It’s a ridiculous title, of course they do. But the odd thing is that this sentence: “men don’t suffer from body confidence issues, do they?” Is something I’ve heard many times from some women when the subject of body shaming has been brought up. I’ve been involved in a number of exchanges on Twitter and in blog comments sections, where the notion of men being body shamed to the point of it impacting on their confidence and well-being, has been scoffed at. Dismissed as a ludicrous flight of fancy. It is usually followed up by the ridiculous retort of “well women have suffered for centuries, it’s about time that men got a taste of what it’s like.”
I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a terrible approach to resolving issues. It’s akin to a child shouting “I know you are, I said you are, so what am I?” The very idea that a wrong can be balanced out through the conduct of another wrong is the very reason we’re chastised as children and warned that two wrongs do not make a right.
Body shaming anyone, regardless of sex or gender, is wrong, but you don’t have to look very hard to see the societal double standards. While the nation was up in arms at a poster of a lady in a bikini displayed in the London Underground, questioning whether you were ‘bikini ready’, not two posters down from it was the depiction of a semi naked muscly man promoting a beach holiday company with his unbelievably lovely family. Outrage over Page 3, and the subjecting of women to the perverted ogling of desperate men, yet flick through a well known women’s magazine and you’ll see torso of the month. The idolising of a ‘perfect’ male specimen just for the titillation of women. You can’t go through a single day of daytime TV without some hoard of middle aged women fawning over semi naked, terrified young men, fondling them at every opportunity and laughing it off because he “loves it!”. And let’s not forget the power a woman has in just her pinkie. One wave of that little digit and it can bring a man’s reputation crashing to the ground. It’s the ‘go to’ celebrity insult. I remember there being a two page spread in The Sun once because a woman on holiday saw Robbie Williams’ penis and she said he was hung like a hamster. So it seems sexual assault, degradation of men, and ridiculing of their genitalia are all acceptable because they’re men and they’ll just simply shrug it off and get on with life.
I got into an argument once because during the height of the #metoo trend on Twitter, I retweeted an account of a gay man who was assaulted by a hen do in the London Underground. The group of cackling women were grabbing every man they could, grabbing at the men’s penises, rubbing themselves against them and when the men took offence, the women couldn’t understand why they weren’t ‘gagging for it’. I suggested that this behaviour is more common than people would care to admit, granted the #metoo campaign shouldn’t have been hijacked to highlight it, but still. This notion that women can behave however they please towards men, because men are just dumb sex driven creatures is a sign of the times that we are moving into. Women have been victims for so long now, in so many facets of life, that now their wrongs are justifiably being addressed, there seems to be the need to have an enemy, and man is unfortunately it. No matter how many times the ‘not all men’ message is pushed, all men continue to be targeted.
I never used to suffer from self confidence or body image issues. I had single figure body fat levels, a solid 6 pack, proper t-shirt muscles, and a full thick head of luscious black hair. I was intelligent, funny, athletic, I had a good amount of disposable income. I loved my youth. Then a few things happened that crushed all that. Firstly I lost my hair. I began going bald at the age of 24, and while many people say that’s no bad thing, I am constantly bombarded by the notion that hair equals sexy. It’s in song lyrics, it’s in TV shows and movies, even when I speak to female colleagues one of the criteria they measure how good looking a guy is, is by how good his hair looks. I left the Army. My last job in the Army was working in a gym, training for around 6 to 7 hours a day and eating about 6,000 calories a day. When I left, I carried on eating that amount but did none of the exercise. I got fat, very fat. When you’re fat and you constantly see images of how a man ‘should’ look in films like 300, or Daniel Craig in hot pants walking out of the sea, or when a lady has had a makeover on day time TV and she needs to be escorted onto stage by two spartan looking semi naked men, it’s easy to see why guys may feel inadequate about themselves if they don’t have the perfect body.
In 2007, the NHS Information Centre conducted a survey to gauge people’s attitudes towards food and they found that 6.4% of adults in England have problems with food, one quarter of these adults were men. In 2010, there was a 66% increase in male hospital admissions as a result of eating disorders. Since then, it’s risen by a further 70%. Now I’m not going to suppose I know the reason for this, or am naive enough to believe that all of these men developed an eating disorder for the same reasons, but it is a fair assumption that many of these cases will be because their perception of a what a man should look like does not match what they believed they looked like. It seems that there are only two acceptable body shapes a man can have: muscly, or skinny. Everything between those two ends of the spectrum are somehow seen as wrong, or inadequate. In 2016, 5965 people committed suicide in the UK. Around three quarters of these were men. Whatever the circumstances that led to the deaths of these men, I’m almost certain that many included the feeling of inadequacy for failing to meet a perceived set of standards, and then the self-condemnation that comes with that failing.
Recently, me and my wife separated. While I’m not even considering dating again, the thought that in a few years down the line I may want to venture back into the game scares the life out of me. In my mind I’m a fat, bald, bad breathed, loser, who has the bedroom skills of a lazy virgin and a penis that would make Robbie Williams scoff. I’m not exactly a catch. When I think like this, I remember myself in my early twenties and the arrogance and swagger that flashed on any given night of the week, and I wonder where it went. I wonder what happened to me, and I keep coming round to the only answer I can find. Once I got married and had kids, I gave up. Life was stressful and there was a constant demand on me to perform in other respects at work or in the home, that I lost respect for this wonderful body me and all of you have been blessed to possess. I didn’t respect it enough to take it exercising for just 30 minutes a day to keep it ticking over and healthy. I didn’t respect it enough not to pollute it with utter garbage on a regular basis. I gave up caring. I look in the mirror and I’ve convinced myself that no one would want me now.
But that is going to change.
I start a new job soon, in a new location. A new start brings with it a fresh outlook, change, a blank slate where I can rewrite the script. I’ve got the positive outlook, I’ve got the plan, now I just need to respect myself enough to stick with it. I know what you’re saying, “Why wait until June, just start now!” But that’s not how my mind works. I’m very linear in my thinking. I need a start line to ensure everything is in place before I begin, and I have greater success when doing it this way. So watch this space, and by the end of 2018 I’ll be a much more confident and assured version of myself.