As we reach the final few days of our men’s mental health awareness month, we want to continue the conversation and acknowledge the importance of the challenges that men face.
Despite the progression of society, the ongoing conversation surrounding body image for all genders continues to set certain expectations, some contributing to the increasing rates of eating disorders and body image issues associated with poor mental health. Admittedly, there has been an increasing shift in the way men’s mental health is negatively affected by several factors.
There are plenty of societal expectations and pressures for men which can impact mental health when it comes to body image. One of which is society’s influence as presented primarily on social media and in the entertainment industry, can heavily impact the way men may portray themselves. The sometimes-filtered images of other men can make a man feel undesirable, contributing to lower self-esteem, confidence, and overall negative emotional well-being. Accordingly, a Canadian study looks at muscle dysmorphia which is found to be linked with symptoms of anorexia (Ganson et al., 2022). This study shows results that “17.2 percent of the study sample was considered at risk for [muscle dysmorphia]. Of that, 25.7 percent were men” (Ganson et al., 2022).
Historically, men have been taught to be strong and resilient to hide their vulnerable moments. Consequentially, men can be discouraged from being open about their body insecurities by being perceived as weak. Michael Poydenko MSc., RP (Qualifying) shared that “When men, really [any] gender, have a hard time talking about their bodies and how they feel about them, it allows negative views to grow and permeate in the silence. When it's said out loud how there's a pressure to look strong or lean, that pressure automatically becomes less powerful and it's easier to see the lives men want to live such as being supportive role models for healthy body image and acceptance for all body types. It's another concept that when men are able to talk to someone, especially friends and feel heard, it becomes easier to accept their bodies as is.”
As suggested, body image concerns for men can lead to an entire host of mental health concerns including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, only to name a few. In attempts to conform to societal expectations and in dealing with the struggle of self-acceptance, men can engage in behaviours such as excessive exercise or dieting. Danielle Lancaster, MCouns., RP (Qualifying) shared that “struggling with body image can affect your experience with self-acceptance and self-love because our bodies are such a core aspect of who we are. Hating our bodies often leads to struggling with self-acceptance.”
As we recognize the negative effects of the way society and history have contributed to men’s mental well-being, we emphasize that embracing diversity by challenging society’s definition of an ‘ideal’ physique is key. Remembering that your worthiness is not tied to your perceived attractiveness, and furthermore understanding the subjectivity of ‘attractiveness’ is a good way to start the call for change. Encouraging and normalizing judgement-free conversations about body image, self-esteem, and self-worth is paramount in creating a more supportive space for men to share and embrace their insecurities.