Columnist, Philip Strafford: When it comes to body image, men feel pressure too...

Gym selfie
Gym selfie

At this time of year, we are bombarded with gym membership adverts that make us feel guilty about overindulging over the Christmas period - but do men feel the same pressures and concerns when it comes to body image?

Protein World have released yet another advert that has caused uproar in the media, regarding female body image; the first had feminists across the globe defacing their ‘are you beach body ready?’ adverts - which unbeknown to these feminists was a fantastic piece of PR for Protein World, causing sales of their products to skyrocket off the back of the controversy. But is it time we questioned the pressures men feel for ‘the perfect body?’

Historically, discussion over body image has been perceived as something only women do, but a recent survey, conducted by Central YMCA and the Succeed Foundation, found more than four in five men talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image, by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75 per cent of women. The survey revealed that men have high levels of anxiety about their bodies and that some resort to compulsive exercise, strict diets, laxatives or making themselves sick in an attempt to lose weight or achieve a more toned physique. As men, we are bombarded with images in advertising and the media, and the majority of these images are of men with toned physiques, big biceps, tight buns and hard pecs. It’s also evident through the narcissism of social media, as I only have to load my Instagram to see guys posting #gains #gym #muscle and topless shots. Even when I go on Facebook there’s always someone with a gym selfie and a bicep - maybe I should just unfollow them?!.

I feel the pressure, partly as I’ve always been slim, I’m a classic ectomorph; I’ve always wanted to be bigger and part of me dies inside every time I clap eyes on a cover of Men’s Health. According to a recent article on this subject in the Huffington Post, going to the gym and pumping iron is ‘in.’ Just as fashionable as a tattoo sleeve, bulking up is the thing. Being muscular and big is where it’s at and if you’re not, your masculinity is questioned. Is it any wonder us ectomorphs feel the pressure? It is an unrealistic expectation.

I go to the gym, I stay healthy and toned, but it took me a long time to accept that I’m never going to be that big muscled guy. Chaps, none of us are safe from these images in the media and what society tells us we should be. Let’s not buy into it anymore. Let’s stay healthy, through a good diet and exercise, and be happy with what we’ve got, whether that’s a ‘dad bod’ or a pigeon chest!

* Philip Strafford, director of PIP-PR