Body image issues can have devastating effect of men and boys

In the modern age we have more ways to look at ourselves than ever before. Mirrors are everywhere and the selfie is so popular that it got its own stick. At the same time pictures of other people, people paid to look good, are everywhere and often digitally enhanced. To live in the now is to have your body constantly compared to the impossible as perfect humans sell us everything from gym membership to alien invasions. Once this might have been seen as a women’s issue but that attitude is slowly changing as we begin to understand how body image is affecting men.

The problem of male body image issues has got to the point where Bill Stevenson the director of the Boys Brigade in Scotland felt the need to speak out. He said that boys as young as 8 feel pressure to be more muscular and called for a more honest depiction of humans in advertising and the media so that more positive role models can help these boys come to terms with who they are.

Bill was writing in response to a survey by the think tank Credos. Part of the Adverting Association, Credos stated aim is to understand adverting’s role, effect and value to the UK economy and society. They surveyed over 1,000 8-18 year old boys. Among their findings were that 55% of the boys would change their diet for a better body and that 23% thought there is a perfect male body. They also found that only 56% of boys thought eating disorders were a gender neutral issue and that 29% of boys struggled to talk to their parents about body image issues. Boys really are struggling to meet there own perceptions of how they should look.

It isn’t just boys, men are affected too. Research by the University of Lincoln found that feeling of guilt and shame were big reasons for men to go to the gym especially for those who visit sporadically. Meanwhile research by the University of West England found that 38% of men would swap a year of life for the perfect body – a higher proportion than women. It should be noted that that 52% of its respondents were gym members compared to 12% of the population as a whole.

You don’t need to rely on asking men to see that we are worrying more about our body image. In 2005 there were 2440 plastic surgery procedures on men by 2015 that number had almost doubled to 4614. Some men are even willing to have Botox injected into their scrotum. Into their scrotum. The men’s grooming industry is booming and well, you get the idea. Men increasingly worry about, in some cases take extreme actions to change, how they look.

While worrying about something isn’t the most fun thing it isn’t always a bad thing. My school grades would have been a lot worse if I hadn’t worried about them. The cause of my school based worry came and went as exams and coursework were completed but we hang on to our bodies for a while so body image issues can cause worry without end.  Worry without solution or the perception that a solution is possible can turn dark. In the case of body image issues that darkness can, in the wrong circumstances, come in the form of eating disorders.

Eating disorders are bad for you. Physically they can lead to organ damage, bone weakness, stumped growth, low blood pressure and more. Mentally you will be living with feelings of shame, guilt and obsession that can lead to death by suicide.

This is why body image issues matter: the pain it can cause. Why we need to acknowledge it, accept it and help those with it. The perception that men don’t get eating disorders might be changing but we need to keep up the message: yes, men worry about how they look. To keep up the message: yes, it is good to talk about your feelings. To keep up the message: yes, men get eating disorders and that is OK because we as a society are here to help them in their struggles.

Photo by Tomas Sobek originally found on Flickr used under creative commons licence