Something strange has been happening lately, that has made me have a rethink about how I understand 'Male Body Image.' When I was 16, about 20 years ago now, I wasn't very fit. This worked out really well for me because being a skinny indie kid, it was important you not ever run anywhere or have any muscles that would ruin the line of your new blazer. Skinny was good, for a great many of us, our icons were Jarvis Cocker or Damon Albarn, skinny people who's influence reached far and wide. Not that you had to be skinny back then, there were so many ways you could get involved in those scenes. At the other end of the spectrum, The Happy Monday's went from thin to fat and back again depending on what substances they'd used that week and they just wore the same crap off the market that we all did! Anyway, my long rambling point was to say that sure, I may get the piss taken out of me if I'm wearing a bad pair of shoes or a hat that looked good on Bjork, definitely wasn't having the same effect for me! What no one commented on, in five years of secondary school, was my body type, we all had lumps, hairs and podgy bits and wonderfully we just assumed that's how it was. I knew no one at school who ever went to the gym to work their glamour muscles.
Skip forward 20 years and my two younger brothers, 19 and 21, are both built as if Sly Stallone had a kid with a heavy duty mini fridge! Cold as ice, small and ripped like crazy. And they aren't alone, kids everywhere in that age group are spending 3 or 4 nights a week at the gym. Let me say this, I don't think fitness is a bad thing and yeah, I'm definitely overweight, but my life couldn't possibly revolve around a gym like that! I've seen the kids my little brothers are mates with as well as random youngsters online posting diet and exercise and it seems to be a theme running through them all. What's pushing them? Are they enjoying it or are they feeling the pressure of their peers?
It's not just the gym work, everyone is on whey protein or supplements sold by a 3rd Division footballer from the boot of his car. I wonder just how much pressure kids feel to conform with the body image stuff because it seems to span across all subcultures, Suddenly I'm seeing indie bands take their shirts off at gigs and be completely ripped and Goth kids moon bathing with shirts off and pecs that can dance to the Adams Family Theme.
I wanted to finish on an old Musical acquaintance, Har Mar Superstar. Now Har Mar has an album out next month (Best Summer Ever) and as part of the press he's been doing, he bravely talked about the body shaming he's faced from interviewers. If you've never seen Har Mar then he has a very direct stage presence, his shirt will often come off, he's been known to play in hot pants and little else and honestly, as I sit here now, I just hope I look that good in 2 years.When a site called City Pages wrote about his album they were unable to do so without referring to his hairline and stomach.
Later, when on the street doing a phone interview with Noisy to discuss what had just happened, someone called him a bald faggot, proving that it doesn't just happen online. Arguably the high point of the article is when Har Mar declares,
'I just feel like calling people out on this shit because at this point in my career I'm 38 and I don't really need to give a fuck:'
So I lately I get called fat when I'm out and it appears that male body shaming is alive and well. Given the frankly horrific rates of male suicide, it's the biggest single killer of young men in the UK, then perhaps it's time we started taking body shaming seriously.
Oh and ladies, don't worry I hear you, this is something you've put up with since the dawn of time. I know that it's only the last 3 or 4 years that this has reached it's current level for men. So women, leave us comments, how do you cope with it? Do you get involved online to protest body shaming trolls? Or target clothes shops who consider a size 10 to be plus size. Honestly, all assistance gratefully received because men are dying every day and from what I've seen lately, far too many people are being called out on their body. I really hope that the two aren't connected.