The God of Thunder is NOT Real!

I love Superhero films! I don’t really have a favourite, they are all pretty cool if you ask me. I adore that I can sit back and watch fantastical creatures and super villains causing havoc without worry – because it’s not real! The suspense and fighting scenes pass by without even thinking about the impossibility of the movement sequences – because it’s not real! And then when it seems that the hero (and probably the whole world) is doomed, again, it’s no big deal – because it’s not real! So it was with interest that, when reading for my current study on social discourses surrounding the disclosure of male body dissatisfaction, I read the following in the Guardian comments section of an article on male teen’s ‘body worries’:

“I blame superhero films. Have you seen Thor’s body? Or Captain America’s? To be fair though, I have noticed a lot of other types of films and TV programmes that depict entirely normal men with really fit bodies.”

Of course, my first thought was (you guessed it!) – it’s not real!

But then I thought a little more about this and realised that whilst I may be correct in the statement that the film and character are not real, the actor playing the role most certainly is. So how does an individual gain the ‘Super’ body, such as that of Thor, required to undertake the role of the mystical ‘God of Thunder’? In addition, if this ‘God like’ figure is anywhere near representative of the supposed ‘ideal’ body (muscly, lean and athletic) suggested by 23% of schoolboy respondents in this study, is it healthy or a realistically achievable standard to aspire to?

We need only to perform a quick Google search to see that the Thor actor Chris Hemsworth, does not maintain the muscular proportions required for the Thor movies for long. Of course, this may be due to the demands of other film roles he has taken on between the Thor films. For example, following playing the character in the 2015 film Age of Ultron, Hemsworth was required to dramatically reduce his size in a very short period of time for the film Heart of the Sea. Even so, without the sizable cash incentive to constantly modify his body, I find it unlikely that Hemsworth, who’s social media involvement portrays a busy family man with 3 children, would aspire to maintain the God like figure indefinitely.

Indeed, in an interview for Looper (an entertainment website) called What Superhero Stunt Doubles Really Look Like, Bobby Holland Hanton states that in preparing to be Hemsworth’s stunt double in the Thor movies:

“I’ve never had to train so much in all my life – three hours each session, twice a day, six days a week.”

That is 36 hours a week – almost the average working week! Add to that the time taken to prepare the enormous amount of food required to fuel these demanding workouts, which Hemsworth himself  identifies that “taking in that amount of food is exhausting,” (cited in Bailey, 2011), and you are now talking a full time job, with overtime! Thus, whilst obtaining such a physique may be possible as a full time occupation, with the demands of real life, for example; studying, work, chores, maintaining a social life, it seems a little less realistic.

Therefore, next time you watch a superhero movie, or see the actor on social media, remember that their current physical composition is a result of their body literally being their occupation. It is just another aspect of the characterisation process involved in a performance, such as accent, mannerisms and learning lines. Without the time and cash incentive that allows this, it is extremely unlikely that supposed ‘ideal’ bodies would exist. Therefore, let us not ‘blame’ superhero films for body dissatisfaction – because superhero films are not real! What we do need to blame is a society which consistently portrays superhero proportion physical composition as an achievable and realistic standard for everyday people (with study/work/children/etc) to aspire to.


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.


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.

Get Talking!

Okay, so I was not going to write another blog post so soon. However, given that I set this blog up just a couple of days ago and have been contacted this morning by a number of friends to ask if I had seen the news on body image today, I thought it was worth talking about. As I mentioned in my previous post, social media is often apportioned a considerable amount of blame with regards to negative body image and body dissatisfaction. If we take in to consideration the findings of the study by the National Citizen Service, which has been circulated by several national media outlets this morning, we can see why this may be the case. Indeed, reporting on this study, Sky News highlighted the suggested negative impact of social media on body image, stating that 58% of respondents surveyed said social media elicits feelings of jealousy, insecurity and negativity.

Within the social sciences, we are often interested in attempting to establish causal links to an outcome. In doing so, this allows further investigation into any indicated factors (both positive and negative), which may help us better understand an issue or phenomenon. However, through the critical lens that my research is underpinned, it is important to understand that whilst statistics indicating links can certainly be useful, unless these are considered in more depth, they may only offer the ‘what’, and not ‘why’ and ‘how’. Thus, in relation to the evidence published on the negative effects of social media on body image, I consider further qualitative investigation as paramount to understanding not just ‘how’ and ‘why’, but also possible avenues to reduce negative outcomes.

With this in mind, social media has become in increasingly important part of our lives, and an ever increasing component of the construction of adolescent’s social reality (Shapiro and Margolin, 2014). Therefore, it seems unlikely that attempting to address the suggested issue by reducing the use of social media can be considered a plausible intervention strategy. As a result, it seems we must increase the positive messages available for public consumption, in attempt to promote body satisfaction. In addition, it is important to provoke critical discussion of those messages and activities on social media which may contribute to the alarming statistics. Campaigns such as that discussed in my previous post are certainly one way of doing this. So too are interventions such as Media Smart, a media literacy programme aimed at educating 7-16 year old children in thinking critically about the social messages being disseminated. However, we need to do more!

We need to understand that whilst these statistics may make it easy for us to continue to ‘blame’ social media or the advertising agents which promote ideal images, we are all active social agents who have the ability to challenge those representations available to us and support others to do the same. If the reach of content and activities which ’cause’ negative body image is so great on social media, we need to ensure that so too, is the reach of that which promotes body appreciation. We need to share, discuss and critically engage in the body image conversations that are available to us, or start our own. I say we, because as active social agents with bodies ourselves, who identify that 58% of teenagers reporting insecurity and negativity as a result of social media is not okay, it is our joint responsibility to talk about it.

We may think that we are just one person, with little impact in the grand scheme of things. However, I urge you to think again. I refer you back to the opening of my post, where I told you that a number of my friends had contacted me today. Yes, these are my friends, who know about my interest in body image. Nonetheless, a conversation (albeit a small one so far) has started and that is several more people who are actively engaging in this important issue. So let us talk, let it be okay to discuss body image, let us increase the discussion which may help others realise that they are not alone with their body worries – EveryBODY Talk!

Shapiro, L. A. S. and Margolin, G. (2014) Growing up wired: Social networking sites and adolescent psychosocial development. CLINICAL CHILD AND FAMILY PSYCHOLOGY REVIEW, 17(1), pp.1-18.

Another Female Body Image Campaign!

I am a social researcher, I use social media for this – LOTS! Okay, so sometimes scanning the ever increasing social networking sites (SNS) may be a really terrible way to procrastinate when I should be doing something more worthwhile. However, given that SNS’s such as Facebook, which is reported to see around 31 million UK monthly users (Think Digital First, 2017), as well as increasing daily internet use of the UK population (Anderson, 2015), I hope that I may be forgiven for my interest, which is (almost always) research related – honest!

In my line of research, one of the leading interests I have in SNS’s and their use, is the messages that are being disseminated to users through (for example) advertising, suggested pages and stories, and public interaction with these. Information sharing by such means is often considered with caution, particularly in relation to negative body image (see, for example Levine and Murnen, 2009). However, with the potential reach to it’s target population indicated by the sheer number of SNS users, this mode of communication can certainly be used to provide positive messages, as well as increase critical engagement with those which may not be considered as constructive.

Today whilst browsing a popular site, I came across a post by a well known radio station with the above picture and decided to take a look. The article relates to a new body image campaign fronted by some of the panel of daytime TV show Loose Women, called ‘Body Stories’, information of which can be found here. In short, the campaign is another positive step towards the critical engagement with the socially constructed ideal body and promotion of self acceptance. This campaign highlights the way in which ideals are based upon manipulated representations of the body (airbrushing techniques in particular), by the production of an un-airbrushed photo of the celebrity panel. In addition, including individual disclosure of issues and/or appreciation of their own body. Furthermore, the campaign aims to increase social engagement and body confidence by sharing their own body stories using the hashtag #MyBodyMyStory.

I commend the panel and the campaign wholeheartedly, well done and thank you! This is an excellent way to use your celebrity status for positive social change, and you should be extremely proud of yourselves, each other and those who have contributed in any way. However, whilst I applaud any such attempt to promote discussion and increase awareness of body image as an important social topic, my question is “What about the boys?”. I understand that as the panel is entirely female, a result perhaps of the target audience of daytime TV viewers (again, what about the stay-at-home dads?), this may seem like an odd thing to ask. Nonetheless, it must be noted that there appears a serious inequality in campaigns of this nature targeting the male population. Thus, given that body image is a universal construct of the embodied human, the lack of male discussion appears unjust.

With this in mind, commenting on the campaign, Stacey Solomon (pictured above) states “The thing that really worries me is that my 9-year-old son talks about wanting to go to the gym to build muscle!”. Thus, there is recognition that body image is a gender neutral topic of concern, yet endeavours to increase discussion of ‘boy’s body issues’ appear to remain sparse. But there are male celebrities out there who are actively trying to change this, so why are we not making the best use of their influence by sharing, liking and discussing their insights? What about asking them to pose unfiltered and head a campaign? For example, in response to negative comments on recent pictures posted on his Instagram account, popular film star Chris Pratt replied with the following retort:

chris pratt

With around 11.2 million followers, and this specific post obtaining over 400,000 likes, the important message that body image and body shaming is just as much of an issue for the male variety of human, by an extremely influential celebrity is surely something we should be shouting about.

I am not suggesting that we should reduce the number of female related body appreciation campaigns, what I am putting out there is the need to do more for the men and boys. The ‘Body Stories’ campaign, as well as those that have come before them, have been hugely successful and are important tools for positive social change. So let us take inspiration from these and extend our focus to include consideration of EveryBODY!