Movies have become the most influential medium that set the standard for men’s bodies.
Awareness on body-image issues has been one-sided so far with more emphasis on women. Not many dare to talk about body-image issues in men. The truth is, even men are subjected to stigma and pressure due to gender norms of masculinity and femininity.
From Michelangelo’s David to Hollywood’s biggest box-office star Dwayne Johnson, the image of an ideal man’s body remains unchanged throughout the course of history. As a result, strong stereotypes are set up over centuries and, today, men are subjected to higher levels of societal scrutiny when it comes to bodies.
Ancient Greek art gives us some of the earliest examples when perceptions of an ideal man’s body were established. Male gods were depicted as muscular with great concentration on proportions and symmetry. Athenian gods like Apollo are often described as handsome in literature and portrayed with a broad chest and visible abdominal muscles in images. Ancient Greek society established the ideas that the symmetric muscular athletic body is godlike.
Left: Greek god Apollo. Right: The Statue of David by Michelangelo
Leonardo da Vinci’s renaissance creation ‘The Vitruvian Man’ further stresses on the symmetric body of an ideal man. His emphasis on perfect proportion alarmingly objectifies the male body by providing ratios of even length of the hand and position of root of penis!
Michelangelo’s David entered the Western world’s cultural lexicon as synonym for ‘male beauty’. Till date, the statue of David continues to prevail as the single most visible, culturally authorized icon of male beauty.
Ranveer Singh: how can anyone NOT get body image issues looking at that bod?
Today, mass media has become largest contributor of manufacturing socio-cultural standards of beauty for men. Movies have become the most influential medium that set the standard for men’s bodies. Portrayals of the “alpha male” through romantic comedies and action films have firmly stereotyped the muscular body with six-pack abs and defined jaws as the ideal man.
Films have normalised the idea that non-muscularity doesn’t fit the hero image.
Action movies like ‘James Bond’, ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘Fast & Furious’ portray the hero with typical muscular traits. On the other hand, non-muscular actors are cast in comedies like ‘The Hangover’. Films have normalised the idea that non-muscularity doesn’t fit the hero image.
Jamie Dornan in an ad for Calvin Klein
An even more dangerous stereotyping of man’s body can be observed in magazines like Men’s Health. Such magazines consistently prescribe the alarming idea that muscular men with ripped abs are the pinnacle of fitness and male beauty.
The idea is established that anyone whose body doesn’t comply with the big muscular image is a deviant from ‘attractive’.
All through the centuries, a stereotype has been perpetuated – that being male means buff. The idea is established that anyone whose body doesn’t comply with the big muscular image is a deviant from ‘attractive’. Six-packs, big muscular build and strong square jaws are advertised as goals for men.
Not meeting the social expectations of being a muscular male may cause mental stigma, low self-esteem and even depression in men.
Not meeting the social expectations of being a muscular male may cause mental stigma, low self-esteem and even depression among men. Many men say that they would trade years of their life to have a better physique. Youngsters try to get rid of body dissatisfaction by using drugs (anabolic steroids). Plus-size men often cope with their body image issues by developing eating disorder(s).
Mass media should be more inclusive about different body types instead of perpetuating the same stereotypes.
Addressing the issue
The issue needs to be addressed in schools to educate young men that a healthy and beautiful body has more to do than just abs and ripped muscles. Mass media should be more inclusive to different body types and encourage body positivity, instead of perpetuating the same old stereotypes.
Purushu Arie is India's most-read men's fashion blogger. He is also a gender-neutral fashion designer, illustrator and columnist. He blogs at www.purushuarie.com. Follow him on Instagram @purushuarie.