Wait, did she just say men?
Yes, I did. It honestly shouldn't be so groundbreaking to consider that both genders of one human race encounter similar internal conflicts. I'm a women's writer, and one of the key issues I see within the field is that some feel separating the two genders is what leads to strength and progress, and that's false. Every time we create the notion of an "us" and a "them," our efforts for change become stagnate. Women feel as men do, and deserve the same rights. Similarly, men feel as women do, and also deserve the same rights.
One of those rights is the right to feel. Many men reading this will agree with my points, but refuse to share the article out of fear of emasculation. Some men may even comment with a sort of outrage, claiming no real man could possibly agree with me. That's fine, because we are all a product of the absurd gender roles and expectations placed upon us, and the only way we break free from them is with understanding. It's through men understanding the female perspective, and women understanding the male perspective. It's through love and acceptance.
Men are also held to unreachable expectations in regard to body image. The chiseled image of the perfect male body is incredibly challenging to obtain, and quite unrealistic. Some men are never going to be over six foot tall. Some men are never going to gain muscle weight, no matter how much they beat themselves up over the inability to do so . Some men are going to be completely healthy and fit, but not look the way they feel they are expected to. The pressure still exists and weighs heavy on the hearts of men, just as it does on women. There are ways we can change this, just as there are ways to change the unfair expectations of female beauty. We can work together to create a world built in understanding of human depth and uniqueness and not on shallow evaluation of appearance.
1. Don't make negative comments about a man's appearance and assume he doesn't care.
I'm guilty of this too. You're just kidding, right? I mean, he's a guy. What does he care? Well, he does. I have made little comments in fun, that I have later realized have had a lasting affect on the man I thought couldn't possible take it personally. If I ever say anything remotely related to a woman's body, I always proceed with extreme caution, knowing how much it would affect me if I were receiving commentary. So why then is that same regard not used with men? This is a little change that makes an immense difference.
2. Stop talking about genital size.
I don't usually break out the genital talk, but this is completely necessary. Think about how cruel the essence of this discussion is, and yet how frequent it is as well. We take something that another human being has absolutely zero control over, and we exploit it. We re-post articles about it. Men and women alike talk about it with one another. It's become more than just a private sexual preference. It's become this twisted qualification for validating a man. It crushes men, especially when it becomes public and evolves into a sort of comical ridicule. Just stop the conversation. Take the bedroom talk back into the bedroom, where body judgement shouldn't exist.
3. Forget the idea that certain men are just "too skinny."
Everyone has a different body-type. Just as some women are never going to be a size 2, some men are never going to be bulging out of a sleeveless tank-top. No one deserves pressure to look a certain way, and men are bothered by that perception just as women are bothered by the opposing criticism.
4. Stop assuming all men who are overweight are so by choice or sheer negligence.
I've seen the sitcoms with the funny, overweight dad who couldn't care less about how he looks and makes frequent trips to KFC. People who struggle with weight are particularly condemned for just "not caring" about their health. This is most definitely not the case for all people. Sometimes it is just a seriously challenging endeavor for certain people to lose weight, men included. Though evidence exists that men lose weight faster than women, that doesn't mean it isn't still incredibly hard to do. Every male that has problems with weight is not just some big goofball who doesn't care. Stereotypes are poisonous to an intelligent understanding of human beings.
5. Don't ignore the comments men make about the way they view themselves.
Men deal with depression. Men have demons and insecurities that cut them straight to the core, too. Because of the way society expects men to behave and express themselves, they often let out these feelings in a nonchalant or comical way. They make fun of themselves. They make little comments about how they look or view themselves that can be easily overlooked. Just as we all have to watch out for warning signs in women, we have to do the same for men. Feeling bad about one's appearance is just one element to a dangerously critical mindset. Don't ignore the signs because of the gender of your friend, boyfriend, son or brother. You love them, so take another look. Ask. Listen. Be respectful to the fact that all humans struggle with acceptance, regardless of their sex.
6. Realize that fawning over "perfect" looking people can also have a grave effect.
When men post photos of sports illustrated women and tall, skinny models all over their room, it often times bothers women. Even if they don't inherently recognize it, there's always that little voice wondering if that's the kind of body he's looking for, or expects. Men are the same way, though they admit it even less than women do. Everyone wants to feel sexy. Everyone wants to feel like they are the object of attraction, and for the person they're dating especially. A constant worship of other people whose actual profession is to look good, affects both sexes.
7. Recognize this reality as a man interacting with other men.
Men are just as much a product of their gender roles as women are. They get just as caught up in trying to fulfill expectations. One way we can all work to build body image is just by supporting each other. To all the men reading this, you make a difference by not conforming. You make a difference by not putting each other down, even if it does seem harmless. You make a difference by showing the same acceptance of each other that society is pushing for towards women. You make a difference by owning the body that you have, and not feeling like you have to change for any one else in this world, because you don't.
8. Understand that businesses target the insecurities of men to make money, just as they do women.
The economy functions by making us all feel as though what we have isn't sufficient. We need better clothes, better cars and better bodies. We aren't good enough the way we are. Businesses target men for insecurities and for the gender stereotypes they are held by. They cash out on protein powder that doesn't really have lasting effects. They sell absurdly expensive cars that are supposed to make men attractive and appealing to women, yet put them in debt for years. They make men think they have to fit a certain mold of clothing and appearance. The second we start recognizing that, we can see how much of a victim men and women both are to concepts that are manufactured to make them feel inadequate. The worst part is that men aren't even allowed to express these feelings, because that would make them appear emasculated and weak, and only further their negative emotions.
9. Reinforce positive male body image as women, just as men should for women.
I know how much it's mattered to me in the past to be dating someone who constantly drove positivity towards my perception of my physical appearance. Every compliment he made resonated so deeply with me. Every time he told me I was perfect to him, I believed him. Even the deepest insecurities that I possessed could be changed by someone being so accepting and adoring of me. Men deserve that too. They deserve to be called handsome and sexy. They deserve to know the woman they love thinks they are perfect, regardless of what images society presents around them. They deserve to be supported and have their feelings respected. They deserve to know that what makes them perfect is what is on the inside, and the vessel that contains that beauty is just as desirable and special.
The journey to body acceptance is a vigorous fight, and one that involves both genders. It requires both sexes to rise above the grossly defined standards for beauty and attractiveness. It means radiating positivity to one another, and never assuming that a particular gender or person doesn't need it. We all need it. We all need to love each other, and love ourselves. We all need to accept our bodies, and shine through the skin we are in. We all need to release ourselves from unfair stereotypes and expectations. We all need to be free, and we can be, if we work together to achieve it.
For more, check out my personal blog at Serendipity and Creativity.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.