Men and their relationship to body image is a largely invisible issue.
When articles are written, for instance, to shine a light on whether plus size men should be given the same visibility and support as the plus size women’s movement, it’s usually derided.
“If overweight men are to be truly empowered, they should be empowered to lose weight, not bury the issue under damaging denials,” wrote Martin Daubney on Telegraph.co.uk in response to an article we published around whether there need to be a movement for plus size men.
While Daubney does highlight a truth – that a blanket celebration of all bodies regardless of the health implications is irresponsible, there is a real concern that modern men are not okay with their bodies.
In 2012, Dr Phillippa Diedrichs, from the centre of appearance research at the University of the West of England ran a study which revealed that “four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75% of women.”
It’s not that men have become more sensitive over the decades. It’s just that the idea of masculinity – which is rammed down your throat from childhood – is so wrapped up in physicality and size, and this no longer fits in with the gender roles and narrow vision of what makes a man.
And where are the role models to choose from? In the public domain, the man who poses with his top off either doesn’t have a perfect body and does so for comedic purposes, or is utterly ripped and showing off his bod as he benchpresses a small car.
To that end, we decided to conduct our first HuffPost UK photo series, where we asked men to hold still for the camera with their tops off, and answer a few questions about body perception…
“I’ve always done training of some sort, but I experienced a shoulder injury which stopped me getting to the gym regularly, so hence I feel self conscious at the moment. When I’m happy with my body I feel happy in myself.
“I’d be a liar if I said I (wasn’t worried about what people think of my body); I just feel it’s part of being a man, I’ve always strived to improve my body.”
“I guess most people are self conscious about their body to some degree. It was never so great an issue to me that I felt the need to discuss it with anyone.
“The media portrays a lot about having pressure to have a six pack and be a man’s man but I ignore that stuff anyway.”
“My favourite part of my body is my bum! I’ve been told it’s awesome by all my partners.”
“Body image to me personally is not all that important. I eat what I want to be honest. Of course, in today’s Internet age looks and image seems to be of importance to most men. You should feel comfortable in your own skin, no matter what.
“I don’t see myself as a “modern” man either. I’m an ordinary bloke in a ever-changing world”
“The body is the last thing I think about, I’ve been fit all my life. I don’t think anything about being a modern man, Just be who you are to the best of your abilities.”
“As an athlete I can say with 100% conviction that body image is a key part of who I am and what I do.
So much of what I do is about ensuring my body is in the best condition possible in order to handle the rigours of international competition, but also to a certain extent intimidate other competitors on the circuit.
I am body conscious, but for me it comes from an internal drive to yes feel good but also push my limits.
I do care about what others think about my body, however I care more about what I think about my body.
I don’t think there is a problem with today’s perception of what men should be like.
For me it almost feels like we’re at a point where men can be/look however they want to look, however I do feel that health awareness plays a big part now, for me men want to look feel the part more than they want to look the part.”
“Sometimes I feel self conscious about my body, but I don’t really tend to talk about it as I’m quite a private person but we’re all individuals and we all have our quirks.”
“I think men nowadays are expected to talk more about their body issues. I would describe myself as a modern man in a relics body”
“I’d say my favourite part of my body are my legs.”
“I’m not too concerned about the pressures of having a perfect body to be honest. I’m a free spirit and don’t dwell on things that can’t be helped.”
“A lot of guys these days worry about their appearance and they spend a lot of time looking in the mirror doing their eyebrows and all that kind of stuff, I don’t care too much about it, I’m fairly quick getting dressed and getting myself to work.
“But there is certainly an increasing amount of people who are definitely concerned about their looks and the way people look at them.
“What is exposed to people is not the reality in most cases even celebrities, people look at celebrities and end up spending hours in the gym and do beauty treatments to end up looking like something that is just not real.”
“I don’t think I have any barriers when it comes to body image, I make my own choices.
“Tattoos today are a desire to almost everyone, and have become mainstream I guess.
“People in most cases get tattoos because they love their bodies, but in some cases it is to draw attention away to avoid other areas. As a professional tattoo artist I listen and advise people to the best of my knowledge.”
“Men are under a lot of pressure from the media to look a certain way, but too shy to speak out about it. I have a family member who is into bodybuilding and has body dysmorphia issues.
“It has affected all those around him too, but he refuses to discuss it. He has become introvert and isolates from friends and family because of this.
“I believe more should be done to discuss this subject openly and get men to be happy within themselves.”
“I’ve never felt that self-conscious on the whole; I’ve never been particularly vain. If I did have an issue with my body I don’t think I’d be embarrassed to discuss it with my close friends, we are pretty open and upfront on personal issues.
“I used to be more muscular due to martial arts training & playing rugby but never really had a “six pack” I feel stripping away your body fat to show extreme definition is not healthy.”
“I like the colour of my eyes, the rest of me is just pretty standard and average.”
(Left to right) Dan Prest, Andy ‘Bear’ McFarlane, Matt Webster, Fabrice Dowling, Elliot Isaacson, Duncan Robertson, Nick Stylianou, Nehal Khan, Mike Wakeham, Stephen Read, Nick Ball, Liad Janes, Dan Sherwood, Stefan Stroffek.
Nick Ball: “The biggest barrier for me as a man in today’s society is people’s opinion of myself that I respect.
“I gained a lot of weight in a short amount of time for a multitude of reasons (mainly a breakup of 5 years) and it was the first time I’m my life I was ever conscious of my own body image. When you leave the comfort blanket of a loving relationship it’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’re all on your lonesome.”
Nick Stylianou: “I’ve giving up caring about my body image as I have far too much fun poisoning myself. Before becoming a dad I was a bit gym obsessive, however you realise there’s more to life than worrying about what you look like.”
Nehal Khan: “For me, a positive body image means a healthy lifestyle by staying active, eating a balanced diet but also enjoying those big (but, sadly, nowadays rare) nights out with the lads from V.P.F.C.!”