Here's How Men Really Feel About Their Bodies

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
We talk a lot about the insecurities and anxieties that come with simply having a physical body, mostly in relation to having a female body. But contrary to popular belief, men have their own set of body image issues. And, as new research suggests, we should probably be talking about that a lot more than we are.

For the study, published last month in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity, researchers performed five similar online surveys asking men how they feel about their bodies. The results included responses from 111,958 straight men and 4,398 gay men, with only about half of the men of either orientation saying they were satisfied with their weight.

However, it's hard to talk about body image without focusing on women. Overall research has shown that more women in the U.S. feel worse about their bodies than men, the study's lead author David Frederick, PhD, explains to Refinery29. That's partly thanks to a culture that places an unfortunate (and ridiculous) amount of value on a woman's appearance and punishes them in real, shitty ways when they don't measure up. But that doesn't mean men feel great.

"[Researchers] find that women are more dissatisfied than men, and I think people [interpret] that as 'women are dissatisfied and men are satisfied,'" says Dr. Frederick. "But that's not really what that means."

According to his research, the reality is far more complicated than that. In addition to finding that about half of men are unhappy with their weight, the surveys also revealed that gay men felt worse about their bodies than straight men. Compared to gay men, straight men were less likely to say they've taken diet pills, exercised for the sole purpose of weight loss, and have considered cosmetic surgery to change their appearance.

Gay men were also more likely to report feeling pressure from the media to look a certain way and to be more aware of the way they looked throughout the day. Finally, they were far more likely than straight men to say they avoided sex due to their body anxieties. (It was encouraging, though, that few men, regardless of orientation, reported feeling pressure to lose weight from their partners.)

What this means is that men face body image issues, too, but maybe they aren't as common, widely reported, or easy to talk about as those experienced by women. The body positivity movement has grown exponentially in the past few years, but it doesn't always include mens' concerns. Earlier this year, Mattel introduced Barbie dolls with refreshingly real body diversity, while we still have yet to see the same variety in male action figures, for example.

This isn't the first time these concerns have been raised; researchers and advocacy organizations have been fighting against the idea that men don't suffer from eating disorders and the sometimes-related body dysmorphic disorder for years now. But the message just doesn't seem to be taking hold for men the same way it's beginning to for women — and that's not a good thing.

Dr. Frederick explains that, because our culture now sees body insecurities as "women's issues," men feel like they're risking their masculinity by talking about how they feel. And even if they are less common, those issues are no less serious than those faced by women. "Without question, there are more women who are dissatisfied than men," he says. "But when it comes to the levels of dissatisfaction, the differences aren't that big."
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