I remember growing up that I had many moments when I felt inadequate, specifically in comparison to the women I saw in the media. I genuinely thought that my intelligence and compassion—and other positive attributes, for that matter—were irrelevant. I felt like what I saw in the mirror was all that mattered to the people around me and, in my mind, the image staring back at me simply wasn’t up to par. It’s not surprising that I definitely cried over this; I certainly wasn’t the only girl who did. Fortunately, It turns out that many other women relate to this, and we are generally united in openly discussing how wrong it is.
When I think about men struggling to feel that they are acceptable, I don’t see the same sense of understanding from other men. Sadly, it’s hard to even find other men acknowledging that it’s occurring because that would require men who are struggling to feel comfortable enough to express their feelings. I wish that I could step in and reach out a hand to all men quietly struggling with trying to feel “good enough” to be a “real man.” I’d have three things to tell them.
1. It’s not only okay to cry, it’s healthy and human
All humans share the same emotions. Sadness, anger, and pain are part of the collection; crying when you need to isn’t reserved for women, it’s human (even if your society tries to convince you otherwise). Your feelings are your own—no one else gets to tell you that you need to bottle them up. If they try to? That’s not healthy for you. You’re also not obligated to entertain someone who doesn’t value your health. Standing up for yourself against someone trying to invalidate your experiences and the emotions that come with them is a very powerful thing, even if you do it with tears running down your face.
2. Body shaming you isn’t any more acceptable than body shaming me
If someone tells me “You look like a disgusting slob, you’re so fat you don’t even look human” or “You need to put some meat on your bones, go eat a burger,” that’s unacceptable. Guess what? It’s just as unacceptable as society telling you that you are any less valuable because you don’t look like a model from the cover of a fitness magazine. Muscle tone doesn’t define you. How much fat is or is not under your skin also doesn’t define you. Your character is what defines you. PS: Your value as a person isn’t dependent on your physical appearance.
3. You aren’t obligated to be a poster child for society’s idea of “masculinity”
This is implied by the other two points, but I want this to be acknowledged directly. Here’s a small sample of things that don’t disqualify you from being a man: not knowing anything about cars, not being able to lift heavy objects, not knowing anything about tools/house repairs, not having a large “body count” (or being a virgin, for that matter), enjoying fashion or makeup, performing on stage, not being interested in beer or drinking alcohol in general, enjoying romantic comedies—this could go on for pages and pages. The simple point is: You don’t have to follow society’s handbook to be a “real” man. You’re perfectly real the way you are.