THE BLOG

Guys, Where Are All The Body Image Role Models At?

19/11/2015 11:53 GMT | Updated 19/11/2016 10:12 GMT

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HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.

I'm just going to come out and say it: I don't think there are enough male role models out there. Particularly when it comes to addressing positive body image.

I'm a woman. But I have a dad, a step dad, a boyfriend, uncles, male cousins, male friends and colleagues.

And for International Men's Day I want to open up about my experiences and observations surrounding male body image.

My feelings stem from a particular incident, where I was asked to put together a snazzy slideshow for HuffPost's 'Building Modern Men' month about male body image heroes. I felt fairly confident to begin with, James Corden was first to spring to mind, but I soon began to falter.

This is what my brain came up with...

In total, and after asking around the entire HuffPost UK team, we managed to scrape together a measly list of six guys.

This led me to ask the question: where are all the male body image heroes hiding?

The media is saturated with ripped, hunky men. And this is a bloody shame, because in reality, the life where us mere mortals exist, there are many male body types. All of which are individual and beautiful. And I think that's something we all sometimes forget.

Even James Corden, who doesn't adhere to the same body type as his celebrity peers, takes his top off for "laughs". It's always for a joke. And I know he's a comedian, it's his job to be funny, but this kind of thing resonates across the board... If you look closely at film characters, the plus-size guys are always the funny, jokey types. Whether that's Zach Galifianakis in 'The Hangover' or Seth Rogen in 'Knocked Up'.

Fat = funny. Ripped = successful, more likely to 'get the girl', the big fackin' cheese.

For a previous feature on male body image (what can I say, I care about you guys), I spoke to a representative from BODY charity, who said that roughly 80% of their male clients are affected by images in the media. She told me: "There's a saying in our industry that is something like 'it's just as difficult to be Ken as it is Barbie'."

And there are plenty of Kens in the celebrity world, to be sure.

There's also the matter of young boys growing up surrounded by superheroes and action figures - from an early age these figurines and characters are their role models. Rather worryingly, comic book characters such as Batman and Superman have six-packs painted onto their costumes.

As these boys become teens, their idols are replaced by football players and athletes. The common theme here? They are all muscular, they are all of a certain shape and size, and their bodies are often ripped to the max.

According to BODY charity, the number of men who are suffering with a condition called "muscle morphia" (you might have heard of it by its other name, "bigorexia") has doubled in the last two years.

This is a specific type of body dysmorphic disorder in which a person (usually male) becomes obsessed with building muscle to the point where it impacts on their interactions with others, employment and self-image.

Much of the time it's a mental health issue, but sometimes I think to myself: would this be a growing issue if we had more men being open about why it's okay to not be ripped? If there were more body types being shown off in the media - and not laughed at?

There's also this underlying (and quite frankly, dickish) thing whereby as soon as actors and sports stars gain weight, they are blatantly fat-shamed by outlets like the Daily Mail. I can think of instances just this year where Ben Cohen and Ben Affleck have been told they're "letting themselves go" or have been branded "portly" by the newspaper.

What kind of message does this convey to society? That it's bad to be anything but shredded.

The most ridiculous thing is that for actors and sports stars, it's their job to be at peak physical fitness. Once filming is wrapped up or they've retired, and they start to enjoy their lives again, their weight is made a mockery of for all the world to see.

And this infuriates me beyond belief.

Building muscle has become a national obsession. And I might be clutching at straws here, but I think it has a lot to do with the people we see, day-in-day-out, on TV screens, billboards and magazines.

Everywhere you look, there's a relatively beefy guy staring back. We're not exactly met with hundreds of images of larger guys, thin guys, small guys and men with disabilities, are we?

And even when those men that saturate the media, the men that boys and men alike look to for inspiration, talk about their bodies - it's usually about how much they hit the gym and the healthy foods they eat to get built like a brick shit house.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with promoting healthy living - I'm all for that. But at the very least I'd like to see some diversity out there, particularly in the media. I want my family and friends who are male to know it's okay to be skinny, it's okay to be bigger, it's okay to look different.

And the sooner more male role models step up to the plate to tell them that, the better.

To blog on the site as part of Building Modern Men, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com. If you would like to read our features focused around men, click here, and for more about our partnership with Southbank Centre's Being A Man festival, click here.