BODY SHAMING: WHAT IS IT AND HOW GUYS ARE DIFFERENT

Man stretching legs

95-percent of guys report being body shamed[1]. Do you feel like you need bigger muscles, more hair on your head, or even want to be taller? Most everyone wishes they could change something about their body. Body shaming affects everyone—it just affects guys a little differently.

While there is a significant body of research on female body shaming, considerably less is known about male or LGBTQ body shaming. This article will give a quick overview of what body shaming is (since this may be new to some guys), how guys experience body shaming differently, and how to deal with body shaming.

Man smiling

Read about one person’s journey to learn to love their own body.

Important:

If you suffer from severe mental distress about your body or are actively being body shamed, please seek medical or mental help from a trainer or other certified professional. There is no shame in asking for help—you are not alone.

BODY SHAMING DEFINITION

Body shaming is when someone makes fun of an aspect of someone else’s body. Body shaming can also be when someone feels negative about a part of their own body. It can be considered a form of bullying, especially among children and young people. Body shaming can happen to anyone—even celebrities and professional athletes.

BODY SHAMING FROM OTHERS

Body shaming from others is when someone—even someone close to you—makes you feel negative about your body. Body shaming can take place in-person or online. The person doing the body shaming may not even know they are intentionally doing it. 

If others are body shaming you or someone close to you, don’t think the only answer is to work out and build massive muscles or develop an eating disorder. Talk to someone you trust and whose advice you value. Seek professional guidance if the issue is serious. It’s okay to ask for help.

BODY SHAMING YOURSELF

It is widespread for people to feel some shame about their own body. When you see celebrities and athletes (who are paid to maintain that appearance as their job), it is easy to think your own body is inadequate. Beware the shame spiral.

man running

Reframe your thinking if you body shame yourself. Distinguish between health and wellbeing vs. how you think society expects you to look. Talk about this with your partner or someone close to you. If you think your partner wants you to have big muscles to be sexy, try asking them what they really find attractive.

Your ideal body might be closer than you think.

IS BODY SHAMING GETTING WORSE?

Research suggests body shaming is getting worse[2]. There are many reasons people feel more ashamed about their bodies today than they did 50 years ago. One major contributing factor to this is the expanding media landscape. 

EXAMPLE: Watch an old James Bond movie. Then watch an Avengers movie. Notice how the ideal male body image has shifted over time?

The global pandemic has also played a role as people consumed more content than ever before. This is a double-edged sword in that people viewed much more health and fitness content to stay healthy during a difficult time. Unfortunately, this could have also perpetuated the cycle of body shaming by perpetuating unrealistic body images.

If body shaming is on the rise now more than ever, how is it affecting guys differently than other genders?

man looking at phone

BODY SHAMING FOR GUYS

When most guys think of body shaming, the first thing that comes to mind is wanting to have a bigger, more muscular upper body[3]. There’s nothing wrong with building upper body strength or a bigger butt to feel good in one’s own body. However, it can be problematic if the goal is to attain an unrealistic body image.

Body shaming in guys is not limited to simply wanting bigger muscles. Here is a list of common things guys often feel ashamed about in their bodies:

  1. Too heavy
  2. Too skinny
  3. Not tall enough
  4. Too tall
  5. Skin color
  6. Not enough muscle
  7. Muscles not defined enough
  8. Muscle dysmorphia[4]
  9. Balding
  10. Body hair
  11. Genital size
  12. Wrinkles; effects of aging
  13. Skin

The list goes on. The window for not feeling ashamed of one’s body is very narrow. That window is even narrowing.

HOW BODY SHAMING IS DIFFERENT FOR GUYS

Aside from the different physical aspects of body shaming guys experience compared to women, the mode in which guys experience body shaming is also different. Here are some ways guys specifically experience body shaming:

AssumptionReactionReality
Guys are protectorsBig muscles and muscular bodies will make you a better protector.This idea is rooted in toxic masculinity and is no longer necessary in modern society.
People are attracted to guys with big muscles.Big muscles, especially massive arms, will help guys attract a partner.At least one study suggests a large portion of women are turned off by big muscles, although other guys may find more muscles more attractive[5].
Feeling ashamed of one’s body is a sign of weakness.Compulsive fitness behavior; not talking about what you are going through.There is no perfect body, so there is nothing to be ashamed of. 
Talking about your body or feelings is not tough.Keeping feelings inside for fear of being seen as too feminine.Talking about your body and feelings with others is healthy—after all, everyone has them.


MALE BODY SHAMING HAS SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES

Some research suggests that guys who have been body shamed are more prone to violence, particularly sexual violence against women[6]. Guys who experience high levels of body shaming also feel that their status in society is threatened compared to their less body shamed counterparts. Guys who are body shamed also report low levels of self-esteem.

What does all that mean? It means that body shaming guys is more likely to lead to violence when compared to women who are body shamed. This is a critical difference in body shaming among guys.

While every guy who is body shamed will not commit violent acts, many do. Even subconsciously[7]. This is why getting help if you are body shamed is so essential. Of course, a culture that allows guys to think that a viable response to being body shamed is to commit violence is also inexcusable.

On top of all that, guys who feel they need to get bigger muscles could turn to performance enhancing drug (PED) abuse. PEDs can have serious health consequences. On the other end of the spectrum, people who feel they need to be thinner can develop eating disorders. 

Find out about healthy nutrition and intuitive eating.

LOVE WHAT YOU GOT, NOT WHAT YOU’RE NOT

There is no perfect or ideal body, so there is no need to feel ashamed of the body you have. Focus on building healthy habits and behaviors, not unrealistic body images. Be healthy and fit enough to live the life you want to live. 

There is no shame in being uniquely you.

Try this beginner workout at home if you’re not sure how to start getting healthy.

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