Guys Struggle With Body Image Too
By Parth Thakkar (he/him), 20, Staff Writer
Originally Published: December 19, 2022
Revised: December 19, 2022
“Dude, you really need to go to the gym. You look like a twig!”
“That bulk’s lasted for the last 15 years, man, when are you gonna cut?”
“With the way you’re looking right now, nobody’s gonna wanna date you…”
If you’re like me, you’ve heard something like this at least once before. But even if you haven’t, you still might feel pressure. This “pressure” is the expectation for guys to look like Calvin Klein underwear models—buff, with washboard abs and defined pecs. Or, if it’s not about muscularity, then it’s the expectation to have a large penis, the latest hairstyle, the clearest skin or be bare of all body hair.
We usually hear more about body image concerns for those who identify as female, but guys too—cisgender, heterosexual and LGBTQ+ alike—often feel embarrassed by how they look or lack confidence in their appearance. A lot of the time, though, these thoughts and feelings go unsaid. This can lead to more insecurity, isolation and, in some cases, have physical, mental and social consequences.
What is the extent of this problem, and what can be done? I did some research and talked to teens to try and get to the bottom of the issue.
Pressure to Be Buff
Now, I’m all for staying fit or switching up your look from time to time. But you shouldn’t have to try and conform to another physique. Any and every body type is OK, and it would be great if people felt good in their own skin. Unfortunately, teens often think they need to fit a certain image to be attractive.
“I grind at the gym every day,” says Sab, 19, of Houston. “I need to get rid of this little belly, so that this girl I’m talking to will like me.” It may sound extreme, but the fear lies in the feeling that if you’re not buff, or if you don’t own the latest look, you’ll become a social outcast, someone nobody wants to talk to, befriend or date. The power of self-doubt is real, making it harder to feel good about appearance. Not to mention, self-doubt can distort self-image. Social media and—sometimes—the opinions of friends and family may add fuel to the fire.
Any and every body type is OK, and it would be great if people felt good in their own skin.
“The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is go check my physique out in the mirror, much to my chagrin,” says Trent, 19, of Seaside Heights, NJ. “It certainly doesn’t help when my dad asks me, ‘Who are you going to protect with a body as skinny as that? You need to eat more!’ It only further disheartens me.”
Like I said, social media does not help the situation. You’ll often see bodybuilders on Instagram and TikTok proudly flexing their pecs and giving tips on how to achieve a body as cut as theirs, causing viewers to hit the gym to try and replicate it. What they don’t tell you is that these bodies are largely unattainable without severe dedication—or, in some cases, steroids—and that a built body does not necessarily equal contentment or happiness.
It can become a cycle—envying buff guys on social media, feeling bad about how you look in comparison, working out incessantly to achieve a bigger body and then still being dissatisfied because you see someone else who is bigger than you, sparking the cycle all over again. A lot of the time, guys fixated on “getting big” are looking for that social media affirmation.
Not to mention, it’s been shown that weightlifting at an age before muscles have fully developed can lead to herniated discs, muscle tears or bone fractures. Worse yet, implementing techniques like “dry scooping” (taking pre-workout powder dry, without any liquid), made popular on TikTok, or using performance-enhancing steroids can have a detrimental impact not just on mental but physical health. Dry scooping has been linked to issues like breathing difficulties, heart palpitations and irregular heartbeat; anabolic steroids present much of the same potential issues and more, including high blood pressure and stroke.
Becoming this focused on appearance also detracts from one’s social health. Think about it: the longer you spend in the gym trying to achieve an unattainable physique or the longer you spend in your room trying concoctions that may or may not alter your body in some way, the longer you spend away from friends, family and other life experiences that can give you joy. “If I’d spent even half of the time that I’ve spent in the gym doing something else that I actually loved, I’d be a much happier person right now,” shares Trent.
More than Muscles
It’s not just pressure to be buff. The same goes for other methods of altering one’s body—shaving body parts incessantly, taking penis enhancement pills, trying unproven methods for clearer skin. “I shave my chest and pubes almost every day to make sure they’re hairless, in case I ever meet a girl and take her home,” says Kyle, 19, of Ann Arbor, MI. “The cuts and nicks on my chest will tell you that it’s probably excessive, but I can’t help myself.”
From going hairless to growing hair, it’s all about trying to attain a different look. “I’m always trying out the new oils and beard growth techniques that I see on TikTok,” says Morgan, 19, of Baltimore. “I’m tired of having a patchy beard; I want one like Manuel Turizo. By the way, that’s the way it’s always been in my family, even when my dad was a teenager—to look like the most popular current celebrity, to get their advertised haircut.” Body insecurity among guys has been around for a long time.
What Can Help
So, what can be done? There’s no magic solution. But, relief can be found. Here are some suggestions.
1. Work on accepting that your body is OK, no matter how it looks.
2. Know that the bodies you see on social media are often unattainable. You shouldn’t have to work out/alter your body to conform to an image which may be unrealistic—or worse, dangerous—for you to try and achieve.
3. Seek out a support system that accepts you for who you are.
This last point resonates for a lot of teens. “The idea of a support system is crucial because it makes you feel warm inside, like you belong in the body that you’re currently in,” says Shai, 18, of Jefferson Township, NJ. “Moreover, it prevents you from taking any drastic measures—ones that may or may not bring you closer to your idea of the ‘ideal’ body type.”
Finally, if you find yourself struggling to accept your body or continue to feel insecure about how your body looks, it’s a good idea to reach out for help. Sometimes concerns about body image indicate a larger issue like body dysmorphic disorder, where a person may become fixated on perceived issues, with their perspective distorted.
Talk to a parent/caregiver, relative, teacher, health care provider, clergy person or other trusted adult. They can connect you with counselors or support groups that may be able to help. Try to stay away from consulting social media first; it might not always have the most accurate information and could make you feel worse.
So, just like those who identify as female, guys often feel pressured into having the “ideal body” (whatever that is). But, I’ll let you in on a little secret: there’s no such thing as one ideal body. The key is finding a way to feel comfortable in your own.
Photo by Ben Warren on Unsplash
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