How Our Obsession Over Shirtless Men With Six Packs Is Hurting The Next Generation

How Our Obsession Over Shirtless Men With Six Packs Is Hurting The Next Generation

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Last year, Danny Bowman made headlines for taking “200 selfies in one day” in a bid to take the “perfect” photograph.

The 20-year-old suffers from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), an anxiety disorder that causes an individual to have a distorted view of their appearance and spend a lot of time worrying about how they look.

Growing up, Bowman dreamed of becoming a model but was turned away from an agency aged just 15. Following his rejection, he became obsessed with his appearance – bingeing and purging, and exercising constantly.

Bowman’s disorder is, of course, a complex mental health issue, but speaking to HuffPost UK Lifestyle he says that being constantly surrounded by images of men with muscular, Adonis-like bodies in the media plays a crucial role.

“It affects my self-esteem and sometimes make me feel inadequate,” he says.

And he’s not alone.

“Many young people worry about how they look,” he adds. As a result, they “try to match society’s idea of beauty”.

He says that it “causes insecurity and a feeling of not being good enough for society, which can lead to BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) and illnesses such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia in men”.

Lauren Benton from BODY charity tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle that roughly 80% of their male clients say images in the media affect them.

“There’s a saying in our industry that is something like ‘it’s just as difficult to be Ken as it is Barbie’,” she adds.

According to BODY charity, the number of men who are specifically suffering with “muscle morphia” has doubled in the last two years.

“But if you want an honest opinion, BDD is the hidden body image disorder,” says Benton. “It kills countless people every year, up to 1% of the population have it and up to 10% of the population will experience a symptom.

“Unfortunately, because there is no awareness of it, people don’t know what they have and the illness has a very high misdiagnosis rate. It will often get passed off as depression, an eating disorder or OCD.”

She adds that these conditions are often “life debilitating” and have the “highest rate of attempted suicides in western society”.

But, despite all of this, she says it’s not entirely the media’s fault: “The media is a huge contributing factor in this condition but the illness is psychological and therefore can’t be blamed for it.”

Male objectification is a hot topic right now: if we’re not swooning over Christian Grey then we’re gawping at Poldark’s abs.

Recently, Abercrombie & Fitch made headlines after it scrapped its “looks” policy and ditched the shirtless male models that stand outside its US stores.

abercrombie male body

Actor and former Abercrombie model, John Mason, praised the move. Particularly as so many of the retailer’s customers were “impressionable teenagers”.

A spokesperson from eating disorder charity Beat reveals that “men are equally aware of body image nowadays, especially with all of the magazines that concentrate on body shape – ripped muscles, the six pack – all purporting to be the ‘ideal’ shape.”

The charity says that roughly 15% of those affected by an eating disorder are male and the numbers being treated are rising – “although that may well be due to better diagnosis and greater awareness”.

“The pursuit of excessive muscularity shares the same features as anorexia nervosa in terms of behaviours, thoughts and feelings,” adds Beat’s spokesperson.

And the muscular look of most men in the media could be contributing to this.

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While it might seem like harmless fun for women (and some men) to ogle and actively share images of “buff” guys across social media with “phwoar” captions, the impact that it may have on young, impressionable men isn’t necessarily considered.

Recently, Game of Thrones star Kit Harington spoke out against male objectification.

In an interview with Page Six he said: “To always be put on a pedestal as a ‘hunk’ is slightly demeaning, it really is and it’s in the same way as it is for women. When an actor is seen only for her physical beauty, it can be quite offensive.

“It can sometimes feel like your art is being put to one side for your sex appeal,” he added. “And I don’t like that.”

In what appears to be society’s backlash against the go-to buff body type, the “dad bod” recently became something of an internet sensation.

A “dad bod” refers to a guy who loves pizza and beer but also looks after himself. It’s a “nice balance between a beer gut and working out”.

Leonardo DiCaprio = the ultimate dad bod

For Danny Bowman, who has been affected by society’s pressures to look good first hand, diversity is a crucial part of tackling male body anxiety.

“I think we need more robust regulation on the media, as well as fashion labels, to have to show different body images,” he says. “They are just as beautiful in my opinion.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The growing trend for health and fitness also appears to be having a positive impact on male body image.

Ted McDonald, health and wellness editor for the Good Men Project, reveals that for him, its important to be fit and healthy, rather than focus on how he looks: “While I teach yoga, I’m also an endurance athlete, so strength and speed are important to me. I’m more interested in performance than I am how my body looks.

“Exercising and being fit are incredibly important, but being ripped is definitely not the answer, nor should it be the goal of young men and boys.”

There is a line, though, between keeping fit and becoming obsessed with obtaining a muscular physique.

“It’s important to distinguish muscle dysmorphia from working out or body building,” says a spokesperson from Beat.

“Most men who go to the gym don’t have muscle dysmorphia. It is diagnosed across three levels: the way people think; the way this makes them behave and the impact of this on their lives.”

“There is a test [at the foot of the article] and if the answer is yes to five or more of the questions then it is likely that the individual is suffering from muscle dysmorphia.”

Gay rights activist, lawyer and HIV awareness campaigner, Philip Christopher Baldwin tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle that throughout his early twenties he worked hard to achieve a muscular physique.

“This allowed me to project an image of confidence,” he says. “My muscles were almost like armour, concealing my insecurities.”

Now he’s approaching 30, Baldwin says that he is “increasingly comfortable” in who he is.

Reiterating McDonald’s beliefs on the importance of wellness and keeping fit, Baldwin adds: “For me, training at the gym and having a muscular physique is now as much about health and fitness as the way I look.

“I don’t think it’s healthy for people – straight or gay – to become obsessed with their physical appearance. The emphasis should be on physical health and emotional wellbeing rather than waistline or bicep size.”

And for those who do struggle with body image, Baldwin has a message: “It is our differences which make us beautiful and give us our individuality, so striving for a uniform look is not positive.

“Young men, and young people in general, should learn to celebrate their individuality.”

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