Lol. Now that’s an exercise in itself every morning and evening.

  6. #Chestnut
    August 24, 08:57 Reply

    Love this post! The first guy reminds me of myself: I too,constantly try to elongate my torso when I’m sitting or lying, so I can pretend to have a flatter belly,lol. His body kinda reminds me of mine,even.
    I really have issues about my body,even tho most ppl around me seem (or claim) not to see the same things I see when I look in d mirror…*sigh*
    (S.N: those pics; there’s something about black guys sha,compared to the others…it’s like…like grilled chicken versus boiled yam. #BlackTrulyIsBeautiful #WeWokeUpLikeThis!)

    • JArch
      August 24, 12:32 Reply

      Some of us like boiled yam… Especially when it’s got gravy to with it

      Chestie: Always stirring trouble… I mean tea.. Since 1700

  7. handle
    August 24, 09:22 Reply

    Man I was having this conversation with a date last night. I’m I secure about my body, especially my legs and arms.

    I remember being a 19 years old skinny gay man back in NY too. Never took off my shirt outside the house, avoid the gym because I didn’t want to feel insecure and outplace by other well shaped body. And I hated colleagues or one night standers telling me I look like a big version of those “African kids” in UN ads. Yikes!
    But look at the pros. I never watch what I eat. I eat anything and everything. Healthy or unhealthy and I don’t have to worry about gaining fat in all the wrong places. I crave for some type of food, I go for it. Life is too short to get bothered about gaining too much weight.

    I still detest going outside my apartment in boxers because of I think my legs/thighs are skinny. Or where tees bcos of my arms. But then I try understand my own insecurities and how people perceive my body.

    I laugh nowadays when people tell me to eat more often and not skip meals.

    • #Chestnut
      August 24, 09:41 Reply

      I hate you!!! One of my greatest pleasures in life is eating,but I can’t do as much of it as I would really like to,cos I’m not one of you “speedy metabolism” guys who can eat cake and ice-cream and burgers three times a day,everyday,and still come out looking like someone who lives only on water and oxygen and kale. I really hate u guys!!!*sob sob*

      • Dennis Macaulay
        August 24, 10:29 Reply

        Me I like food wella which is why I exercise very very often; running, tennis, football, cycling, gym gbo gbo ti gbo!

        Because me I like to eat and I like to drink and nothing will get in the way of that!

        Love your body and nourish it, don’t be a calorie counting bisch! Its not cute!

        • Pink Panther
          August 24, 10:35 Reply

          Hahahahahahahaa!!! Dennis! I totally saw what you did there o. It suddenly got shady around here.

        • Ace
          August 24, 14:27 Reply

          Same here! I compensate my eating with working out. I can’t be calorie counting when I haven’t tried so many things. Me I like food oh! After every every, two hours at the gym will help.

  8. Khaleesi
    August 24, 12:23 Reply

    One phrase leapt out at me “the correlation between marriage and packing on the pounds of flab” i don’t know how it happens, but most men once married let their bodies go to ruin …
    Am more comfortable with my body now than i used to be. There was a time when i couldn’t stand to be shirtless around anyone else, now i do it without a second thought but i still feel there’s room for major.improvement. and yes am a calorie counting bitch, love it and will ALWAYS do it, i get a major kick out of the rolled eyes from those who prefer to eat like horses after a 50mile ride ….

    • #Chestnut
      August 24, 14:31 Reply

      …without the “50 mile ride” part,lol.

  9. Teflondon
    August 24, 22:42 Reply

    Continues with my song

    Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”

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