Sunday, June 15, 2008

Critical Awareness

"We are arriving at one of the most fruitful and important turnings in the history of the race. The self is entering into relation with the body."
--Edward Carpenter

As a male in today’s society, I can truthfully say I have experienced shame over my body image. Every time I look through male magazines I feel so small, shamed, and distanced from the pictures I see. I wonder how a physique as such is possible.

Because I have a thin body type, it is ultimately impossible for me to naturally achieve the sculpted body which is often seen in magazines and the media. Although not everyone desires a muscled man, it seems to be the norm that is portrayed through magazines and the media. I strongly feel this portrayal of the male body does tremendous disservice, especially for youth.

Strenuous workouts and outrageous diets can severely disrupt a child’s growth, making it merely impossible for children to reach their full height. I feel as though it is unfair for youth to be thrown in to this box of shame, and the utmost service I can provide as an activist is to educate.

Raising Critical Awareness

Body image… most people think that it is confined to the realms of feminine worry, but more and more in today’s society a heavier emphasis is being placed on the male “ideal physique.” Whether through print or television, the media is playing a huge role in implying that the chiseled male body should be every man’s goal, even to the point of endangering one’s health.

It is of great significance for the public, mental health professionals, and clinicians, to become critically aware and conscious of the media’s negative messages being portrayed on male body image.

By practicing critical awareness, we will move toward resilience by learning how to contextualize (seeing the big picture), normalize (knowing you are not the only one), and demystify (sharing what you know with others). If we fail to make these connections, our shame will increase through individualizing (thinking you are the only one), pathologizing (thinking something is wrong with you), and reinforcing (thinking you should be ashamed) that what is portrayed in the media is how we ought to look and if we don’t, we need to do whatever it takes to do so.

Everyone wants to be beautiful and attract an equally attractive mate, some even to the point of hurting themselves to do so. When will the media realize that it is not right for them to push unreasonable expectations onto the masses, and when will we as consumers learn not to buy into all the propaganda about body image and simply learn to be healthy?

Athletica Nervosa
According to Male Health website, a British men’s health forum, men’s health and fashion magazines are providing the fuel for a potentially disastrous trend.

By providing their readers with page after page, of stunning examples of the male ideal, they are creating paranoia in some readers even as early as age 8.

The majority of readers that are affected are mostly single men, because they believe that in order to attract an appealing member of the opposite sex they too must be breathtakingly gorgeous like the models. Readers have been known to diet and exercise excessively in order to achieve the body image that has been forced down their throats by these magazines; some even do so to the point of damaging their muscles, joints, and hearts.

This unwarranted amount of exercise is considered a serious disorder known as Athletica Nervosa. People afflicted by this disorder will also exercise if ill, which can even further damage their health. The disorder is treatable through therapy, with an emphasis on healthy eating and exercising.

Although men’s health and fitness magazines play a huge role in this phenomenon, one cannot point the finger at them and them alone. Other print outlets are also to blame, for instance video game magazines. This is even more dangerous, because it reaches a much younger age bracket, thus planting the idea of the “perfect” body in males at an early age. Even though the men in this case are only computer generated, they show young males what they “should look like.”

Video gaming magazines depictions of male strength influences boys

Comparing male role models and super heroes
This YouTube video compares male role models and super heroes across eras. It signifies how much more the muscular male body has been emphasized in today’s society. The daunting ingredient is that young boys gravitate towards these powerful figures. Various pictures with their dates of popularity clearly indicate the enormous male body image shift over time.

Taiwanese male body image
Male body image also varies among cultures. Good news for the average male! Taiwanese males associate the word muscle with chicken meat, and the actual word muscle is not used much. Taiwanese women prefer their men with less muscle and more fit. They often run away from males with large muscles. Facial features are more important rather than muscularity. Instead, masculinity is defined by acting and thinking military-like.

Eating disorders and male body image
Eating disorders have long plagued our society. Only recently, they have been recognized among men. There are distinct characteristics of the male anorexic that have been ignored by the mental health community resulting in under-diagnosis and mismanagement of this disorder. This dissertation is an attempt to educate and provide mental health and medical professionals with a tool to efficiently assess and diagnose anorexia nervosa.
Excessive exercise is prominent among adolescent males as a means of losing weight. Action figures’ physiques have increasingly changed over the last 10 years into more “muscle-bound play figures,” further contributing to body image disturbance in males.

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) criteria for anorexia nervosa are gender biased and need to be revised. There is a lack of service and support for males in this specific area and more efforts must be geared towards male anorexia in order to render this growing pandemic.