Fat is a feminist issue, or so proclaimed the title of Susie Orbach’s influential book. For women, it was an empowering statement about taking control of their bodies and addressing the gender imbalance; body image, rightly or wrongly, has become part of feminine identity.
It’s a statement that still carries some, well, weight. Because society overwhelmingly still see fatness and body image as something for women to worry about. While we are increasingly sensitive to women’s body image and the issues around fat shaming, we’re way behind the time when it comes to the conversation around male body image issues. It’s a cultural bias that is driving up the numbers of men suffering from eating disorders – a 70 per cent increase in men admitted to hospital with eating disorders between 2011 and 2017 – and stopping men from opening up on how they feel about their bodies.
The problem for men starts early. A 2016 survey of 18-year-old boys found that 55 per cent would consider changing their diet to change their body, with notions of the ‘perfect body’ coming from from social media, advertising, and celebrities.
An American report from 2016 analysed studies of 116,356 men and found that 20-40 per cent were dissatisfied with their bodies. Here in Britain, 66 per cent are overweight or obese.
So why can’t we talk about body image issues seriously? Male fatness is still treated as a joke or failure – always the before shot, never the after. Being too thin, on the other hand, is “unmanly”. In fashion circles, actor Jonah Hill has recently been described as a style icon, but only after he lost weight. And another actor, Chris Pine, lambasted the double standards around nudity onscreen after the sight of his penis in the historical movie Outlaw King attracted sniggers in supposedly serious film reviews.
Why does all this matter? Because body image anxiety is driving potentially dangerous behaviours in men. A 2018 report found that up to a million Brits are using anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to build the perfect ripped body. And more men than ever are turning to below-the-belt cosmetic surgery, with a sharp increase in the number of men having penis “filler” procedures to boost their girth or increase the size of their testicles – a treatment so transparent in its fragile masculinity that it’s enough to make your own balls retreat back into your body to escape the horror of it all.
To get this wayward conversation back on track, we spoke to eight men of all shapes, sizes, and professions to get their take on body image. Below they share their insecurities and a few lessons they’ve learned along the way.
The Body Builder
Ryan Terry is a men’s physique competitor and known as “Europe’s fittest man”.
“I got into fitness because I had a complex about the way I looked. When I was 14 I snapped my Achilles’ tendon and I was in a wheelchair for a few months and gained a lot of weight. That’s when my fitness journey began. Training, weights, and understanding food was a great way of channeling my insecurities. I became educated about my body but it helped with my self-confidence.
“To this day, I’m still not a guy who walks around with his top off – that’s only on stage when my alter ego comes out. If someone has self confidence issues, I think the gym is a great healer and tool for channeling that. I don’t feel as comfortable when I’m on an off season and gain body fat – even though I know how to lose body fat – that inner fat child always creeps in. I’m more confident socially when I’m in my routine.”
Ryan is an ambassador for leading sports nutrition brand USN, which has just launched it USN Trust lifestyle range. For more information visit USN.co.uk
The Artist And “Fat Bloke”
Scottee is a writer, artist and “forward-facing fatso”. He is the creator of Fat Blokes, a dance show about fatness, on tour now.
“Body positivity tells us that the way we feel about our body is to do with ourselves. A lot of that is bullshit. There are external factors. As a fat body I get a lot of public abuse – sometimes verbal, sometimes physical. That affects me on a day-to-day basis.
“I don’t walk with my head hung. I’m very visible. I can tell you I love myself, but can also tell you fatness is a complex headspace. The world tells us we take up too much space but your loved ones always say, ‘No, you’re not fat.’ We see fatness and age as a pejorative – as a failure. But for me it’s just a way of describing the shape I am.
“In masculine circles this conversation is well overdue. The conversation about men and their bodies is still based around humour. You can ridicule a fat guy. The fat one is always the baddie or the one you feel sorry for.”
For more information visit Scottee.co.uk
The Para Athlete
Jack Eyers is a model, personal trainer, disability campaigner, and para canoeist. In 2017, he became the first amputee to win Mr England.
“Male body image has become more about the groomed man – neat beard, waxed chest, abs. YouTube and social media have played a massive part in that. I personally feel it’s a negative thing. We’re creating so much anxiety and worry. We’re getting so self conscious. But I think in terms of disability, things are starting to move in the right direction.
“I’ve been working since 2012 to change the perception of disability, from weak and vulnerable to current and beautiful. I was part of a campaign called Models of Diversity, looking for diverse models in the fashion industry – disabled models, models of colour, plus-size models – and I’ve walked at New York, Milan, Moscow and London Fashion Weeks.
“I saw an advertising campaign recently that used a range of diverse models – someone in a wheelchair, someone with Down’s Syndrome – which is great, but it’s a fine line. What we’re trying to do is create a word where a disabled model can walk alongside a mannequin style model. Put in the mix these realistic models, the kinds of people who walk the streets, instead of a ‘freak show’ campaign, just to tick a box.”
For more information on Jack visit here
The Anorexia Survivor
Charles Rüffieux was born with a club foot and diagnosed with anorexia at age 15. He has since overcome the disorder and is now a personal trainer and fitness YouTuber.
“On social media we see amazing guys posting their best pictures. This can lead to a fucked up body image. I remember looking in the mirror, grabbing my fat, and thinking, ‘I need to lose more. I wanted to get ripped to get the girls’.
“Every guy suffers from body image a little bit. It’s like a spectrum. As a guy, it could be awkward to speak up. Anorexia is a ‘girly disease’. One of my friends told me, ‘Don’t talk about anorexia, it’s such a weird disease, it’s not cool.’
“It took me four years to get healthy. A part of me with anorexia is not gone. It’s not a battle but a little voice. But without it I wouldn’t be interested in fitness. It became an area of mastery for me. Being healthy is now a big part of my life.
“If you’re overweight and unhappy, use that unhappiness to push yourself forward. But don’t think you’ll be happy as soon as you achieve your dream physique. And don’t be ashamed to talk about body image.”
The Man With A Penis Enlargement
Stuart Price is from Caerphilly, Wales, and had penis enlargement injections at the Moorgate Andrology centre. The procedure increased the girth of his penis from 12.5cm to 15cm.
“I was looking for hair transplant surgeries on the internet and this penis enlargement surgery came up. I have been a little bit self-conscious about my penis. I’ve always know I had a regular [-sized penis], but I’ve always wanted one a little bit bigger. I think all men would. When you hear the girls on Geordie Shore say, ‘The bigger the better!’ that makes you think that’s what you women want.
“Loads of people have said they’d love to have it done. Now I have that bit more confidence and more self-esteem. I also lost 10 stone. I used to be 25 stone. When I was fat I was very self-conscious. Nothing would fit me in the shops. I was a XXXL and now I’m large. Everything fits me. I’m a lot more confident – it’s boosted me. I think I’ll still get the hair transplant, too.”
For more on Moorgate Andrology visit here
The Professional Wrestler
Trent Seven is a wrestler from Wolverhampton. He wrestles for WWE and PROGRESS and can be seen on NXT UK on the WWE Network.
“Some days you wake up and you feel great no matter what you look like. Other days you wake up and feel like you’ve put on a couple of pounds. A lot of it is how you perceive yourself. When I was younger I was about 294lbs – around 21 stone – now I weigh about 210lbs.
“But there’s no set image in WWE – they want a range of shapes and sizes. Wrestling isn’t [about] size and weight now, it’s about being fit and having the body capability to do your job at the highest level you can.
“It’s more something you toil over yourself. I have conversations with myself about whether I should have any kind of nip/tuck. Going from 300lbs to 210lbs is a massive change. When you lose that amount of weight, sometimes things don’t go back to normal – they look wobbly or loose! But we’ll all unique. I could have a nip here or a tuck there. But I think, ‘This is me, isn’t it? I am doing myself a disservice by not going out at there and just being me.’”
For more on Trent follow @trentseven
The Trans Boxer
Thomas Page McBee is the author of Amateur: A True Story about What Makes a Man and the first trans man to box at Madison Square Garden.
“As a trans man my sense of body is crucial to my identity – the matching of my physicality and how I envision myself. But putting aside trans and politics, this notion that there’s one way to be a man – which we’re all trying to live up to – is what makes men feel constricted. It’s challenging for all of us to accept we don’t fit within the larger ideal of what we’re supposed to look like. I struggle with that like anyone else does.
“The experience of boxing made me feel powerfully embodied. I had to be deeply in touch with myself physically and learn about my strengths and weaknesses. Now I feel like I have a right be in a gym, be in my body, and be strong. I’m sure cultural biases affect me, but I try to find something deeper thing to build my relationship with my body on. Boxing gave me that – not because I was such a great boxer or because I proved myself in a hyper masculine way, but because I proved to myself I could do anything.”
For more on Thomas follow @ThomasPageMcBee
Dr William Rhys Jones is Consultant Psychiatrist & Clinical Lead with CONNECT: The West Yorkshire & Harrogate, Adult Eating Disorders Service
“Poor body image wasn’t something men of previous generations worried about. But male body objectification – and the idea that what you look like is more important than who you are – has increased. We’ve seen that in research around male body image and we’re also seeing the longer term effects of that in the rise of male eating disorders. And men have to go through a lot of hoops for treatment.
“There’s a sense that as feminism has risen in prominence – and rightly so – men have felt a bit lost and retreated into male body image. This concept that if you feel powerless, you internalise and turn it on your body, is at the heart of an eating disorder. The fact that more men are doing that now might represent an existential crisis for men.
“A majority want to be leaner, bigger, more muscular. It’s different to women but the concept underlying is similar – the sense that if I look a certain way I’ll be happy or fit in. When you scratch the surface, it’s the pursuit of happiness and control.
“The reality is it helps with some things – gives you a sense of achievement but equally it’s superficial. Part of treatment is being able to say, ‘Does it really make you happy?’ It’s taboo in some ways to talk about body image. With men it’s a lack of understanding.”
For more information visit here