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21st Century Britain: Are Men More Body Anxious Than Women?

06/06/2014 11:23 BST | Updated 05/08/2014 10:59 BST

Traditionally body image hang-ups have been widely accepted as something of a 'women's problem.' However, over the past decade, there has been a growing trend of men becoming increasingly body anxious and insecure.

In a recent one poll survey commissioned by the retailer New Look, their findings shown that more men admit to being unconfident about their self-image than the press or online resources would suggest. Interestingly, Google records thousands of results for "women's body confidence" online in contrast to only 8 results for "men's body confidence" suggesting a gender bias.

With societies hand on the pulse of popularity, I beg to question - why don't men ever talk about body image issues? Would they be deemed sensitive, weak or 'less of a man' if they discussed the dissatisfaction of their appearance? Would they not be looked at as protectors and/or leaders if they honestly admitted that they have physical insecurities? Has popular culture demoralized morality and influenced masculinity to the point that men have disassociated themselves with the authenticity of vulnerability?

Body image insecurities in men is a growing and real issue and one the rise according to the poll's key findings:

• Out of 2,000 British male adults found that 30% tend to feel unconfident about their appearance, with 19% answering 1-3 from a scale of 10, with 10 being 'very confident' and 1 being 'not confident at all'.

• In a similar survey 35% of women surveyed claiming they tend to feel unconfident about their bodies (in a separate survey. Both were conducted on behalf of New Look). But the figures are almost the same for males. In fact, more women suggest they tend to be confident about their body than men: 37% to 35%.

• The survey found that the most common causes for male lack of body confidence are excess fat (26%), the waistline (18%) and height (8%). Penis size and muscle size/definition also featured prominently as reasons for insecurity.

Predictably, some experts are sceptical on male body image dissatisfaction following the results from the survey. One comment said: "It is true that in the overall evaluation of a person's physical appearance is still more a part of how women are evaluated than men. There are more stringent standards for female beauty."

Reflecting on the research I'd say genderist viewpoint in response is out-dated. It's evident that the standards for men are equally hard to obtain in terms of muscularity leanness and youth.

Novelist and biographer Frances Wilson mentions that men have always been preoccupied with their appearance, historically even more so than women but now it has become more acceptable and more visible.

Wilson points to a creeping vogue towards the admiration of male beauty that hasn't existed with such intensity before. "I think it's a gender issue - as a society it's become acceptable to admit we like male beauty. When I grew up, men were invisible and women were very visible, now it's almost the reverse. Staring at a beautiful woman can be regarded as demeaning and undermining to her but staring at a beautiful man enhances his power. It's about degrees of legitimate objectification."

Men's grooming is one of the fastest growing sectors of the British beauty market, with men's skincare estimated as worth £60 million last year, a rise of 20 per cent in the past five years. HSBC this year identified a new group of consumers called the 'yummy', young urban male professionals who spend their money on personal grooming and fitness.

On average men spend 81 minutes a day on personal grooming, including cleansing, toning and moisturising, shaving, styling hair and choosing clothes, the study found. Women have their beauty regime down to a fine art and get hair, clothes and make-up done in just 75 minutes.

For the past 10 years eating disorders in men have been steadily rising and the focus on the perfect 'male ideals' re-enforced by the media is not helping. There are two extremes of cases that we see: one is the traditional masculine image of what a man should look like - muscly, macho - and the opposite is the super slim. The difference between men and women is that women have one slim ideal, whereas men are expected to be both slim and defined and muscly.

What isn't helping is the fashion industry's focus on a youth-centric, skinny boy image - almost as big a trend as their teenage female counterparts.

Other interesting findings from the survey included people from the North East region of the UK to be the most confident (with an average of 5.70 out of 10) in contrast to Wales with the least body confident women and the South East with the least body confident men.

Finally, another surprising result is that men appear to consistently get more bodily confident with age, aside from the 25-34 year old age group, who were found to have the least confidence in their bodies.