For years body image campaigns have largely told women it’s okay to embrace their bodies, from Dove championing “real beauty” to Asos and Missguided taking a stance against airbrushing. But what is there for men?
Men’s health and wellbeing platform Manual has teamed up with models, body image campaigners and regular guys to create a campaign showing big brands how it should be done.
The photo series features Britain’s first plus-size male model Ben Whittaker, trans-activist Kenny Ethan Jones, and Bashir Aziz, who has vitiligo, to show how easy it is to create diverse photoshoots.
The campaign has been released to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, which has the theme of body image this year. It comes as research from the Mental Health Foundation found one in eight British adults has experienced suicidal thoughts due to their body image.
According to research conducted by Manual, more than three quarters (78%) of men don’t believe any of their friends look like a typical Gillette model – the tanned, square-jawed, clean shaven Adonis.
The brand spoke to men in the campaign about their own relationships with their bodies. Whittaker said he hasn’t always been body confident, as seeing images of men with “chiseled chests and rock hard abs” in the media put a strain on his mental health when he was growing up.
“A lot of my mates were smaller than me, they were toned and I was the biggest in my class,” he said. “I did feel depressed and think ‘am I meant to look like this?’. But there’s no such thing as a perfect body, it doesn’t actually exist, all bodies are unique in their own ways.”
Whittaker also said losing his hair at 21 was tough. “I used to try and cover it up, pile in products. Then last year I shaved it off and thought ‘enough is enough’. Now I feel a lot more confident than I did. I don’t always go out of the house with a hat, and to me, that’s a big thing.”
Similarly James King, another man in the campaign, admitted his relationship with his body used to be “atrocious”.
“I would always think about how much I hated my body and to get to where I am now, it’s been a real journey,” he said, noting that making a conscious effort to change his mindset made all the difference. He also found following more positive people on social media helped.
“It’s really easy to get stuck in a cycle of ‘I hate my body and nobody else is gonna like my body’. I had to forcibly say to myself ’stop hating your body so much – what bits do you like about yourself and highlight those parts’,” he said.
Trans activist Jones said finding enjoyment in the gym helped him improve his body confidence. “When you feel that confidence, you radiate it out to everyone else and they feel it, too. My advice to anyone is, whatever makes you feel happy and feel more confident, just do it and do more of it,” he said.
Meanwhile Artist Aziz said music helped him embrace his vitiligo. “You know that Drake song, ‘You only live once’? I took that on board and realised you just need to do what makes you happy and not waste any time doubting yourself,” he said. “Back then, my mental health wasn’t great, but my body was fantastic, I just never knew.”
In light of the photoshoot, Manual is calling for more diversity in advertising campaigns featuring men.
George Pallis, co-founder of the platform, said: “If you only look at the men in adverts, you would think that all men have six-packs, the perfect amount of stubble and permanently bronzed skin. It is completely unrealistic and doesn’t reflect what masculinity really looks like.
“In a world where opening up about mental and physical wellbeing is arguably more crucial than ever before, it’s vital that we all work together to de-stigmatise men’s wellness and improve the health and happiness of men everywhere.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.