Worrying about weight and looks are preoccupations traditionally associated with the female sex, while the stereotypical man has a more nonchalant view of his physical appearance. But new research has revealed that men are conforming less to this stereotype – and perhaps are much more emotionally fragile than we previously thought.
A study, carried out at the University of the West of England’s Centre for Appearance Research in Bristol, surveyed 400 men on many aspects of their perceived body image and found that most were significantly affected by adverse feelings about their appearance. Common worries included beer bellies, lack of muscle tone and man boobs, and a surprising four out of five men reported regularly talking to family and friends about their body image concerns.
Perhaps most alarming was the finding that more than 35 per cent of respondents said that they would surrender a year of their life in order to achieve their desired body size or shape. These findings challenge the traditional view that body image and the media’s portrayal of physical form are mainly female issues. In fact, one in five straight men said they compared their physique with those of magazine models, athletes and film stars, and one in four said they feel too self-conscious to go to the gym because of fears about their appearance.
Previous research concluded that younger men who read “lads’ mags” could be psychologically harmed by the images of perfect male physiques they contain and that regular readers are more likely to exercise to excess and use anabolic steroids.
These current results take things one step further. Negative body image is a key risk factor in the development of eating disorders, and eating disorders and body image issues are still very much a taboo subject for men. Consequently, many males suffer in secret and are highly unlikely to be willing to discuss or admit to concerns that are generally believed to be female territory. The more we can talk about these issues, the more generally acceptable they will become and the more likely it will be that those who currently suffer in silence will come forward and ask for help.