Last Monday I was
procrastinating working really hard, and, as I frequently do, ran a quick Google search for ‘body image’ news.
Clearly the producers at Loose Women read my blog post about their recent #MyBodyMyStory campaign (well probably not, but I’m using it as evidence that I made a great point!), because I discovered that they have decided to re-launch their campaign, but this time focusing on male body image issues.
Fabulous, I thought! The female focused campaign appeared to be hugely successful in promoting body confidence, and identifying some very important misconceptions surrounding body dissatisfaction.
Indeed, when the original campaign was launched back in early May this year, the associated hashtag could be seen trending on numerous social networking sites, accompanied by almost as many ‘selfies’ of women (and some men). In doing so, these individuals were contributing to the growing number of people making a stand against the idea of a ‘perfect’ body, and encouraging others to do the same.
However, this campaign has not resulted in the same response, with very few selfies or personal stories being posted in comparison to the women focused campaign. Ultimately, being a body image researcher focusing upon male discussion and disclosure, I can’t deny that less engagement was expected. Even so, it would be reasonable to suggest that any media generated discussion which highlights this social issue, should present good educational value surrounding the prevalence of male body dissatisfaction.
Unfortunately, my hopeful outlook was short lived, when I began reading social responses to the campaign on varying social network sites.
Here I draw upon just a few of the responses I came across, in relation to just WHO may experience body dissatisfaction.
Anyone can experience body dissatisfaction.
I read a few comments in which individuals stated that they had not realised that males also experience body image issues. As I have indicated previously, whilst society seems to be becoming more informed on the severity of this misconception, the idea that body image dissatisfaction is a ‘female problem’, continues to permeate social discourses.
Indeed, the feminisation of body image as a concept is arguably the greatest obstacle for researchers attempting to gain insight into male body image, which can present difficulties even accessing participants for their research.
For example, in a paper addressing methodological issues encountered in a study of schoolboys’ body image and masculine identity, within the physical educational setting, the researchers report the following exchange with those acting as gatekeepers to participants:
“Listen, there’s nothing going on in there. This is more an issue for girls, and I would certainly understand if you were examining a girl problem like anorexia.”
(Kehler and Atkinson, 2015, p. 268)
Even so, whilst a lack of understanding of the universality of body image (and thus the possibility of dissatisfaction) is somewhat worrying, the fact that there was evidence of a change in perception, can certainly be considered a positive outcome from this campaign.
However, another theme among comments really stuck out for me as problematic, and no doubt requires addressing. Some comments drew upon the understanding that there is a measurable universal physical standard which is acceptable according to gender, with body dissatisfaction resulting from a failure to comply with this.
There are many reasons why this understanding is wrong, and even damaging. But for the purpose of dispelling this myth, I will draw upon the case of Robert Pattinson.
Robert Pattinson is perhaps better known as the “fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire” (Mayer, 2017) Edward Cullen, from the Twilight franchise. Gaining international attention for this role back in 2008, Pattinson became a ‘heart throb’ to teenagers and adults alike.
According to an article in the Guardian, during an interview with an Autrailian lifestyle magazine, Pattinson disclosed that he suffers from “Body Dysmorphic Disorder issues”, and that his insecurities surrounding his body can cause him a great deal of anxiety (Hughes, 2015).
What is it?
It is understood that around 2% of the population have Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which is defined as:
“an anxiety disorder that causes a person to have a distorted view of how they look and to spend a lot of time worrying about their appearance.”
(National Health Service, 2014)
If Robert Pattinson, who plays the “fantastically beautiful, sparkly….vampire”, can feel dissatisfied with his body, a body which has received the title ‘Sexiest Man‘, then it seems clear that just about anyone can feel dissatisfied with their body, regardless of any suggested objective measure of physicality.
It is important that this message is disseminated (as I feel the Loose Women campaign is doing), but also understood. For those who commented, who had also watched the interviews with the celebrity males taking part in the campaign, this message appears to have been acknowledged.
Certainly, there were many who were somewhat shocked to learn that these men were worried about taking their tops off, or struggle with their body image on a regular basis. But it had seemed to alter their perception of body dissatisfaction.
However, this message had clearly not reached everyone, and thus spreading this further must be a priority for future campaigns. How we do this on the scale required for a better social understanding of body image, is unclear.
Even so, it is important that we try to do so, in order that the discussion of body image is normalised, resulting in a more informed and supportive culture, which does not see body dissatisfaction as a result of individual objective physical deficit, but for the social issue it really is.
There were many comments that caught my attention whilst looking through the social engagement with this campaign. However, writing about more than this one theme would turn this blog post into an essay!! Therefore, my next post ‘Body Stories Pt2’ will continue by looking at the theme of objectification and body shaming resulting from engagement.
KEHLER, M. & ATKINSON, M. (2015). The Space Between: Negotiating Male Subjectivities in Physical Education Research. International Journal of Men’s Health, 14, 259-272.