Sunday, May 22, 2016

Men’s body issues

Men have issues with their bodies every bit as much as women do, but it’s still not really okay to talk much about it. The video above (some language NSFW) explores some of that, and possible ways forward. But talking about the issue is a good first step.

In this video, BuzzFeed’s “The Try Guys” try to recreate photos of famous, good-looking men, when their own bodies are nothing like those they’re imitating. Photoshop turns them into the men like those they’re copying, with surprising results.

The first part of the video, where the guys talk about the issues they have with their bodies, shares common attitudes that men (and women) have toward their bodies, namely, that they’re not “good enough” as compared to some supposed “ideal” body type. Those ideals bombard us constantly through visual media—television, movies, print ads, etc.—and are often themselves Photoshopped to make the bodies in the final photos both unreal and unrealistic.

The end part, when the guys see their Photoshopped selves, was especially interesting. For example, the fact that Eugene looks at an idealised version of himself and still thinks his stomach looks fat.

Body dismorphia is a relatively common condition in which a person goes to sometimes extraordinary lengths to hide or change some perceived “defect” in their appearance. For most people, though, strategies involve simple measures, like Keith wearing sleeves down to his elbows. It becomes a problem when the strategies interfere with one’s life or happiness, or become an obsession.

For most of us, the things we don’t like about our bodies aren’t always at the front of our minds, and are only an issue when, for some reason, we’re confronted by the thing we don't like. For example, I’ve written several times about how much I’ve hated my smile, but I only actually thought about it when I looked in the mirror or saw a photo of myself smiling.

Ironically, it was only when I started to take steps to fix my smile that I became more obsessive about it. Now, I seldom smile showing my teeth, and it’s even the real reason I stopped making YouTube videos: I realised that sooner or later I’d be making a video that I’d need to be in, especially because I wanted to make some in which I interviewed others (although, I worked out ways I could make such videos without me actually being in them—that’s a coping strategy).

I have some common body issues, too, like that I’m too fat and not muscular enough, or have “defective” body parts, but none of that affects my life—apart, maybe, from feeling more comfortable in looser clothes, even though I know intellectually that dressing that way doesn’t make one look thinner. I use humour as a deflection, too. The point is, one has coping stretgies to deal with what we don’t like.

What I don’t think is particularly helpful is to tell people that they just need to love themselves as they are. Well, of course they should—duh!—but saying that and knowing it are FAR easier than living it. The problem is that despite the well-meaning admonition to love ourselves as we are, and the knowledge that this is what we really should do, we have whole industries fighting against us.

First, and most often talked about, is popular culture constantly bombarding us with perfect—and, for most us, perfectly unattainable—body types. There’s been a move to get women’s fashion magazines to stop using skinny and Photoshopped models because of the harm it does, especially to young girls. I think that’s a great goal, but should be extended to imagery of men, too.

Another way we get messages about how our bodies are all wrong is through doctors. Many of us go to the doctor and they tell us we need to lose weight, we need to eat better, and we need to exercise more. Well, who doesn’t know all that?! Most of us fail at one or all of those things sometimes or always, and a trip to the doctor becomes just another opportunity to feel bad about our bodies and ourselves.

Doctors should focus less on the obvious things we all know too damn well, and more on being encouraging, especially of small—even tiny—changes that get us toward the larger goals. They shouldn’t be setting us up for failure and opportunities to feel bad about ourselves, they should be working with us to help us get to where we need to be, and at our own pace.

Issues with my teeth notwithstanding, my own body issues are relatively minor and inconsequential most of the time. Like "The Try Guys", I either don’t think about them most of the time or have simple strategies so that I don’t have to think about them. Also, again apart from the teeth thing, my goals are about being healthier now, and living longer and in good health, not about appearance (I started to get over body shape issues about the time I turned 40).

A large number of men and women alike have body issues, but most of us never talk about it. I talk about such things on this blog because some day some guy might run across this post and realise he’s not the only one who faces such issues, and I think that’s the real point of the video above. Talking about the issue is a good first step.

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