Just For Men!

A Positive Response

I know what you are thinking……after my recent post regarding the Loose Women campaign ‘Body Stories‘, I asked this awesome bunch to pose unfiltered and head a campaign to promote body confidence in males! Well, maybe you didn’t think that at all, and you would be absolutely right. Indeed, I spotted this picture on social media at the end of last week (although not nearly as prominent as the original, i may add!), which according to its creators Jacamo – was inspired by the Loose Women’s offering, as well as the annual Mental Health Awareness Week. The male clothing company, which markets itself as a brand which, identifies that the concept ‘real man’ is ultimately undefinable due to the diversity of men (BBC newsbeat, 2016), decided to recreate the original image with seven of their own (real men) brand ambassadors. In addition, and following the original theme, each of the men pictured has their own story to tell about their body confidence; which they hope may encourage others to celebrate their appearance too.

Okay, so you may argue that a clothing brand who ultimately aim to make a profit by appealing to as many different body types as possible, will merely have taken the advice of clever marketing directors with pound signs in their sights; with little concern for improving individuals’ perceptions of themselves. However, whilst I believe there is little doubt that attempts to make customers feel good about themselves may be motivated by profit, the method appears both logical and responsible. Considering that ‘media-induced body dissatisfaction’ (Andrew, Tiggemann and Clark, 2015) is repeatedly cited as an important area of concern, and one of the motivations of similar campaigns primarily aimed at females (e.g. The Dove Self-Esteem Project), perhaps this image should be celebrated regardless.

Indeed, with campaigns such as MediaSmart designed specifically to highlight the prevalence of techniques such as airbrushing, as well as under representation of the diversity of body shapes and sizes, this image of a variety of masculine forms seems a positive step in the right direction. Furthermore, N Brown (the company who owns Jacamo) are one of several sponsors of the Be Real campaign, a body confidence campaign formed in response to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image’s 2014 report ‘Reflections on Body Image’. Thus, I would argue that by celebrating this image on a large scale, for attempting to challenge and highlight the largely unobtainable standards set by the images used by many retailers, no matter what the motivation, maybe, just maybe we can influence a few more to follow suit.

Why Is This Important?

As I have previously suggested, body image campaigns are largely aimed at women, and considering that body image is not just a ‘girl thing’, but an ‘EveryBODY thing’, this seems unjust. However, this is undoubtedly influenced by the traditional female focus of research (Cash and Smolak, 2011, p. xiii), as well as relatively lower rates of reported body dissatisfaction in males. Nonetheless, whilst it may be the case that males report dissatisfaction less often than females, research indicates that whilst shifts in social understanding of body image appear to have had a positive impact on decreasing female dissatisfaction over time, male dissatisfaction has seen no significant changes (Karazsia, Murnen and Tylka, 2017). Therefore, there appears two important issues which require attention. First, if there is a tendency for nondisclosure of body image issues in males, due to the persistent feminisation of the topic as I suspect, are we certain that dissatisfaction rates are indeed lower in males than females? Second, why has there been a relative decrease for women but not for men?

In an attempt to address these questions, I turn once again to body confidence campaigns and suggest that if these have indeed had the intended positive effect, perhaps these may go some way in explaining the decrease in dissatisfaction suggested for women. Certainly, the relative shortage of male orientated campaigns may then offer some explanation for the suggested lack of decrease in dissatisfaction which is reported by males. But what about that tendency for non disclosure? Can this also be answered by body image campaigns? I believe so – to some extent!

If we look at the widespread consumption and public engagement with the original ‘Body Stories’ campaign, such as the sheer volume of tweets including the hashtag #MyBodyMyStory prompted by the campaign, the response and discussion surrounding body image has been vast. However, whilst there has certainly been some male engagement, this has undoubtedly been far outweighed by that of females. Of course, as discussed previously, this is a campaign which is ultimately aimed at women and thus, this is unsurprising. However, what then if this campaign had been underpinned by a gender neutral theme, with the picture representing not just all shapes and sizes of bodies, but also individuals of all genders? Would this have increased male engagement and disclosure? Whilst this may appear like a logical assumption based upon the suggested positive correlation between female campaigns and positive outcomes, I don’t believe this would be the case.

New Discourses

In order to explain my suggestion, I return to my aforementioned point that body image is a concept, which whilst fundamentally gender blind, has historically been gendered as female. As a result, whilst body image campaigns and research may go some way to alter this understanding, the human tendency to reserve cognitive resources (that is to think quickly and easily whenever possible) – such as stereotyping, means that altering the way in which we think about body image, as well as the social scripts which are drawn upon for discussion is a lengthy and difficult process.

Considering the suggested requirement for increased male discussion and disclosure of issues surrounding body image, which may have the potential to decrease dissatisfaction in males (as it is suggested to have for women), this is problematic. Therefore, I suggest that gender specific campaigns, which highlight the equal importance of, yet qualitatively different issues which men face in regards to body image (Gough, Seymour-Smith and Matthews, 2016, p. 84) are essential. Furthermore, I suggest that in order to increase the validity of body image as a topic ‘for men’, a requirement of these campaigns should be to create new social discourses (common ways of speaking about a topic) surrounding body image, which take in to account that at present, this topic appears to remain femininely framed.

With this in mind, when looking into the Jacamo campaign I stumbled upon an article written by Scott (2015) about a previous campaign led by the same company. Reporting on this, Scott was less than impressed with the company’s use of the term ‘manxiety’ to express body dissatisfaction in males. Going further, Scott argues that:

Body image doesn’t have to be a gendered issue. We shouldn’t need to make the words more man-friendly to get men to talk about how they feel.

I believe that Scott makes a good argument against the use of ‘manxiety’, in addition, I believe that the fact that we shouldn’t need to make words man-friendly is probably correct. However, ‘shouldn’t’ have to is not the same as ‘don’t need to!’, as Scott later indicates.

The answer? – Why not create these new discourses ‘just for men’? Certainly, if that phrase brought about some recognition of a product designed to colour hair, it is clear that this method has been successfully used before. Therefore, I suggest that rather than making words ‘man-friendly’ with a simple prefix, which I am in agreement with Scott, can often be offensive, gender specific body image campaigns will allow new discourses and new social scripts to form. As a result, and if celebrated in the same way that previous campaigns specifically for woman appear to have been, this may go some way in validating body image as not just a ‘girl thing’, but the ‘EveryBODY thing’ it really is. Furthermore, by validating this topic as one which should be discussed, male disclosure may increase. In doing so, I suggest that increased social awareness of the prevalence of dissatisfaction may not only reduce the social stigma often attached to male disclosure of dissatisfaction*, but increase body confidence due to increased awareness that others also have ‘hang-ups’ about their bodies.

Returning to my opening paragraph – no, I did not ask this awesome bunch to pose for a body image campaign, someone else did. Am I pleased about this? Absolutely! Can we do more? Absolutely! So please share this picture and discuss male body image, just as we have been with women. But remember, that whilst equally important as female body image, the qualitatively different issues, both with appearance and discussion, suggest that the (and I have heard this) “well, women have been suffering with this for years!” comment and approach is less than helpful. It seems that we cannot merely use the same methods to increase body satisfaction for men, as those that appear to have been successful for women – so let’s do it just for men! Let us give them a voice and perhaps a vocabulary of their own to discuss their body, which allows the body image concept to move beyond its traditional feminisation. Not by asking men to step inside, but to break it apart at its seams; by filling it with as many discourses as possible. I suggest it is only then that body image will truly be understood as the ‘EveryBODY thing’ it is, which I believe is required in order to reduce body dissatisfaction in males, the way we have been trying (and succeeding to some extent) to do for women for years!

*My present study looks at social discourses surrounding male disclosure of body worries. Whilst still in the process of analysis, initial findings indicate a social stigma attached to male disclosure of body worries.

References:

Andrew, R., Tiggemann, M. and Clark, L. (2015) The protective role of body appreciation against media-induced body dissatisfaction. Body Image, 15, pp.98-104.

Cash, T. F. and Smolak, L. (2011) Body image : A handbook of science, practice, and prevention. New York : Guilford Press, c2011.

Gough, B., Seymour-Smith, S. and Matthews, C. R. (2016) Body dissatisfaction, appearance investment, and wellbeing: How older obese men orient to ‘aesthetic health’.

Hargreaves, D. A. and Tiggemann, M. (2006) ‘body image is for girls’: A qualitative study of boys’ body image. Journal Of Health Psychology, 11(4), pp.567-576.

Karazsia, B. T., Murnen, S. K. and Tylka, T. L. (2017) Is body dissatisfaction changing across time? A cross-temporal meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 143(3), pp.293-320.

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