We all know actor Matt McGorry from his roles on hit TV series’ ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and ‘How To Get Away With Murder’. But what we love him for the most is the role he plays in the real world, advocating for feminism and using his social media platforms to share his journey learning about equality, intersectionality and important issues concerning our world today.
He’s the kind of guy that should be held up more as a shining example of what a male who doesn’t live under fear or threat of losing part of his masculinity if he is associated with the word “feminism”. This is what we need to see more of. Matt also isn’t afraid of being vulnerable with his struggles, especially when it comes to body image.
With the growing popularity and power of the body positive movement, men’s voices should be an integral part of this as the narrow ideals we see in magazines and advertising absolutely affect the male population. The National Eating Disorders Association estimates 10 million men across the US will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, but because eating disorders are often categorized as a “woman’s issue”, the resources and dialog don’t exist in as greater numbers as those for women.
In an essay on Today.com for it’s Love Your Body series, Matt explains why men are so unwilling to talk about their body struggles and also shares more of his own journey. He starts off by acknowledging that the pressure faced by women are far greater than those faced by men, but because of his background in the bodybuilding world, he knows it definitely exists among men.
“As a bodybuilder, I was required to have a very specific aesthetic, one that was far beyond my normal, healthy abilities to maintain. Feeling constantly pressured to look like that ‘ideal’ eventually changes your perception of your own body. And it definitely changes what you can be happy and satisfied with. When I was training for those competitions, I was miserable…And yet, when I stopped competing, I couldn’t help but separate my misery from what I looked like,” he said.
Although he didn’t want to put himself through the rigor of the bodybuilding routine, the end result alone kept tugging at his emotions and making him feel sad he wasn’t living up to the “standard”.
Just when he thought he had left that part of his life and the thought patterns that came with it behind, it all came flooding back when he had to do his first shirtless scene on OITNB. He admits to crash-dieting, then realizing how sad it was, and how it took a conscious effort to re-train his way of thinking about his body.
Ultimately, I was already in great shape. For me, it has required some loud self-narrating to challenge my own ideas of body image and to remind myself of those things at times. I’d say it does take a conscious effort to try and hack that mental process where we’re very self-critical. I really had to work on it. Even now, it’s an ongoing journey. Being on TV in front of millions of people probably doesn’t make it any easier, but it’s something that nearly all of us have to work on,” he said.
The most impactful part of his essay, in our opinion, is how he expresses a desire to see men talk more openly about this. After all, it’s one thing for a website like ours and numerous female body-positive advocates to extol this, but it’s an other thing to have a man say it.
“I really do think that tied in those issues, and our willingness (or lack thereof) to discuss them, is a conversation of how vulnerable men are willing to be in general. We’re taught, typically, that a real man doesn’t show vulnerability, nor does he exhibit self-conscious behaviors. But in my experience, being public about things like that leads to great freedom. It’s the first step. If we can’t express it, it’s hard to change how we think and feel about it,” he said.
Thankfully Matt isn’t a lone ranger in this battle. We are starting to see a number of male celebrities speak up in the hope it will break down stigma and shame around men being emotional. UK Singer Sam Smith, actor Chris Pratt, musician Ed Sheeran, ‘Sons of Anarchy’ star Ron Perlman and even former One Direction member Zayn Malik have opened up about their own struggles to accept their body image.
In his newly-released auto-biography, ‘Pillowtalk’ singer admits he suffered with an eating disorder during the height of the 1D craze.
“I have come to terms with since leaving the band… that I was suffering from an eating disorder. It got quite serious, although at the time I didn’t recognize it for what it was. Food was something I could control, so I did. I had lost so much weight I had become ill. The workload and the pace of life on the road put together with the pressures and strains of everything going on within the band had badly affected my eating habits,” he wrote, in an excerpt printed by the Sun.
There has to come a point where, with the same amount of universal acknowledgement regarding the unhealthy standards placed on women, they exist for men too. They may be look different and marketed in a different way, but they exist and need to be demolished. It starts with awareness, and the willingness to have a conversation about it.
Celebrities like Matt McGorry are well placed, in that regard, to open up the dialog and influence their followers in positive way.
“When we lock our boys away from those feelings, not only are they more likely to hurt themselves, they’re more likely to hurt others and to hurt women. They’ll likely be the ones policing masculinity among other men, too,” he said, touching on a how the culture of toxic masculinity can manifest itself in dangerous and harmful way toward others.
“It’s time to get away from the idea that men are supposed to be strong and hard and unfeeling and women are soft and maternal. Gender is a spectrum, not a binary system, and it’s time we view our behaviors, emotions and appearances on a spectrum as well. Many men are vulnerable to unhealthy, powerless feelings when it comes to body image. Let’s talk about it,” he concludes in his essay.
Change begins with each one of us putting ourselves out in the world as willing candidates. We hope more men will become supportive allies for each other and for the women in their lives in the fight against negative body image standards.