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Two sides of the same coin: the fallout of body image

June 14, 2021

Every generation before us has stared at themselves in the mirror and criticized their looks–but our generation is different. Now, our reflection is shown through the lens of technology for the world to critique.

 

TW: eating disorders.

The Male Perspective

“I got lucky in terms of height and other stereotypical male characteristics, but, like everyone, still find things that seem inadequate compared to others,” an anonymous Liberty student said.

The issue of body image impacts the lives of men and women alike; the pressure to look a certain way is experienced in all circles and all genders. However, the focus is typically shifted away from the male perspective despite it being no less valid than its counterpart.

“Although it’s less obvious, the pressure for guys to achieve the ‘ideal body’ still exists,” Liberty PE teacher and football coach Brad Anderson said. “The biggest aspect is needing to be muscular with a six-pack. But if a six-pack is your goal, then realistically, you’re going to fail, which can really bring down your self-esteem.”

This pressure to be physically fit–whether it’s having toned abs, arms, and legs or losing weight,–makes many guys feel like their level of fitness isn’t enough; it’s as though they simply aren’t able to keep up. Whether it’s social media, television, or artwork, the media has worsened the pressure to have a perfect body by presenting and advertising unrealistic standards.

“Essentially, the portrayal of men in the media consists of massive, Chris Evans-looking guys: 6′ 4″, heavily muscled, and perfect hair,” an anonymous male Liberty student said. “Becoming muscular is portrayed as an easy, trivial thing, and if you’re not that buff, it’s because you’re lazy.”

Even without the expectations given by celebrities, the body issues faced by men are very real. Sadly, it can be hard to find support due to the stigma of men expressing emotions and fears.

“I’ve noticed that boys at Liberty suffer from body image just as much as girls, but they tend to hold them in more than girls do,” junior Stephen Chen said.

Chen is not alone in recognizing that pattern. The pressure to keep emotions to themselves makes it difficult for guys to speak up about the issues they are dealing with, and Anderson notices that.

“It might not be a popular topic of conversation within guys’ circles, but I know they look at themselves and are not happy with what they see,” Anderson said.

It might not be a popular topic of conversation within guys’ circles, but I know they look at themselves and are not happy with what they see.”

— Brad Anderson

Now, there certainly is a reason why society focuses on the female perspective more. Women are expected to be “emotional” by sharing their feelings with each other. Through this, their struggles with body image are more easily accessible. 

Does this mean one side’s battles are any less credible?

Not in the slightest. They’re simply different, and that can make it a little harder for communication across gender-constructed barriers.

“Guys have no shortage of things to worry about,” an anonymous male Liberty student said. “However, when they do worry they don’t feel their entire self-worth is on the line the way girls are pressured to.”

The Female Perspective

For teenage girls today, body image and self-esteem remain massive issues. Approximately 80% of women in the United States are dissatisfied with their body and how they look.*

This is no surprise, though. The societal norms pressuring women are countless. They’re ever-present, and strangest of all, they often contradict each other, placing women under constant self-scrutiny.

“You need to be curvy, but not fat. You’re expected to have a tiny waist, but not be too skinny. It never ends,” sophomore Samantha Klein said.

On the opposite spectrum of men, women are often expected to be less muscular in order to appear more “feminine.” And thanks to the beauty industry, these expectations are shoved right in girls’ faces from a young age.

“The beauty industry cares about itself first and foremost,” junior Andrew Stephens said. “It is a predator which preys on girls’ self-consciousness–a business in which every insecurity it creates means another dollar made.”

Big-brand advertisers push out marketing for women like wildfire, creating an unreachable image of beauty.

“It can be exhausting. We are constantly bombarded with unattainable opinions about our bodies,” junior Ella McGee said. “Every aspect of my ‘look’ is criticized, objectified, and sexualized.”

It can be exhausting. We are constantly bombarded with unattainable opinions about our bodies. Every aspect of my ‘look’ is criticized, objectified, and sexualized.”

— Ella McGee, 11

Constant pressure from the beauty industry, social media, and peers can be inescapable. Poor body image is often accompanied with eating disorders, anxiety, and depression as many individuals aim to avoid specific clothing and food entirely, if only to prevent downward spirals of self-loathing.

“Every day I struggle to eat and restrict myself when the scale doesn’t say what I want it to say,” one female Liberty student said.

The images and pressures from norms surrounding teenage girls can be extreme. Yet in the face of all that, many people try to recognize the beauty of imperfections.

“I still don’t think or feel like I fit the standard. I’m never going to be perfect, but I’ve reached a point where I’m okay with that,” sophomore Annika Kronberg said.

In the end, we’re all people with flaws and imperfections. Recognizing the importance of all your body does for you is just one step in the process towards a better self-image.

“We are all built differently, and that is completely normal. If you are having a bad body image day, that’s okay. Just try your best to move forward and not judge yourself,” Liberty’s Swedish hospital teen mental health counselor Hillary Cohen said.

 

While the differences between the issues faced by men and women are slightly different from one another, there is still one factor that scrutinizes body image for our generation more than any before us.

The Impact of Social Media

The media–particularly social media–is a large part of any adolescent’s life. And unsurprisingly, it has had effects on all genders and types of people.

Historically, teenage years have always been a time where people felt judged for their looks and body by friends, family and society. However, with the rise of social media, our generation is placed in a situation of constant comparison. The importance of being “picture perfect” now takes center stage in our lives.

“We spend so much time looking at other people who may be putting filters on their photos or positioning themselves in a way where you can’t tell what their body actually looks like,” Cohen said.

With the help of filters and photo editing apps, individuals can erase their minor imperfections and present themselves as what society deems to be perfect.

“I used to edit my photos because it was so accessible–right at my fingertips. Even with the smallest imperfection, I was able to fix it within seconds,” Klein said. “For most of us, hating our bodies and photoshopping our photos go hand in hand.”

For most of us, hating our bodies and photoshopping our photos go hand in hand.”

— Samantha Klein, 10

In a world where appearances can be edited to perfection, media platforms present an unrealistic Barbie-doll comparison for the female population. However, it’s not only women anymore: continuous exposure to the media has heightened male insecurities as well.

“In the Instagram-consumed, airbrushed world we live in, how you look has been elevated so much for both men and women. There are a lot more guys that are self-conscious about their bodies than many realize,” Anderson said.

Social media creates a never-ending cycle of negativity for many students. Whether it’s comparing one photo to another or striving to get more likes, there’s constantly an unattainable cloud of what your body should look like hovering above this generation.

For some, the hardest part of keeping a good self-image is trying not to compare said self-image to others. But if there’s one thing everyone should remember, it’s that social media isn’t the end-all be-all. Appearance isn’t the end-all-be-all.

“The issue has been turned up a notch because you’re all taking on so much information explaining what life should be, and that can create a lot of insecurity,” Anderson said. “I feel for high schoolers nowadays.They have pressure I never had to think about.”

 

*Source: Park Nicollet Melrose Center, https://www.macmh.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/18_Gallivan_Teens-social-media-body-image-presentation-H-Gallivan-Spring-2014.pdf

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