New research proves body image is not just a conversation for women

New research proves body image is not just a conversation for women

By Nick Watts

New research conducted by The Centre of Appearance Research (CAR) in collaboration with the central YMCA and the Succeed Foundation shows the true extent of body dissatisfaction among men. In a national survey, in which 384 men were interviewed, 95.5% of men said they regularly hear body talk in the media with 80% of gym goers admitting they engage in body talk while attending the gym. Of all the participants surveyed 58% of them said body talk affects them personally, usually in a negative way. This is reflective of the research conducted into women, which showed that it takes only 5 minutes of negative body talk to lower self-esteem and reduce body confidence. Dr Phillipa Diedrichs, who conducting this ground-breaking survey said;

"This research really demonstrates that body image is an issue for everyone, and that we need to take a collaborative approach towards promoting an environment that values diversity in appearance and promotes healthy body image."

Body image concerns are a common, yet potentially serious problem. These results undoubtedly show that advertising and the way the media portray body image has a lasting and damaging effect on the body confidence and in some cases physical health of men. It is a common misconception that men are less likely to talk about their bodies and that body dissatisfaction is something only seen in women. This is not just seen through the media channels, but also in the way we look at other people, with 32.4% of straight men and 59.2% of gay men surveyed admitting comparing themselves to people who they consider to me more attractive than themselves.

Among the most popular terms used to describe and comment on men’s bodies included “beer belly”, “six-pack” and “man boobs” with other results such as “ripped” and “chubby” also featuring highly in the survey. There was also a trend in men wanting more muscle mass with one in five admitting to intentionally being on a high protein diet and one in three using protein supplements.

What was perhaps more concerning was the 17.4% of the participants having a definite fear of gaining weight and had this thought at least once a day, with 17% “feeling fat” at least daily, and a huge 31.9% admitting to exercising compulsively or excessively as a way of controlling weight. John Evans, author of “Becoming John, Anorexia’s not just for girls” wrote me a quick overview of his experience;

“‘You’re not exactly thin though, are you?’. 

I knew I was the slowest, the fattest, the worst footballer in my circle of friends, but my friend’s comment kept coming back to me, kept confirming my sense of unacceptability.  I had to change, I had to make myself acceptable and the way to do that was to get fit, to show my friends that I could be as cool as they were.  It started with a bit of weightlifting and running and, within four years, in the summer after my A-Levels, I was pretty much on my feet all day.  It was so important to push myself further than everyone else, to go cycling after football precisely because I knew none of my friends would be doing the same. And, equally as crucially, they had to know I was going the extra mile, to acknowledge that I was the one running up and down the pitch when they couldn’t be bothered.  All the time, when I felt like I’d done enough, those words came back to me.  I never wanted to feel as low as I had done when my friend said that to me, and so I kept on running and cycling and lifting weights, because not being fat was all I had.”

Using exercise excessively to achieve weight loss is a practice commonly seen in those suffering with eating disorders. In 2011 there were a number of reports released which show the dramatic rise in men coming forward and being treated for the conditions and this report further strengthens that message, with just under 10% of those surveyed admitting self-induced vomiting or laxative use as a further measure to control their weight. Furthermore, this research project highlights the continued need for more awareness in men on the subject of body image and eating disorders and that it is ok to talk about and share these issues, as every man at some point will think “if I only was better”.

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