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Waif Or Warrior - Male Image Has Never Been More Fluid - Bringing New Freedoms And New Pressures

14/09/2016 10:38

It may not be surprising that in the UK young people (18-30) posted more than a billion selfies last year. What does cause surprise is that two thirds of those came from men.

The rise of men taking body image more seriously is signalled in the five year reign of Men's Health at the top of the magazine market, the growth of the UK grooming market and the fact that school age boys now see body image as a gender neutral concern that affects them as well as their female class mates.

Masculinity is in flux. We live in a world where boys and young men have more freedom than ever to create their own identity and find their own tribe. However, they'll do it under unprecedented scrutiny, from their peers, from media and crucially from themselves, as the freedom to create images as well as consume them brings its own pressures.

Real men do moisturise

Today we accept the modern male has moved on. The rigid structure that once defined the 'average male' is a complex one. Surprising findings from our work with L'Oréal, show that the age old attitude of 'real men don't moisturise' doesn't exist anymore. There is no stigma attached to paying attention to how you look, and men's grooming is now worth billions - giving rise to new trends such as the 'spornosexual,' a term featuring prominently in the media in recent weeks.

This latest trend for men seems to be focussed solely on their physique. With the media full of endless news reports on increasingly high house prices and portraying celebrity lifestyles out of the reach of many, it's no wonder many men are focussing inwards and seeking validation in their body image alone.

Advertisers needs to be mindful

From a brand perspective - whether you're a metrosexual, hipster or bodybuilder - men want products that perform and that'll make them feel good about themselves. For some, it's about celebrating hyper-masculinity, for others gender fluidity and neutrality are increasingly being celebrated too. Just look at the the rise of the geek as a role model. From Zuckerberg to The Big Bang Theory, it's not every male's dream to achieve the gladiator look.

However, the subject of male body image, highlighted in a recent report published by the AA's Media Smart, has provoked a debate around what advertisers and the industry at large can do to combat the challenges young men are facing. It's important to remember that this isn't a gender specific discussion - however there has until recently been little focus on the impact of these pressures - seen by boys as coming pretty equally from media, advertising and themselves.

Ultimately, it's our responsibility to enable everyone freedom of expression. We should be - urging everyone to find their tribe and be true to who they really are.

The pressures of the six-pack

It's a difficult balance. Social media and celebrity have created a generation of content curators who obsess about presenting themselves in a perfect light. With the nation being gripped by the Olympics earlier this month and the rise of celeb-athletes such as Tom Daley is it any wonder that for some young men, a male body in peak condition is the dream? Surely there's no downside to having Olympians and World Champions as role models? Alcohol consumption amongst millennials is down, looking after yourself is on the up.

The watch-out, is that boys are beginning to struggle with body image as much as girls. Whilst common actions include doing more sport and eating more healthily, what's worrying is the rise of orthorexia if it's taken to the extreme.

Of course we should all encourage our children to pay closer attention to how they look after themselves. But, we also need to educate our children to aspire to far more than an image - and to embrace and celebrate individuality.

In the current climate, the next generation may not be striving towards a car or a house in their immediate future, but there is far more to life than a six-pack; and there always will be.

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