TIME beauty

How The Media Makes Men Hate Their Bodies Too

Man lifting weights at Kent and Sussex Crossfit.
Man lifting weights at Kent and Sussex Crossfit. Andrew Errington—Getty Images

Celebrity body envy isn't just for women any more.

The grocery store checkout seems specifically designed to make you hate yourself. So many magazines on the shelves, so much focus on fixing our flaws.

If you’re female, you’re too fat, and for the fellas, we’re not nearly buff enough. Have you noticed that for men it’s about adding, and for women subtracting?

Magazines targeted at women want them to “lose” or “trim” or “tighten,” whereas for the men’s magazines it’s “adding inches” or “bulking” or “building.” Even when it comes to weight loss, males are sold on how to “get” ripped abs. Interesting side note: this bigger vs. smaller mentality also applies to genitalia. Men are marketed to being bigger, and for women it’s is all about trimming away “excess” in even the most intimate areas. Geez.

The weight loss claims are all in the realm of science fiction, promising more than a pound of fat lost per day, often adorned with a celebrity doctor’s visage to lend credence to a proclamation that defies the first law of thermodynamics (unless you weigh more than a NFL lineman and are chained to a treadmill while fed only small amounts of broccoli and boiled chicken breasts). By comparison, your perfectly reasonable dropping of one pound per week makes you a total failure.

Then you compare yourself to the Photoshopped actors and feel even worse, until you see the “celebrity body disasters” issue of a gossip rag. In it you’ll see paparazzi-snapped photos of a “Sunken stomach!” and “Man Boobs!” and “Skin disease!” as well as a “Freaky facelift!” and a “Belly nightmare!”

It’s worth noting that those “worst beach body” issues now include male celebrities too. Yes, men are starting to get their fair share of fat shaming. No longer can our culture’s leading entertainers put on a few extra pounds over the top of their board shorts and escape the media’s cruel “beach body” eye. Chris Brown was recently called out by TMZ for his post-prison belly, and the gossip site also called out celebrities like Jack Nicholson and Simon Cowell for their “man boobs.”

Disgusted, you turn away … and are faced with row upon row of chocolate bars and potato chips. You just can’t win.

But it’s not just the tabloids at your local market. The Internet wants to make you feel bad about the way you look as well, often so they can sell you a solution. Surely you’ve seen the poorly drawn cartoon ad of the woman grabbing her belly fat in disgust, and don’t forget the guy selling a “shortcut” to seeing your abs who shames you for being “weak and puny.” The solution usually involves “one weird trick,” and that trick is recurring charges to your credit card.

Turn on the TV and you’ll see fitness star Jillian Michaels berate obese participants on the train wreck game show The Biggest Loser. And instead of being vilified for her fat shaming, she nets fame and riches, earning the moniker “America’s Toughest Trainer” while promoting bias against the overweight.

But maybe those fatties just need a bit of shaming to get off their expanding butt cheeks to get in shape? After all, don’t we live in a nation where more than half the population is obese or unhealthily heavy?

Uh, no. In reality, facing stigma over one’s weight actually increases stress and is detrimental to mental health. What’s more, discriminating against people for being obese doesn’t lead to weight loss, but the opposite: it causes them to gain weight.

And it’s not just fat that’s shamed. Now people are targeted for being “too thin,” and some say bodybuilders “look gross” and “must be on steroids.” Perhaps they are chemically enhanced, but why all the hate?

Hate sells. It’s the marketing strategy of “You are broken, but I can fix you. Buy my product.” In order to get you to fork over mega bucks for some miracle weight loss aid, wrinkle remover, muscle maximizer or genitalia grower, marketers must first make you feel bad enough about yourself that you’ll reach for that credit card to solve a problem you didn’t know you had.

A desire for self-improvement is admirable, but be careful where you look for it, whether you’re male or female. And don’t start from a place of self-loathing and celebrity envy; start from one of aspiration. You can aspire to be your own version of awesome, without having to listen to any advertiser whose shtick is all about heaping criticism.

James Fell is a syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. He blogs at www.SixPackAbs.com. You can follow him @BodyForWife.

TIME Body Image

‘Bigorexia’ and the Male Quest For More Muscle

man-working-out
Man working out. Vetta/Getty Images

Much has been made of the decreased effect of gravity on female movie stars in recent decades, and how this sets an impossible standard for girls, leading to body image issues.

But a similar effect has taken place with men, with the scale moving in the opposite direction.

Charlton Heston spent most of the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes shirtless, but such a torso would never suffice for today’s action hero. That’s why the 2001 reboot had former underwear model Mark Wahlberg as the lead.

The James Bond body stayed pretty static across multiple actors, until the perfectly ripped Daniel Craig added 007 to his tagline. When Casino Royale premiered hearts went aflutter when his license to thrill physique sauntered out of the ocean blue.

There has been a shift in what gets seen while shirtless on the silver screen, and men have noticed. Schwarzenegger was one of the first, followed quickly by Jean Claude Van Damme, as guys who fit the description of, “Well, they can’t act, and their English isn’t so good, but damn, they look pretty from the neck down, so … roll camera!”

But such hyper-muscled warriors were anomalies in the 80s. Christopher Reeve may have looked good as Superman, but he was positively puny compared to Henry Cavill’s 2013 version of the man of steel.

An entire industry has sprung up around the desire to achieve the latest male movie star musculature. Stories of regular actors being transformed for specific roles have permeated the media and lead to training tales a-plenty in magazines sporting the word “muscle” in the title.

In the year following the 2006 film 300, Google Trends shows a 300% increase in searches for the term “six pack abs.” Many magazines promise to relay the secrets of the “Superman workout” or the “Thor workout” or the “300 workout” or the “Insert-name-of-pumped-up-movie-hero-here workout.” What is often left out is the explanation of how these physical transformations become tightly controlled labor camps for the actors, and how the muscle gains and rippling midsections are fleeting.

This media pressure can lead to muscle dysmorphia (colloquially known as “bigorexia”), which is an obsession with not being muscular enough. Listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it strikes primarily among men who are already lean and muscular, compelling them to quest for even more muscle mass and ever lower levels of body fat. It can lead to compulsive exercise regimens that decrease quality of life, as well as disordered eating. Sometimes, anabolic steroids are sought out to quench one’s desire to be huge. The supplement industry sure has cashed in on all of this. It’s worth noting that many of those muscle mags are owned by supplement companies and used as vehicles to hawk their mass gaining wares.

Recently I interviewed Hugh Jackman about his Wolverine transformation, and instead of dwelling on the details of his workout, I asked him about the extremes taken to prepare him for shirtless scenes. “… everything changes the month before, and I’m timed down to the day,” Jackman told me. “There is water dehydration for 36 hours before. It’s quite a scientific process to looking your best.” He also told me of how his motivation to train so hard comes from knowing he’s going to be on a big screen in 3-D, and that he doesn’t keep that shape for long.

I also interviewed the stars of 300: Rise of an Empire and learned about how training and diet takes over the actors’ lives. And in a recent interview with actor and Old Spice pitchman Terry Crews he told me about taking diuretics to lean out for shirtless scenes.

Overall, I like seeing these powerful physiques on action stars, but I also understand what it takes to achieve them. I just wish more men realized what a near-impossible standard is being set, and instead of fretting over their own lack of visual “perfection,” would just sit back and enjoy the show.

Fell is a syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. He blogs at www.SixPackAbs.com. You can follow him @BodyForWife.

 

 

TIME sexism

The Toxic Appeal of the Men’s Rights Movement

As this poster shows, rape culture is alive and well in #yeg. A sad commentary & poor reflection on men everywhere pic.twitter.com/CZkLVCebEi

— Dr. Kristopher Wells (@KristopherWells) July 9, 2013
Twitter

A growing movement driven by misogyny and resentment is pulling in frustrated men struggling with changing definitions of masculinity. A men's fitness columnist on why they should walk away.

Imagine a kid who got a cone with three scoops of ice cream in it. Good flavors, too. Like peanut-butter chocolate, plus a scoop of cookie dough. In a waffle cone. And then this child whines about the lack of chocolate sprinkles on top.

Welcome to the men’s rights movement.

Wait, what? Men’s rights? That’s a thing? Yes, it’s a thing, and while there are certain legitimate aspects to men’s rights activism, or MRA, it’s overwhelmingly a toxic slew of misogyny. This world of resentment and hate speech has been brought to light in recent days as we learned about the vitriolic forum posts and videos left behind by Elliot Rodger, the 22 year-old accused of killing six people in Santa Barbara last week. But it’s hard to comprehend from Roger’s delusional rants how potent the movement’s message can be for ordinary men.

MRAs believe the traditionally oppressed groups have somehow seized control and taken away their white male privilege. They tap into fear and insecurity and turn it into blame and rage. Often the leaders of these groups are men who feel as though they got screwed in a divorce. They quote all sorts of statistics about child custody and unfair alimony payments, because in their minds, the single mother who has to choose between feeding the kids or paying the rent is a myth. They believe passionately in their own victimhood and their creed goes something like this: Women are trying to keep us down, usurp all our power, taking away what it means to be a man.

One popular MRA site is AVoiceForMen.com, with a mission to “expose misandry on all levels in our culture” and “denounce the institution of marriage as unsafe and unsuitable for modern men” as well as “promote an end to chivalry in any form or fashion” and “educate men and boys about the threats they face in feminist governance.” They also want an “end to rape hysteria” and promote “civil disobedience.” In their defense, AVFM does support nonviolence, but with all the inflammatory rhetoric, do readers always take heed?

There are Reddit threads and other Internet forums dedicated to men’s rights, and the language and vitriol towards women and especially towards feminism is appalling. Any messages of nonviolence seem lost in the hate mongering. These groups spew logically faulty statistics about the prevalence of male rape and spousal abuse, and how there really is no glass ceiling or pay inequality, and general complaints about how “that bitch got my promotion because she has a uterus.”

Men’s Rights Canada made headlines again recently with their classless response to an anti-sexual assault campaign called “Don’t be that guy.” Posters went up across the nation implying women aren’t punished enough for infanticide, stating, “Women can stop baby dumping. “Don’t be that girl.” This was a follow up of the same campaign from last year alleging many women made false rape accusations because they felt guilty over a one-night stand.

As a white man who writes about fitness, I’m very aware of the pressures on men and the many ways that these kinds of hateful messages reach my audience, both overt like the Canada ads and the less blatant claims of male victimhood in mainstream media. It’s clear that the definition of masculinity is in flux, and for some men that’s frustrating, especially with near-pornographic ad campaigns promoting women as objects of sexual conquest. And while there are aspects of MRA that are worth bringing to light, as a movement it can suck a good man down a rabbit hole of resentment. It is backward-looking and pining for good old days that never were.

Are there some problems with specific instances of unequal treatment? Yes. Is there some anti-male sentiment out there? Yeah, that happens too. But turning these issues into a movement is laughable. It is a like a multi-millionaire who whines that a tax loophole was closed and he’s losing 0.5% of his annual income.

Men, especially white men, aren’t marginalized, we aren’t under attack, and we not in danger of losing the overwhelming privileges society bestows upon us for having pale skin and a penis. However, MRAs have been described as whining children by the women they call “feminist bitches.”

So to any man who feels like he’s getting caught up in such a movement because they feel emasculated or are just having trouble relating to women and perhaps sympathizing with Elliot Rodger, I will tell you this: Life isn’t fair. Life is NOT fair.

Women will judge you. Some will judge you based on your appearance, your height, your width, you genitalia, your wealth, your car, your clothes, your acne. In other words, they will judge you the exact same way you judge them.

Fell is a syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. He blogs at http://www.SixPackAbs.com. You can follow him @bodyforwife

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