When people think of beauty standards and, or body issues, they tend to think about women, and statistically that is logical. The struggles of women throughout history greatly outnumber the struggles of men; women hadn’t been allowed to vote until 1920 and they only make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. But in a culture of advertising and Photoshop, it is not logical to think about body issues as a phenomenon unique to women?
“A lot of men hear the term women’s issues, and we tend to tune it out and think ‘hey I’m a guy that’s for the girls or women and a lot of men don’t get beyond our first sentence as a result,”male filmmaker and feminist activist Jackson Katz said at a TEDx talk in San Francisco, Calif. “This is also true of the word gender, because a lot of people hear the word gender and they think it means women, so they think that gender issues are synonymous with women’s issues.”
senior Preston Martin is an individual who has gained a large amount of muscle in the past year, and feels that male body standards certainly are an issue.
“Guys were always clean shaven and everyone sort of looked alike and they didn’t express themselves how they do today,” Martin said. “I think male beauty standards aren’t as high as women’s, but they have been rising because guys are finding more ways to express ourselves. Guys want to have a macho mindset and not share our emotions and keep it deep down and don’t talk about it with anyone and just let it fester and that plays a big part.”
The idea of what is acceptable or ‘manly’ enough can tend to differ depending on the circumstances a man or more masculine person can come from. LGBTQ + men, transgender men or more masculine non-binary individuals tend to have a different view on traditional male beauty and masculinity than men who are heterosexual and, or cisgender. Junior and non-binary individual Finn Crowder feels masculine ideals are more heavily placed on them so they can validate their gender to others.
“I feel these standards are pushed on me a lot harder than others,” Crowder said. “A lot of people expect because of my transition, I should always be masculine, always be at the gym and dress masculine. When I show the slightest femininity, not only does it make me ‘less male,’ but it also pushes me back out of my transition and the community. A lot of trans people have to fight to show their feelings are not a phase, and having the pressure of the standards to be 100 percent masculine or 100 percent feminine is very hard for them. I feel that men are always forced to hide their emotions because it shows weakness and isn’t seen as manly. But lots of men are insecure about themselves and face the impossible challenge of trying to be the perfect model body they see on TV, which isn’t real.”
In the past 40 years, society has become more saturated by the idea that gender identity and biological sex aren’t related. It has become more acceptable for men to be more feminine, and women to be more masculine. Feminine male style was somewhat piloted by David Bowie in the 70s and 80s, and 30 years later it is pioneered by artists like South African-born, Australian singer Troye Sivan.
Outside the west, however, particularly in Asia, the style of male K-Pop idols in bands such as BTS have also managed to popularize a more feminine style of masculinity. Advanced Placement Psychology teacher Shawanna Matteson, as a woman, has a perspective on the issue of male standards as a whole. And it appears that males can feel just as uncomfortable as women when it comes to their bodies.
“I think although there’s more of a focus in our culture on female expectations, I would never want to say that men don’t have some of these negative expectations as well,” Matteson said. “I’ve known so many guys that would refuse to take their shirt off when they go swimming, maybe because they’ve got a roll or two or unwanted hair on their back. I think that there is a level of physicality that is expected over facil beauty in men, that you may not have a perfectly symmetrical face, but if you’re fairly tall or broad shouldered you’re considered fairly attractive.”
While pressures of having the ‘perfect body’ are rampant throughout society because of advertising, societal standards for men are almost more mental than physical. While men like Channing Tatum or Josh Hutcherson can be considered ‘sexy,’ the pressures men face are to act, rather than to look a certain way.
“Just as most young men know what our culture expects of a so called real man, they also know very well what you get called if you don’t measure up,” Katz said in the 1999 documentary Tough Guise. “To be a real man to be tough, strong, independent, respected means fitting into this narrow box that defines manhood. The terms that are the opposite of that, wuss, wimp, fag, sissy, are insults that are used to keep boys boxed in. So if you’re a boy it’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of pressure on you to conform, to put up the act, to be just one of the guys.”