What are the impacts of male body image?

When a man looks into the mirror, what is he supposed to see? By society’s standards, a large torso. Broad shoulders and chiseled abdominals. A ripped and tanned body with only 7-10% fat. A body that would make him accepted. A body that fits in. A body that’s desirable.

Everyday, we are exposed to an ideal, a model of absolute perfection of who we should be, both men and women. While women are portrayed to be thin or fit, men’s images are conflated with a standard of a masculine muscular figure. But what makes this so desirable?

One explanation offers a scientific answer: evolutionary behavior. In her paper, “Evolutionary Versus Social Structural Explanations for Sex Differences in Mate Preferences, Jealousy, and Aggression,” Jennifer Denisiuk discusses why men and women want specific features for each. Since men seek a partner for the creation of offspring, they prefer “relatively young women with full lips, breasts, and hips and a smaller waist because these [features] indicate sufficient estrogen levels to successfully birth a child,” according to the paper.

On the other hand, Denisiuk explained that women are much more selective in choosing a mate. Their priority is found in “masculine features, such as strong jaw, facial hair, broader shoulders, narrower hips and a muscular build because these [features] indicate sufficient testosterone for fertility”. Could this why we’ve seen art idealizing the male and female forms as early as 40,000 years ago? Because it is in our nature to idealize people?

Perhaps, but there is the additional factor of social structure to consider when identifying the matter of body image, particularly in men.

Everyone is bombarded with messages of who they should be. Whether it be a clothing store advert on the side of a bus stop or a spread in a magazine, these ideas shape our thoughts and can sometimes prevent us from being who we want to be. These ideas are co-founder Emily Wynn ’15’s inspiration for the club Reflections, where “the goal is to help students love themselves, and gain a positive outlook on life, as well as the tools to help those around them gain the same outlook.”

“While women are generally thought of as victims of the media and subjects of speculation, many people don’t realize that men face just as much scrutiny,” Wynn ’15 said. “Magazines such as Men’s Health make it seem like to truly be a man, you need to be big and strong. You need to work out, and you can’t like things that are considered “girly.” This is just as detrimental to the male self image as photoshopped pictures of women are to the female image.”

But society can be even pickier than this at times, recently with the general acceptance that bodybuilding is “just plain gross” and causes the male figure to “border on monstrosity” as Rachel Khona of askmen.com, a website dedicated to making their readers “become a better man,” puts it. There is a definite societal restriction that tries to make cookies out of people—not too thin, not too thick—you have to be just right according to a standard set by media outlets, such as actors, performers, and athletes.

However, sometimes the idea of working out and dieting isn’t a simply a product of a cruel society. Sometimes it can just be the personal choice of setting a goal for oneself and achieving it. Moe Baig ’16 found a way to enjoy himself and gain confidence by exercising, turning his previous body image issue into a positive.

“I wanted to lose weight before high school and I wanted to do it for myself,” Baig said. “I wanted to look good in the clothes I wore and see what I could do for my own personal growth.” Baig ’16 said.

Both Shane Cook, Head Wrestling Coach, and Baig agree that body image can also be helpful for individuals that need motivation for themselves. Seeing an example can help provide a source of motivation for those that have difficulty recognizing where they should set their fitness goals, but Cook adds that it isn’t always about measuring yourself to an ideal.

“We can’t all look like Terrell Owens [NFL player], so the important thing is for students to look to improve themselves and not to compare themselves to others.”

Ultimately, body image can be an extreme trial for those that are susceptible to self-confidence issues which are most frequently found in adolescents. Being physically-attractive can have it’s advantages, but it isn’t nearly as important as being healthy or being happy with yourself.