It’s fine if you don’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger

The following article was written by Sun (G10) as part of an English assignment.

We all know how simply looking through an Instagram feed can leave anyone deflated, especially if you are following models and wellness accounts – are those people really that thin? Why do their bodies look so perfect? For females, the effect is obvious – aspiring towards that perception of what beauty is, but for men, while we may not see the results everyday, it can be just as dangerous to your health and self esteem. While every Instagram male model is a different person, they all look the same when you look closely. Wide, broad chests, well toned muscles – perhaps ridiculously so, six packs, crisp hair and all that. Just check out all these posts from Instagram:

 

And they’re all the same because they are what we expect every man should look like, even if the vast majority of people will never ever attain that body in their lives. And yet millions of followers still try, dieting to squeeze out that little inch of body fat, or strength training for hours on end to make those pecs ever so slightly bigger. Heck, even some models themselves have body image problems. It’s futile, it’s borderline impossible, and it’s time to expose these models for what they are: a mirage.

Social media has pervaded our lives, connecting us to people all around the world. Instagram in particular has allowed us to see through filtered lenses, to the lives of “stars” whose advice are idolised by their millions of followers. Their Instagram posts have been one of the many myriad forms of medias representing the ideal image of men. For one, let’s take a look at this picture from Instagram star @matthew_nozaka seen by some 33,000 people:

 

Fig 3.png
Fig. 3 Nozaka, Matthew. Posed Black and White Picture.

 

When the average person looks at this picture, that’s all they see. They don’t see the hours of intricate preparation: not the deliberately selected outfit, designed to elicit just the right effect. Clueless about the intricately striked pose, showing off the dominant muscles inside. Unaware that the filter that makes him look whiter and better toned. They don’t know about the weeks and months of arduous trouble he went through, making sure his skin and muscles looks just perfect in the carefully placed lighting for the coordinated camera angle. These photoshopped impossible bodies? That’s just what’s in the image: a snapshot of a specific moment in time. It doesn’t show anything about the moments of vulnerability which numerous boys starve themselves to the point of sickness, hoping to squeeze out that one last inch of fat, doubting whether they can be as slim as those pumped up, ultramuscular models. There is nothing in there about the countless hours boys spend in the gym, trying to make themselves even comparable to those unattainable, perfect figures. No mention is made about how it is a futile endeavor to appear more white. In short, what people see isn’t even remotely close to reality, unlike what they are led to believe, and this isn’t harmless either – the effects are large enough to be statistically tangible.

Despite women being viewed as the gender associated with body image problems, men actually suffer just as much, if not more from insecurity with their own body. In 2013, a study conducted by Allen et al. found that throughout boy’s teenage years, body image problems can start as early as preadolescence and have an extremely strong tendency to be retained through adolescence to adulthood. According to de Vries et al., this is because self-esteem is directly negatively correlated with social media use, especially Instagram where the main mode of communication is through pictures, which creates an emphasis on appearance and has caused a threefold rise in body image issues in the past decade. The teen years are difficult enough as they are because of the unusual changes our bodies go through, this additional influence can only bring insecurity and self-dissatisfaction.

 

 

Fig 4.png
Fig 4. Cartier, Willy. Body Painting. For most people, a body this thin is physically impossible

In fact, the very structure of social media perpetuates this bombardment of messages, according to Holland et al., as friends of the user can provide positive or negative feedback based on the image of the user in the form of comments, gradually pushing the teen boy towards a preconceived internal expectation of the optimal masculine body. In the study, comments perpetuating societal expectations have caused teenaged boys to be “very dissatisfied” with their own bodies. This shows that a non-trivial portion of boys are influenced by self-perpetuating reactions on social media to strive towards a more optimal body to conform to societal norms, causing less self-esteem and even the dreaded eating disorder.

 

The idea of the perfect body of toned muscles, tall, white men is present in far more than Instagram or even social media in general. We can actually see it almost anywhere, from movies to popular Men’s Magazines, all implicitly and indirectly reinforcing the same message. One simply needs to look back at Chris Evan’s latest blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War and observe the portrayal of Steve Rogers in order to see the same old tired body shape, where the Captain singlehandedly anchors a helicopter to it’s helipad, in the process, showing off his impossibly large biceps and ultramuscular serum augmented body.

 

Fig 5.png
Fig 5. WinterCadet. Captain America Civil War Steve Rogers GIF.

 

The roots of this go far beyond even the movies we see, into the literature we read everyday. Aside from the obvious messaging of the niche magazines that promote “fitness” or “wellness”, ask yourself, when was the last time you read a young adult book in which the protagonist, if male, wasn’t either very physically able or rather skinny. Let’s face it, no one wants to read about an overweight hero floundering at his physical obstacles in his quest to defeat some great enemy. It should be clear by now how we are being constantly bombarded by implicit messages about how we should look, everywhere around us, making us try to morph our own bodies even at the cost of damage. Despite this, it is because of these messages that men are stigmatized for having eating disorders and body image problems in the first place – a grim loop that speeds up the plunge and descent into depression.

Looking through instagram images and beyond, it is impossible to ignore the repeated battering of the same image over and over, and many teens don’t react well: a significant percentage starving themselves dangerously. For boys, these pictures indirectly promote an expectation of independence and stigmatize asking for help, exacerbating their predicament. It will take the efforts of everyone to truly change these expectations, and a good starting point would be those Instagram stars to recognise their influence upon million of impressionable teens and promote realism in place of fantasy.

***

Works Cited

Allen, Karina L., Susan M. Byrne, Wendy H. Oddy, and Ross D. Crosby. “DSM–IV–TR and DSM-5 Eating Disorders in Adolescents: Prevalence, Stability, and Psychosocial Correlates in a Population-Based Sample of Male and Female Adolescents.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 122.3 (2013): 720-32. Web.

Cartier, Willy. “Body Painting.” Instagram. November. 2014, <https://instagram.com/p/u3wRa-sw8F/?utm_source=ig_embed>.

De Vries, Dian A., Jochen Peter, Hanneke De Graaf, and Peter Nikken. “Adolescents’ Social Network Site Use, Peer Appearance-Related Feedback, and Body Dissatisfaction: Testing a Mediation Model.” Journal of Youth and Adolesence 45.1 (2016): 211-24. Springer US. Web.

Holland, Grace, and Marika Tiggemann. “A Systematic Review of the Impact of the Use of Social Networking Siteson Body Image and Disordered Eating Outcomes.” Body Image (2016): 101-09. Web.

Hamann, Andre. Danke fur diesen tollen Filter. Instagram. Photographed by Ellen von Unwerth, May. 2015, <https://www.instagram.com/p/1u_yZXtkXZ/?utm_source=ig_embed>.

Nozaka, Matthew. Posed Black and White Picture. Instagram. April. 2015, <https://instagram.com/p/1EIQFijCOu/?utm_source=ig_embed>.

@teriyakipapi. “Stereo Vinyls.” Instagram. October. 2014, <https://instagram.com/p/tP626xilXj/?utm_source=ig_embed>.

WinterCadet. Captain America Civil War Steve Rogers GIF. Digital image. Tenor. Tenor, n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2018. <https://tenor.com/view/captain-america-civil-war-steve-rogers-helicopter-hold-wont-let-go-gif-4862165&gt;.

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