We all remember Steve Carell’s ‘mantastic’ waxing scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. In case you don’t, Carell has his thick chest mane waxed in order to evolve his look and attract more female attention. Of course, in the end it is his witty personality that wins over the girl and not his freshly waxed chest.
While the scene may have had men cringing and avoiding hot wax like avoiding the plague, it appears men are just as self-conscious and even fickle about their body image as women. Sure, men don’t go through transformations of pregnancy or motherhood, nor do their bodies sprout breasts during puberty; yet their concern for looking good is just as great as ours.
This worry can sometimes prove to be a serious health problem. According to 2011 findings by the Centre for Appearance Research, 1 in 3 men would sacrifice a year of their life if that meant they could have an ideal body. The main area of insecurity for males is arms or stomachs with 78% of men surveyed wishing to be more muscular, just as most women hope to be thinner or more toned.
While body image issues have been stereotyped as a female problem, the male battle with bodily insecurities is a more secret and sordid affair, with males less likely confessing to unhealthy compulsions like eating disorders or muscle dimorphism. While some women might sigh and talk about Heidi Klum’s breasts or Gwyneth Paltrow’s legs, men are more likely to keep their unhappiness secret, just like some female sufferers of eating disorders.
Muscle dysmorphia or ‘bigorexia’ is the perception that one’s muscle mass is underdeveloped or even frail when in fact it is proportional, kind of the opposite of anorexia. Such an obsession can sometimes lead to exercise dependence, fad diets, laxative use and even steroid use.
Well-being and body image campaigns have traditionally been with a female focus and possibly alienate males. Hence admitting to a body image related problem can often be seen as a threat to masculinity or a mark of weakness. Research by BetterHealth reveals that 1 in 10 people suffering from anorexia are male and sadly, only 20% of male sufferers find a solution or help, compared to 50% of women. After all, there isn’t one male spokesperson who has candidly spoken about their body battles. Instead, we see celebrities with six-pack implants or men who gain ridiculous muscle mass for a film, which is kind of the male equivalent of seeing a celebrity mother in a bikini days or weeks after giving birth.
Just as men receive unrealistic perceptions about women from Photoshopped images, they receive toxic notions about their own looks. Good old ‘manliness’ is somewhat absent in the media; instead, there is the chiselled Adonis Taylor Lautner or Channing Tatum. Images of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger are worshipped and David Beckham’s manicured exterior is admired by women and men.
While waxing, tanning and supplements can be means to improve one’s confidence, they can also be the source of anxiety. It leads us to question whether the metrosexual male still a novelty or is he becoming the everyman? Australian cricketer Shane Warne is a cautionary tale. After losing his beer gut, stapling his face back, planting some extra hair and having creepy non-moving eyebrows, he was able to snag a babe like Liz Hurley. Is his radical ‘manscaping’ inspiring to some men? Does it mean that by such an extreme makeover, you can become a babe magnet, even if your personality resembles The Situation’s?
“Men think it’s a sign of weakness if they talk about their concerns. It’s actually a strong man who has good insight who can admit he might need help,” said Dr Vivienne Lewis, a practising clinical psychologist and researcher in male body image issues at the University of Canberra.
Learning to love the skin you’re in is the solution, which cannot be easy for everyone. Speaking up is the first step, whether it may be: a doctor, friend, teacher, parent or even a stranger. Seeking help from a GP rather than a personal trainer is sometimes needed and this needs to be done without the fear of social stigma. Education programs with a focus on male body image have the power to change perceptions before they become compulsions.