by The Guardian.
lthough body image issues are thought to mainly affect young women, young men also worry about their looks – and more so than you might imagine. A new survey of 1,000 primary and secondary students in the UK found that 55% would consider changing their diet to look better, and 23% said they believed there was a “perfect male body”. It’s thought that pressure to look good comes from friends, celebrities and social media.
Below, four male teenagers and one young adult reveal their biggest body worries. Share your thoughts and comments (or indeed your own secret fears) below the line.
James, 19, Cornwall: ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with my body’
I am most insecure about my skin and body. During my teenage years I spent hours looking in the mirror, thinking about what I hate and must improve on. I want to be more muscular, which requires eating more, but I’m also petrified of getting fat. Every bite becomes an existential matter, and I worry about being tipped over the edge into obesity (I’m 5ft8 and weigh roughly 138lbs). My skin is another root of my self-loathing. I’m constantly worried about bumps and spots and blackheads and obsess over the smallest of blemishes, washing my face sometimes more than 10 times a day. It really tears me apart.
I don’t think young men necessarily worry about their body image more than girls, but the problem is that we don’t talk about it. All my body worries really affect my mood. It sounds so dramatic but a grey cloud can be cast over my day because of a few spots.
The past couple of months have been defined by diet and exercise and a will to get fit. But I also have a weird paranoia about joining a gym. I worry about making a fool of myself, so have gym equipment I use at home instead. Now, I work out pretty much every night. I’ve done hours of research on the best exercises and correct diet for muscle growth, but still don’t think I will ever be fully satisfied with the way my body looks.
William, 20, Essex: ‘Body image is a growing problem among young men’
Until my late teens I was overweight and although I am now (nominally) a normal weight for my height, I still feel fat and unattractive. I hate the way I look, whether I’m clothed or naked.
I think body image issues among young men are a growing problem. Advertising has made a big difference, for example the infamous Levi’s jeans ads that used a “perfect” male body to sell denim. Levi’s ads from the 1980s to me seem like a turning point, the first time that male sexuality and body image were used to sell us something (although practically any ad for men’s clothing or perfume now does this). These ads make me feel inadequate.
The ubiquity and extremity of internet porn has also opened up a whole new world of insecurities around penis size for men. Add that to an aggressively macho sports culture that worships strength and often denies men a chance to express their problems and you have the perfect storm for bottled-up anxiety, poor self-image and body dysphoria.
Craig, 17, Leicester: ‘Young men don’t talk about their own bodies in a negative way because they could get bullied’
I am sure a lot of men worry about their bodies, because we are expected to be muscular and some aren’t. Thinner men also think that they won’t get a date and some try to bulk up. During college years, young men always compare themselves to others and normally those who are classed as “fit” by girls.
I sometimes look at my own body and question whether it is good enough. I know I’m not as thin as I would like and I don’t have time to go to a gym (and wouldn’t because there are too many people there). I often feel embarrassed to take my top off, especially with friends because I don’t know what they will say, so I try to keep my tops a little baggy. Young men don’t talk about their own bodies in a negative way because they could get bullied, and younger men, especially, see their issues as weaknesses for others to exploit.
Mike, 19, Nottingham: ‘Young men are obsessed with body image’
I have always thought I was scrawny, that my shoulders are not broad enough and my upper arms not muscly enough. I could never go swimming or topless on a beach because I just don’t look good. I also worry that I’m not tall enough and that my skin is too pale.
Young men are obsessed with body image and worry about it every bit as much as young women do. Their worries can sometimes be more acute because there is so little debate about how images of “perfect” male bodies are used by the media. Whereas most girls are made aware that they are often unrealistic, there is no similar attempt to educate young men about body image. I am constantly anxious about the way I look in public: worries about being scrawny mean I can’t wear T-shirts or any close-fitting clothes. I feel uncomfortable without a jacket on to shield me, so I fear hot days when I have to leave the house without one. I also find it difficult to interact with girls without feeling like they are judging me. The way I appear feels like the most important thing in my life and one I can’t get right.
Tony, 18, Leicester: ‘My scrawny physique has led to me being called anorexic or compared to a heroin addict
Everyone has always found great amusement at being able to form a ring around my wrists between their thumb and little finger. My scrawny physique has led to me being called anorexic, while others compare me to a heroin addict. All these comments have made me insecure about ever taking my top off at the beach or poolside. Worse still is that men often seem to size you up and then treat you accordingly. At times I feel like a non-entity. Everyone assumes that a two-seat sofa will fit three when I am one of the two already on it. Girls can be no different. They flock to the muscular men without ever giving boys my size a second glance. I am often told that it’s more a matter of confidence, but having a skinny physique means I don’t have any.
There seems to be a deficit of sensitivity in most male groups. It is always about banter and bravado. If one of us were to spontaneously open up there would be a tsunami of criticism and jokes.