How masculinity, media and body image are all connected

Submitted by Dana Rademacher

Everyone knows that today’s endless influx of media images negatively affects girls’ self-esteem and body image. Constantly seeing unobtainable body shapes in advertisements. Not so subtle nods that women should change their bodies to be “perfect”, whatever that is. What is lesser talked about though is how the media industry is also failing our boys and feeding toxic messages to them too. This is what spawned Jennifer Siebel Newsom (creator of the acclaimed Miss Representation) to uncover American masculinity in her new film The Mask You Live In.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw this film at a pre-screening at the University of Minnesota. I highly enjoyed the documentary and after watching it, it really got me thinking about male targeted media and the common themes boys are receiving in today’s culture. All too often, boys are told to “man up”, to not show emotions, to be extreme athletes. I thought about my nephew who is just four years old, who is the sweetest, sensitive, most loving kid and I don’t want him to be made fun of or change these qualities within himself because of the standards shown by the media on a daily basis.

I actually started paying attention to how ads and media portray men, and I saw some of the shocking themes the film points out. Like, how lead protagonists in hit shows like Breaking Bad and countless others resort to violence and their physical power to get what they want and how male deodorant and clothing ads almost always show men with Greek God-like physiques. This is what boys see day in and day out and it is no shocker this can lead them to have a distorted view of masculinity and body image.

It is estimated that about 1 in 33 adult males struggle with an eating disorder, which is a much higher statistic than most people would realize. The way in which masculinity is displayed in our media is definitely not helping this statistic and we need to realize as a culture how detrimental certain messaging can be for people’s body image, including males. But together we can educate our boys and show them they do not need to bulk up, be in “perfect shape” or have muscles in order to be masculine; you are perfect how you are and that message could go a long way.

For more information on males, eating disorders, and body image, check out this blog & video from The Emily Program.

For more information on The Mask You Live In, visit www.therepresentationproject.org/ films/the-mask-you-live-in.

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