June is National Men’s Health Month. Men’s health is not just physical. It encompasses an all-around state of physical, mental, and social well-being. This month we want to encourage all men to take care of their health by eating healthy, exercising for physical benefit, and working on their mental health to create lifelong habits that encourage longevity and happiness.
In this article, we focus on men’s mental health and its connections to men’s self-image. In the eyes of many men, a muscular and lean physique is seen as a mark of masculinity. Statistics are growing that show it is not just the majority of women that suffer from body image issues. Men as young as adolescents are struggling with eating disorders and excessive exercise to reach what they perceive as the ideal male physique based largely on images plastered across media and social media. While women are more likely to openly discuss their struggles with body image issues, men remain tight-lipped and are less likely to seek help for their mental health struggles. Because of the social stigma associated with male body image issues, many young men are reluctant to talk openly about their struggles or to seek help for their mental health problems.
Males such as young men, gay men, athletes, bodybuilders, models, and dancers, are particularly vulnerable to having a negative body image or feeling insecure about their physical appearance. This may result due to their activity in areas where physical appearance is judged based on weight and appearance.
The Struggle Is Real
Experts estimate that 40% of men have body image concerns centered around their weight and up to 85% believe they are not muscular enough to fit the ideal. The same experts believe the numbers could be higher than their estimates due to men’s hesitancy to speak up about their body image struggles due to a weakened stigma when discussing mental health. Nearly 42% of men in the US are on a weight loss diet. In 23 cross-sectional studies, head researcher Matthew Barnes found a link between negative male body image (muscle bulk or lack of) and anxiety and depression. Keeping an open platform that addresses body image concerts for men can help men to speak more openly about their struggles, but the struggle still persists to help men overcome the stigma of appearing less manly if they openly admit self-image struggles.
25% of males with normal weight perceive themselves to be underweight, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Poor body image in men will lead to eating disorders, muscle dysmorphia (obsession with having muscles), and exercise addiction to build those muscles. These destructive behaviors lead to a spiral of poor mental health, physical injury due to over-exercise, as well as drug abuse (steroids) to bulk up.
Underlying depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem in men escalate issues related to body image. A negative body image intensifies problems with self-esteem and mental health issues. It’s a vicious cycle that repeats until steps are taken to place strategies that will help improve men's mental health.
Recognizing poor self-image habits is the first step for men to start working toward a positive body image.
Signs Of Poor Body Image Behaviors
Overeating or under eating
Speaking Up and Speaking Out
The hardest and probably the most critical step to help with men’s poor body image is to keep pressure on to raise awareness in society about the negative impacts unrealistic body expectations have on men of all ages and build. One way to normalize the experience and help men recognize symptoms and seek help before their experiences become debilitating is to raise awareness of the fact that many men struggle with body image. Fortunately, many celebrities with all body builds have taken the calling upon themselves personally.
Grant Gustin of The Flash shared, "I've had 20+ years of kids and adults telling me or my parents that I was too thin,"
Jonah Hill, an actor who went through a physical transition losing weight has asked the public to not comment on his body because "it's not helpful and doesn't feel good."
James Corden, a talk show host, publicly called out Bill Maher for fat-shaming comments directed at him. "Let's be honest, fat-shaming is just bullying."
Channing Tatum addressed his physical appearance for movies. "I don't know how people that work a 9–5 actually stay in shape, because it's my full-time job and I can barely do it...It takes two months to get really lean, but in three days you can lose it."
Hopefully, the male body positivity movement will begin to grow in momentum as awareness around the prevalence and severity of male body image issues increases.
Poor body image among men is not new, but what is newer is it is being brought to the front of the public’s awareness. Awareness is not the only solution. Mental healthcare professionals face struggles when treating these issues due to limited research and resources and inadequate guidelines and training for men who struggle with body image issues. Mental healthcare will serve a vital role in helping men receive the help they need. When men reach out for help, they can be not taken seriously because of the perception that this issue affects only women. As research and data catch up, it shows that men with body image issues respond well to help and treatment through healthcare.
Changing a negative body image can take time and effort, as it may have developed over the course of one's life. Here, we share steps to help young men develop positive attitudes and actions for body image and exercise.
Use a journal to reflect and pinpoint when body image issues first started
Avoid scales and measuring your muscles in comparison to others
Focus on overall health, not a size
Stay away from diets; instead, fuel your body with nutritional foods
Always stay away from steroid use
Stay informed on the issues surrounding body image issues in men
Exercise for health and wellness motives like stress release or physical health, not body image
Turn off the social media feeds that fuel body comparison
Seek out safe places to share your body image thoughts, feelings, and struggles
Participate in activities that build confidence like volunteering and creative outlets
Sam Smith singer and songwriter released the song ‘Love Me More in April of 2022 which quickly became the anthem for all men struggling with body image issues. The poignant words acknowledge the struggle and offer hope for those struggling and wanting to improve their own body image.
“Feeling like the mirror isn't good for your health?
Every day, I'm trying not to hate myself
But lately, it's not hurtin' as it did before
Maybe I am learning how to love myself more”
At Liftology, while we focus on physical health, we believe in a full body and well-rounded health for our members. A healthy body image is rooted in positive lifestyle choices, smart nutritional choices, and exercise to keep the mind and body healthy; not fitting an ideal image. Reach out to our experts today to schedule your consultation to discuss your fitness goals that will encourage a positive body image and we work to help you create a positive body image.