No matter what gender or size you are, everyone has the potential to feel the effects of body shame. Although men, especially cis men, are typically less likely to admit that they feel ashamed of their bodies, that doesn’t mean such feelings don’t occur. It may not be displayed in very explicit ways, such as in the form of mental illness or eating disorders, but there is no doubt that men compare themselves to each other regularly, and often in less than positive ways. Listed below are 8 ways men can better understand how they are affected by body shame and how to try to overcome it.
- Admitting To Yourself That Body Shame Is Real
As cliché as it sounds, the first step to overcoming something that can be both as subtle and as destructive as body shame is admitting it exists—and that you experience it. It is hard for a lot of men and masculine people to look at themselves and be vulnerable with their feelings, since doing so is traditionally seen as weak or “unmanly.” Well, gentlefolk, it is time to look past such stereotypical concepts of “manliness” and accept that we are inherently emotional, vulnerable beings. Part of being vulnerable is admitting that we all compare ourselves to one another for various reasons, many of which revolve around how we look at our and other people’s bodies. Men also receive much criticism on their bodies that often seems harmless and funny but can have lasting mental and emotional effects over time.
- Admitting To Yourself What You See As Flaws
As I said before, it is human nature to be vulnerable, and it is also human nature to have parts of ourselves that we feel are either less than ideal or need to be maintained in order to feel happy about ourselves. This sense of shame comes from being told throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood that certain body types or shapes or traits are flaws that need to be fixed. For men, this often revolves around the relationship between body size and weight—having a large stomach, big thighs, thick arms, and of course “man boobs,” to name a few. But body shame can often be broken down into much smaller traits as well, such as being ashamed of an over- or under-bite, a “too big” or “too small” nose, eye shape and symmetry, hair growth and style, hands and feet, and particularly for cis men and trans men who have had bottom surgery, penis size. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of potential body issues, especially when talking about people with mental and physical disabilities, and people with bodily “abnormalities” (which are really just differences, because “normal” is part of the problem). Everyone has something that don’t like about themselves and want to fix, or even parts that they think are perfect but would be ashamed of if it changed for whatever reason.
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- Identifying What Is Causing The Body Shame
There are many different sources for what could be causing someone to be ashamed of their bodies. Often times these issues of shame come from childhood—parents making negative comments or subjecting their children to outlandish counseling, kids making other kids feel bad about looking a certain way. Body shame can also come from the media and our obsession with the way celebrities look, whether it’s positive—Mr. John Doe has the perfect abs!—or negative—Mr. Jack Doe has gained too much weight! Even if the source of the shame isn’t rooted in stereotypical or traditional concepts of the “male” body, men feel pressure to change their bodies or feel as though their bodies will never be good enough because they don’t look the way they’re “supposed to” or the way someone they idolize or respect does.
- Admitting That It Isn’t Just Women Who Feel This Way
A lot of men, especially cis men, feel as though the idea that someone being ashamed of their bodies is reserved solely for women. This notion, rooted in misogyny and sexism, comes from a place of feeling as though being masculine means being cold, emotionless, stoic—which is honestly impossible in a general sense. Going through the trials and tribulations of body shame are not reserved solely for women and feminine people, and men experience it a lot more often than we would like to think. So many men have looked at people like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, or Hugh Jackman, or [insert attractive, fit celebrity man here] and thought about how they want to look like them, and those same men feel ashamed of their bodies for not being on par with those men’s bodies. Even the men who would rather look like a skinny pop punk dude or a full-bearded slender hipster have the same thought process. It is not just women with the influences and shame brought on by the need or desire to look like Beyonce or Nicki Minaj or supermodels or what have you, men go through the same thing with their own body idols.
- Finding Things That Make You Feel Less Ashamed
This is where we try to start squashing all of the shame and self-hatred that we put on ourselves. This is where we look at ourselves in the mirror and find the parts of ourselves that we love and would never give up for the world. As hard as it may be to admit that there are things we truly do not like about ourselves, there are almost definitely things that we love about ourselves that we have a hard time expressing. Whether it’s a nice smile, striking eyes, good calves, anything, there’s something there that you love about yourself. And even if you feel that there isn’t, one of the best ways to find something about yourself to truly appreciate is to look at people who look like you and who identify similarly to you and finding the things that they love about themselves. Rather than looking at all of the traits that others have that make you feel inferior, you can look at how those people who look like you rock their bodies and use them as inspiration for yourself. This is one of the reasons why positive representations of various body types and body traits so important, especially for those who belong to communities or hold identities that are mistreated and oppressed—we want to see and know that there are people out there that love themselves no matter what anyone else says.
- Understanding That You Are More Than What Others View You As
In the same vein of finding people who are unapologetic in loving themselves and their bodies—even their “flaws”—one of the biggest changes someone can make in their lives is trying to alter how they perceive comments from others. This is, of course, way easier said than done and can take years and years before feeling like you have achieved this change. In its most basic form, this change involves taking the criticisms that other people have about your body and looking at it in two ways: a) that person is more than likely speaking from a place of their own body shame and insecurities, and b) what that person says does not define me or my body, it is just the opinion of someone too ashamed to admit that I can and deserve to be happy, too. This change also means taking the compliments you get—particularly those that seem the most genuine—and absorbing that essence into your very being. It is a matter of living for the love and ignoring the haters.
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- Understanding That You Are More Than Just Your Body
Although this entire piece has concentrated on the body, it is important to remember that we are more than just our physical selves. We are our emotions, our minds, our thoughts, our various senses, our personalities, our love and empathy. These are the things, beyond our phenotype, our frames, our bodies, that make us human beings. Even if you feel like a part of you is not perfect, or you feel like you aren’t good enough because you’ll never look like “The Rock,” on top of there being no reason to not love every single part of your body, there is so much more to you than your body that you know you can hold onto and love as well.
- Eradicating What Is Causing The Body Shame
This can really be one of the hardest parts of overcoming body shame, and it has a lot to do with those feelings of vulnerability and emotionality. You can identify what is causing you to feel ashamed of your body, whether it’s friends, family, the media, whatever. There are two important things for you to do with these sources: you either have to completely cut the out of your life, or take them head on by destroying their negative influence on your life. The first part can be really hard, and virtually impossible in some cases, since we can’t just ignore the media or cut ties with our families, but in the cases where it is possible, definitely do your best to cut those aspects of shame out of your life. The second part can be just as difficult, especially if you are not comfortable with being emotional or vulnerable with your feelings of shame, but one of the best things you can do is confront the people who are making you feel ashamed about your body, be honest with how you are feeling, and make them understand why you are demanding respect from here on out.
It is never easy, but it is necessary for men to understand that it is completely common to feel ashamed of their bodies, and to know that there are non-destructive ways to overcome that shame. It’s a matter of taking on the issues head on, in whatever ways they manifest themselves, and understanding that you should be proud of yourself and your body and anyone who disagrees isn’t worth your time.
[Feature Image: An individual with brown skin and short fade haircut is standing with their back to the camera and looking to the right. They are standing outdoors with no shirt on. Source: Flickr.com/Ojo de vidrio]