BODY IMAGE ISSUES...THIS IS NOT JUST A WOMEN'S PROBLEM

Something I have been meaning to post for awhile is about the issue of body image, not being a female only problem. While FEMPOWER is most certainly led by women and for women, I think it is very important to acknowledge the fact that men suffer extreme pressures about their body image and while I believe it would be misguided to compare two different groups problems, I do believe a huge issue men have with body image and masculinity is their ability to express their concerns, whether that is due to their social circles or even simply that they are less likely to talk about it, I guess for similar reasons that depression in men is so overlooked. 

I asked a friend and a respected colleague, Jason Jackson to give us a little insight into the male psyche on body image and this is what he had to say:

"From 2008 there has been a sustained, year-on-year rise in the number young men hitting the gym – the largest increase in any demographic doing any type of sport (Active People Survey 2014). Supplements sales are also up 40% – the second largest growth of any product (Nielsen 2014). And by now Men’s Health magazine has more than doubled the circulation of its nearest competitor, the fashion-focused GQ.

“Fit is the new rich”
In a fascinating paper on neoliberal austerity, Hakim (2013) describes how traditional masculinity is under threat. In these current challenging economic conditions, many men have sought validation and self-worth in their physiques.

If it was simply a case of low body fat, all men would need to do is create an energy deficit by increasing energy expenditure and restricting calories. But that is not enough to build the Alpha Male physique.

Building muscle doesn’t happen by accident. I’ve just completed a structured case study documenting a detailed training and nutrition plan for my MSc where my client gained 4kg of muscle whilst reducing his body fat down to 8.1% (DEXA scans available). His calorie deficit was based on a percentage of his bodyweight, whilst protein needs were calculated from his lean body mass. When calories are restricted, there are a host of factors to consider when creating an environment that supports increases in muscle mass, fuels training sessions and mitigates losses to anabolic hormones associated with caloric and/or fat restriction.

“Your body is your business card”
If you work in the health profession, whether you’re a personal trainer or doctor, you will be judged on your body. According to a recent study by Hutson et al. (2013), clients and patients will make an assumption on how healthy your own lifestyle is based purely upon your appearance. An athletic physique will instil your interactions with a sense of “moral and health authority”, creating trust in the process. Is this fair? Should we be expected to practice what we preach?

The wage effects of obesity
Clients aren’t the only ones who judge you based on your physique. HR departments reward their leaner employees. In Baum and Ford’s 2004 study on the wage effects of obesity, the duo found that overweight employees were paid 3.4 – 6.1% less than their leaner colleagues. Women were penalised the most. This discrimination is based on the employers’ (unsubstantiated) fears that health problems will impact productivity, healthcare will cost more to provide and customers prefer to interact with their leaner counterparts (in sales and service jobs).

Sure, I think you should take pride in your appearance. And you should want to look good for your partner. But not at the expense of your health, happiness, work or social lives.

Jason Jackson MSc(c)

References

Baum, C.L. and Ford, W.F., 2004. The wage effects of obesity: a longitudinal study. Health Economics13(9), pp.885-899.

Hakim, J., 2015. ‘Fit is the new rich’: male embodiment in the age of austerity. Soundings61(61), pp.84-94.

Hutson, D.J., 2013. “Your body is your business card”: Bodily capital and health authority in the fitness industry. Social science & medicine90, pp.63-71."

We live in a time where our body image, both male and female, is so very much rammed down our throats; be that at the gym, social media or mass media that I think it is easy to get caught up in the hype of building that sought after body but I really do believe it is imperative that we look at the bigger picture. The people that influence our self perceptions are often photo shopped, dehydrated, carbohydrate-deprived, light favoured and potentially pharmaceutical enhanced humans; yet we are putting so much pressure on ourselves to acquire a physique that doesn't actually exist in real life.

The question is what is the end game? How will attaining these physiques actually enhance our life, and will that enhancement be greater than friendships, healthy relationships, spontaneous meals with friends, holidays free from what I like to call "food anxiety" and lazy pyjama Sundays?