Over recent years, body positivity has become an important topic discussed in the media, as a form of female empowerment against the negative effects of social media. Body positivity has amassed attention on Instagram, with 11.5 million hashtags at the end of 2019, showing women confident in their bodies.
It’s widely known that social media can have damaging effects. Many have learnt to feel that way through television and media. Think back to when you were a young child and were blissfully unaware of the pressures of looking good, wearing that swimsuit that stuck to your stomach like a second skin and you couldn’t have cared less.
Of course, social media isn’t all bad — it has provided us platforms to connect with diverse groups of people anywhere in the world. However, constant exposure to what the media presents as the norm can make it difficult for people to accept and love themselves, constantly striving for unrealistic beauty standards.
Discussion of this topic has revealed that it isn’t just women that are feeling the effects. Statistics have shown that men are unhappier with their body image than ever before. And due to the toxic masculine culture that is been purported today, many men are finding it difficult to speak out about their struggles. It’s becoming increasingly important to start a conversation about male body positivity and confidence. Although as mentioned, the Instagram #bodypositivity hashtag has lots of tags, a quick look on the app reveals that there’s only the occasional male taking part.
Male Body Image & Positivity
We collected data from men and women around body positivity and will explore what men and women think about their own bodies.
26% of men stated that they were not comfortable in their bodies — statements were made such as “I would like to be less skinny, only muscular men are portrayed in the media”, “men are always portrayed with six packs in male beauty and grooming adverts”, “I wish I had abs instead of a beer belly”, and “even tiny imperfections on the skin are corrected, which poses unrealistic expectations on both the self-image and desirable partners”. 58% of men stated that they’d like to be a size medium, with 96% of women wanting to be a size small. Although women tend to strive to be smaller sizes, men are often pressured to be muscular.
33% of men and 72% of women agreed with the statement that social media content made them feel negatively about their bodies. Although the rate is significantly higher for women, it shows that around a third of men are being negatively affected by what they see online — a further 36% of men believed that they would be more comfortable with their bodies if they weren’t exposed to content on social media, with 56% of women feeling this way too.
These findings are similar to other research around male body image. However, body dissatisfaction likely begins as youngsters, making something ingrained in us at a young age that is harder to shake. Shockingly, a 2016 survey conducted by the BBC found that 55% of boys between the age of eight and 18 said they’d change their diet to improve their body image. The four main sources creating pressure and body dissatisfaction were friends (68%), social media (57%), advertising (53%) and celebrities (49%). Furthermore, over half of the respondents said they’d find it difficult to speak about it.
What Can We Do to Help?
It’s safe to assume that we are faced with a problem around male body positivity. So, what can we do to support men and encourage them to open up and feel comfortable in their skin?
Stop following those Instagram influencers
Do you follow body and appearance inspiration accounts on Instagram? If so, do so wisely. Celebrities in the 21st century have taken the form of Instagram influencers. It’s their job to look a certain way, and while a little style or makeup inspiration is good, don’t worry about looking exactly the same. Everyone’s appearance is unique! Scrolling through your homepage and seeing numerous portrayals of idealised body images is going to damage your own perceptions of yourself. A large review of data found that platforms like Instagram are a leading contributing factor when it comes to negative thoughts about your body.
Accept yourself! You can’t be body positive without self-acceptance. Cut this toxic energy out from your life and view these accounts as inspiration, not rules! Follow your friends, and content that you enjoy that is going to make you happy. It’s important to remind yourself that what you see on social media isn’t often the truth. Images can be manipulated and edited — it’s likely that the person you’re striving to look like doesn’t even really look like that.
Never forget that you’re beautiful as you are. You look the way you look because that’s who you are, you aren’t anybody else nor should you look like anybody else. Individualism is one of the most wonderful and important things in life, so embrace every unique aspect about your appearance!
Take part in the movement and support the importance of diversity and inclusivity. Supporting clothing brands that encompass and purport diversity will encourage other brands to follow suit. For example, online retailer Zalando launched a diversity campaign ‘Free to Be’, encouraging customers to be free in what we wear and look like. Models are used to represent true diversity in ethnicity, gender, backgrounds, size, and shape. The more successful campaigns like this are, the more likely it will become the norm.
Stop making passing comments
Unfortunately, many of us are guilty of passing judgement. As cruel as it sounds, we’ve learned to form judgments on somebody about their appearance to gauge things like their characteristics and personality traits. But if there’s one thing that’s true, it’s not to judge a book by its cover.
‘But he’s a man, he doesn’t care!’ — this couldn’t be further from the truth. Making little comments and making fun of somebody’s appearance on the assumption that they’ll see the joke is toxic behaviour. Think how you’d feel if somebody made a comment about something you were already self-conscious about. If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. And we don’t necessarily mean to somebody’s face for a joke. If you’re in a bar or restaurant or walking somewhere with your friend and make a passing comment about a stranger’s weight or appearance, this is contributing to the problem.
Check up on your loved ones
Let your loved ones know that they can trust you and your support. If you feel like your friend is down or is making negative comments about themselves and the way they look, address this and talk. Don’t ignore the signals, encourage them to speak up about how they feel, and be there for them.
Raising awareness is the first step to supporting those who may be suffering in silence. Let’s encourage diversity and individuality!