We talk a lot about body image here at GTHQ, because we, as a group of women, understand the cultural pressure mounted by media, entertainment, fashion, advertising and the health & fitness industry to make women feel inadequate about their bodies unless they subscribe to one particular and very narrow ideal of what “beautiful” should look like. Thankfully, we are starting to see this empire crumble as more and more body positive advocates are raising their voices, especially on social media forums, and using their growing influence to change the messaging around body image from major brands and companies.
This is one area where women, although more heavily targeted by the aforementioned industries, are well ahead of men in the growing resistance against negative messages. We have been redefining what femininity and beauty looks like since the introduction of the modern feminist movement. Unfortunately for men, there is still a lingering sense of stereotypical masculinity dominating body image ideals.
Although the current wave of intersectional feminism has started to encourage conversations about how gender equality can benefit men by allowing them to define “masculine” on their own terms, generally speaking, the “be a man” sentiment still dominates. What will eventually break the dam for men, in a way that we are already starting to see little cracks, is prominent public figures being willing enough to admit their own body image struggles in the hope it will show other men it is OK to be vulnerable, admit struggles, and even show their emotions.
We’ve shared a number of articles about young men who have openly admitted their struggles with body image, such as British musicians Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, and actors Chris Pratt and Matt McGorry. It becomes even more significant when we see men of an older generation speaking out, defying the unspoken rules that seek to prevent them from being open about the struggles they face.
In a recent interview with Cigar Aficionado, actor, body builder and former politician Arnold Schwarzenegger candidly shares how he has battled his own body dysmorphia for many years.
“When I look in the mirror, I throw up,” he said.
The 69 year-old, who is about to take over the role of host on NBC’s ‘Celebrity Apprentice’, says his low self-esteem was present even during his champion body-builder days.
“I was already so critical of myself, even when I was in top physical shape. I’d look in the mirror after I won one Mr. Olympia after another and think, ‘How did this pile of sh*t win?'” he shared.
He is probably the last guy on earth we would ever think would possess an iota of negativity toward his own body, as it has literally been his meal ticket throughout his entertainment career, earning him the iconic status of action hero, most notably in the ‘Terminator’ franchise. But it just goes to show that this is an epidemic that respects no gender, race, age, or status.
“I never saw perfection. There was always something lacking. I could always find a million things wrong with myself and that’s what got me back into the gym – because I started out with that mentality,” he said.
Because of his struggles, he cannot go a day without working out and says it is the only thing that helps him feel confident in himself.
“The last thing I ever wanted to do is disappoint myself. I could not look in the mirror and say, ‘You know something, you’re a f**king loser; you cannot even do the kind of sets and exercises and eat the kind of food you wrote own’. I didn’t want to face that,” he said.
It is a sad, yet important admission from a man whose masculinity is often touted as part of the “ideal” for men. Yet look a little beneath the surface, and we see an ordinary human being who has been trapped by these stereotypes which he cannot escape into his old age.
It is fairly common to hear former or current athletes speak about their battle with eating disorders, body dysmorphia and other struggles that have left them feeling low on confidence about their appearance, despite their winning status in their chosen sport. And it’s not just female athletes either.
Prominent British ex-cricket player Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff, who was captain of the English national team and played at club level in both the UK and Australia, recently admitted to the Telegraph in an interview his near-4 decades-long struggle with body image, and how it affected his happiness.
“It has taken me 38 years to be happy. I now realize that I am never going to be chiseled, no matter how hard I work,” the father of three admitted.
At times his professional career was dogged with injuries related to his heavy frame and bowling action, and was made up of by rivals’ fans on the field because of this. Freddie previously admitted to suffering from bulimia, in 2012, when he started putting on weight as he started his career.
“I wasn’t sure how to go about losing weight. I started being sick. I would eat and put my fingers down my throat. Everyone in the team hierarchy thought it was great because I was losing weight. I was training but I wasn’t eating. I’ve thrown up in cricket grounds around the world and in restaurants,” he said at the time.
In his interview with the Telegraph, he recognizes the influence and pressure media puts on men to look a certain way, a statement that doesn’t get uttered enough by high profile men.
“Younger lads are striving towards perfection, it happens, there are a lot of pressures now with magazines and runways – you are meant to look a certain way. I was one of those lads,” he said.
Today he realized the importance of using his platform to encourage younger men not to feel ashamed about their struggles and also not to feel like they have to conform to one single societal “norm”.
“There is no certain way people should look. It took me a long time to realize that and to be comfortable with myself. I would rather have a dadbod and be happy and eat what I want from time to time,” he said.
Freddie has recently designed a plus-size clothing range for UK retailer Jacamo, and and more than anything recognizes the value in being “authentic”, after a long struggle with alcoholism and depressing due to his secret battle to live up to a certain masculine stereotype.
Both Arnold and Freddie’s candid interviews are powerful pieces in a growing movement to dismantle harmful stereotypes about masculinity. We hope to see many more men speak out in such a way, and give others the freedom to embrace their bodies without fear of needing to conform.