We spend so much time worrying about the beauty standards that society has constructed for women that we often forget men are every bit as neurotic about their bodies and appearances as their XX-chromosomed compatriots.
I’ve noticed that my male friends often keep similar items around their bedrooms — a game controller hidden somewhere amongst the clutter, a stick of deodorant on their desks (Old Spice is key), and 9/10 times: giant containers of protein powder or “muscle milk.”
Each time I’ve asked my friends why they willingly ingest something that smells like dirt and probably tastes worse, they respond similarly. It’ll help them bulk up, they say — adding definition to their bodies so that they might better resemble the Channing Tatums, Ryan Goslings, and Tim Tebows (ugh, I know, he sucks at football but that doesn’t make him any less pretty) of the world. They want to look like the slick-bodied, toned and tanned beefcakes who grace the covers of magazines and illuminate the wet dreams of adolescent girls everywhere; this is the image that societal norms constructed from mass media tells young men they should embody.
These men — my friends and their peers — spend unnecessary hours in the gym, lifting weights until their muscles shake and chugging protein powder until they feel nauseous. Granted, some work out simply because they enjoy the exercise; perhaps, it relieves anxiety or helps them de-stress after a long day of classes (exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy!). Others work out to keep in shape, hoping that going to the gym will keep their beer bellies at bay — which I believe is perfectly legitimate.
However, I have seen some of my friends push themselves to such extremes that it surely cannot be healthy. I have watched as friends prioritize their precious gym time over school, extracurricular activities, and social obligations; I have watched their attempts at body-sculpting consume their lives — as some friends lift weights to “get swole”, others pound the treadmill until their bodies wither away.
I have also watched friends eat plates of chicken or salmon and only that because they were on that trendy new Paleo Diet (what the hell is that, even?) Never mind the fact that those stringent rules dictating their food intake kept them from consuming necessary vitamins and nutrients or that eating too much protein could take a serious toll on their kidneys; they had an end goal in sight and it was ripped and hot.
As someone who has struggled and continues to struggle with body image issues, I wonder why we don’t pay more attention to the boys who believe — mistakenly — that they must live up to some sort of image of the dominant, virile Alpha Male with muscly muscles and rock-hard pectorals. Is it because we believe that only women suffer from body image disturbances and that men are immune? When we think of body image disturbances, buzzwords like “bulimia” or “anorexia” or “orthorexia” come to mind, and we picture women starving themselves or compulsively vomiting their meals in order to reach an unrealistic, unhealthy aesthetic. Do we not realize that men are just as capable of damaging their bodies for the same misguided reasons?
Well, boys, I will say that just as I hope you don’t expect me to look like Barbie (because that is just never going to happen), I don’t expect you to look like Ken. And I think most women share this sentiment.
I like tall, lanky dudes (my friends can attest to this), but I also like dudes on the shorter end of the spectrum — who I don’t have to stand on my tiptoes to kiss. I like dudes who are built but I also like dudes who prefer to read over going to the gym. I like dudes who are so skinny that I could stick my fingers in the dent underneath their solar plexuses, but I also like dudes who have some meat on their bones (cuddling is more fun, then) as well as dudes whose six-packs I could trace with my fingers.
The point is that each body — male or female — is exceptional in its uniqueness. There is no one aesthetic that is right or wrong, sexy or not. Attractiveness is a fluid, malleable concept, and we should realize that rather than forcing our appearances to conform to the one-dimensional standards that media has thrown in our faces.