You already know him as one of the biggest names in the pop culture zeitgeist. Eddie Huang has his own show on VICELAND called ‘Huang’s World’, is the author of 2 books, has his own successful restaurant, and is also the brainchild behind the ABC show ‘Fresh Off The Boat’, based off one of his books about his own life.
The Eddie Huang brand is easy to pin point given how renowned he has become for business and content. But there is another label we can attach to him – male body image hero. You wouldn’t think, watching him on screen or in interviews, that this is the kind of guy who would have insecurities of any kind. It’s not his go-to topic of choice at speaking events or panels that we have seen him on.
But like most human beings on the planet, he has experienced his own struggles within his body, and we are glad he is using his platform to talk about this. With so much of the narrow-minded toxic masculinity ideals still being rammed down boys’ throats from a young age, (“don’t be a pussy!”, “act like a man!” etc) hearing more public male figures break down those false narratives and stereotypes is powerful.
Research conducted in the UK recently found that boys are now as worried about body image as girls.
“In a survey of 1,000 boys aged between 8 and 18, it was discovered that 56% felt affected by eating disorders and 23% believed there was a “perfect male body.” 55% said they would consider changing their diet to look better. The survey from Credos, an advertising industry think tank, also revealed that 56% of boys struggled to talk to teachers and 29% struggled to talk to parents about their body image,” writes Paul Watson over at AskMen.com.
Aside from the social media, advertising and peer pressure, celebrities counted for 49% of boys’ reasons for feeling such negativity, which is why when men like Eddie Huang decide to open up about their struggles, it is a BFD.
In a recent interview with GQ magazine, he told writer Alex Wong about the anxiety he grew up with over his body size, as well as his race.
“I’ve never been that comfortable with how I look, or my body. When you’re a dude, you’re not really asked to talk about that. You hear women talk about their bodies, their appearances, and how they’re uncomfortable with it. I read a lot of feminist literature. My girl is a beauty director at Elle. I read her articles and her friends’ articles. I definitely had a lot of self-image stuff I dealt with personally, but I don’t think it’d be fair to compare to women’s body issues, since it’s a lot more complex for a number of reasons for them. But I don’t hear a lot of men write or talk about positive body image,” he said, reiterating how uncommon it is for a man to be so candid about body image.
The interview was conducted to promote his recent collaboration with apparel brand MeUndies. He is the face of their Pandemonium range, a series of men’s underwear with Pandas on them.
He told GQ how surprised he was that the brand want to work with him, because that is the last thing he ever expected to be doing in his career.
“When she said they wanted to work with me, I was like, stop playing. I was really excited because you rarely see Asian people in anything. I don’t want to make it just about being Asian. I’m Asian, fat, and I’m short. These are like the three cardinal sins of being an underwear model,” he said. If his comments sound familiar, it may be because many of us have grown up being indoctrinated into the narrow beauty standards set by the fashion industry, appealing to a very small percentage of body types in existence.
The body insecurities started early in his school days, when he realized his body type didn’t allow for him to be the athlete he hoped he would.
“Because of my eating habits, I got fat. Around fifth grade, it became apparent that I was fat. When I went out for football tryouts, I said I wanted to play quarterback, but they said, yo, you’re not tall enough, you can’t see over the line, so I went to try out as receiver. I was too fat and slow,” he said. Ironic to think that those eating habits have made him the uber successful guy he is today…
There was also pressure from his family and cultural setting, which exacerbated the body image issues developing in the young Eddie.
“My parents made it very apparent that I was the fat kid in the family. It bothered me a lot. For me, there were three things I was negative about: my height, my weight, and how my face looked. Down south, kids were very racist; they would always make Ching Chong Eddie Huang jokes, call me chinky eye, all that stuff,” he recalled.
Unlike the amount of women and outlets giving women and girls a voice to express their disdain at body image standards, Eddie says he wasn’t able to find men doing the same growing up.
“A lot of times, as a man, you don’t feel empowered or enabled, or you’re not given the opportunity to speak about negative body image or how insecure you are about the way you look. We’re supposed to just be measured on our abilities and our work,” he said.
Similar to the way we are seeing messages targeted toward women and girls place emphasis on who they are, and their abilities rather than physical appearance, it wasn’t until he started seeing major success in his career for his achievements that he realized how much more empowering that was.
“After I put out ‘Fresh Off the Boat’, I was like, wait, I get a lot of love from people. People really understand me, regardless or in spite of how I look. That was really cool to realize no matter how you look, or who you are, as humans, we all have this innate ability to connect with each other simply because of the fact that we’re human,” he said.
The issue here is that because of the lack of ongoing discussions about male body image, and the default masculine ideal that tells them their worth comes from what they offer to the world and their ability to achieve, women don’t have the luxury of the world automatically assessing their worth in the same way. Sadly, we still have to fight the inner demons, as well as the systemic and institutional messages force women into focusing on their physical appearance primarily.
The conversation around body image needs a revolution on all fronts, for all genders, and thankfully we are starting to see this happen. It often takes the voice of a social and pop culture influencer like Eddie Huang to be vulnerable and candid about their own struggles to give permission to other boys and men to do the same.
Hear more from Eddie in his MeUndies Pandemonium promo video below: