Today I wanted to talk about something that’s very important to me since I entered high school. Body image is such a defining part of people’s confidence and attitude, and it’s something I used to and continue to struggle with. I wanted to share my story and opinion on what this trend means for guys and how it might factor into your life at university. Since Skyfall is such a good movie, here’s a comparison.
It’s quite a difference that’s been made in the last 50 years in terms of what society considers attractive. James Bond has been a symbol of the ultimate, suave and confident male, yet what that means has changed dramatically. Bond was once more of an attitude than a look, something that has been reversed today to make the focus on the physicality of the character. While it was once achievable for a young man to look up to Bond and have a chance of acting the same way (with enough money) is now possible only for those who can meet the body image. This is repeated in the entire world of consumer goods and social norms, and has created a new market for image-orientated companies worldwide. This hasn’t reached the point that women in marketing has, but this redrawing of the ideal male body has seen the share of men reporting eating disorders to 10%, and the amount of teenage guys who go to the gym to get bigger to 40%.
Some say men simply aren’t as bothered by their image as women are. I can’t speak for all, but personally I would say that isn’t the case. There has always been a male desire to be the best version of oneself, just as there is in women, but it’s never been so big. The projected male image is more dramatic and wildly distributed – everywhere, it’s the guy with zero body fat that is getting the girls and being shown as successful.
How did it affect me? This is me three years ago, and was me up until last September:
For three years I struggled with my body for many reasons. I was generally outside of male social circle at school – both by my choice and by other circumstances – and kept comparing myself to the male body I was ‘supposed’ to have. It was so painful to be different from the media norm; I became so ashamed of me. I’d go out of my way to make sure people wouldn’t see me when I was swimming, and eventually quit the swim team. When I’d almost forget about it, I’d run right into an ad like this:
In my case, I got tired of it. I went to the gym every day over the summer, and ate a lot healthier. People who see me now would never think that that picture was me size-wize. I don’t say that to brag; really, the fact that I went and tried to be the media standard is really sad. It pushed me to the point where I couldn’t accept myself. If I really, truthfully look at myself, I’m not much more confident in my image compared to three years ago. The media keeps setting the goal as less achievable, the bar higher, and life gets in the way. In the meantime, well-meaning people are being told they aren’t good or fit enough and it’s starting to result in eating disorders, depression, and suicide.
What happens in university? Back home, I had a schedule, going to the gym every morning and running during fall. I had control over what I ate. University takes all that order and control and can pull it out from under you. Food goes first, because you can’t control what you’re putting in your body at any school cafe. Then, as you become more involved in your classes, more involved in your social life, get a job, and start getting stressed, I guarantee you the first thing to go from your schedule will be the exercise. Ask anyone around any university, it just happens. Then the media standard of what you should be floats back around, and it kills. After all the work I put into my body, I started losing it a month into university. Guys aren’t always the best with dealing with emotion like that, so many will suffer in silence, and it can become a vicious circle.
It’s such a depressing subject, I know, but I’m also the pigheaded type that believes there is an upside to everything. I’ve benefited from being at a university where I’ve felt no judgement based on my appearance from the moment I got here, and I’ve benefited from having a cheap gym 5 minutes from my room. Is there a way to approach the issue of male body image in university?
Personally, I’ve found a few things:
1) FIND AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER – Whether it’s for food or the workout, having a friend (or a group) to do it with makes it a lot easier and helps you stay on track. When I was accepted to Glendon, I got a group of thirty-some people who wanted to all go exercise together -while it didn’t exactly come about like that, there’s always people who will be happy to work with you.
2) TRUST SOMEONE – Another upside to a partner, or a best friend, is that you can talk to them when you’re feeling really down. It’s easy to get lost in feeling down when you keep your emotions to yourself, but sharing them with friends or services like Health Ed or Counseling helps you start to process and deal with it.
3) BE FLEXIBLE – University can throw schedules out the window, so the key is to be flexible on exercise plans. You probably won’t make a 7AM workout every day, but you can go whenever you find a free hour on a daily basis.
Personal problems surrounding body image are so common today. It’s crappy, but we can’t change the media as quickly as we can change ourselves and how we handle it. Never forget that we’re never alone in these – even the people we choose to look up too image-wise often have much the same insecurities as the rest of us.
Here’s an awesome website for guys that talks about a lot of issues surrounding men today, ranging from really serious to hilarious: The Good Men Project