Body positivity and men: The rise of male acceptance

Portraying men a certain way goes way back. (Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash)

Text by Anthon Vodden

The body positivity movement has been the driving force for acceptance and acknowledgment of “normal bodies”, triggering a shift within society, media and fashion. At the forefront of the change are strong and inspirational females that have proved self-love is elementary. Will males follow the movement?

We often forget that males are taught from a very young age to adhere to the boundaries of masculinity; being strong, not showing emotions, having a certain body type and working hard. These shackles bear heavyweight and often lead to negative thoughts regarding emotions and body image. WebMD reported in 2016 that “20 percent to 40 percent of men were unhappy with some aspect of their looks, including physical appearance, weight, muscle size and tone.”

Male body positivity

I have dealt with the ups and downs of body acceptance, I know all too well that acting on the pressures of society does nothing for confidence and self-love. It was only once I started to step away from the ideas instilled in me by my surroundings, and understand that the structures seemingly built for me, had to be taken with a “pinch of salt” did I begin to fully understand myself as a male, a person and someone that can love themselves no matter how they looked or what they presented as. 

We often forget that males are taught from a very young age to adhere to the boundaries of masculinity.

Positive body image, in most cases, correlates directly with personal style and presentation. It isn’t easy, being above a certain size as it does not always allow for self-expression, especially when it comes to fashion. Body acceptance and fashion have become synonymous and we see almost daily, a new brand or house designing clothes for bigger bodies and stepping away from ancient standards. Still widely female-centric, it prompts a thought to whether male body positivity will reach the same levels, as most brands offer female-only clothing above “standard sizing”. 

In 2015 Morwenna Ferrier of The Guardian lamented “Where are all the plus-size male models?”, shortly after that in 2016 IMG Models triumphantly started their Brawn division representing plus-size male models across the US, Europe and Australia. 2017 saw the launch of ASOS plus size and tall sections for men which in turn began to show hope for the male body positivity movement as it gave an extra boost to males in the process of accepting their bodies and offered a new archetype and expression for what was deemed fashionable.

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Reflection of fragile masculinity

It still begs the question, however, if there is a sense of equal paradigm between masculine and feminine body positivity and whether there has been much integral change. Society still obstructs the development of how males may see themselves. With images of men – which are deemed to own perfect bodies – modeling underwear and clothes and pushing an esthetic that perpetuates ultimate masculinity. It could be said that this is a reflection on fragile masculinity that stunts progression for the male body positivity movement.

Society still obstructs the development of how males may see themselves.

Still with a long way to go we are now seeing an influx of normal male bodies on social media, television and movies which is no doubt breeding a new generation of males unafraid to show their emotions and love their bodies. More and more males are now posting themselves on social media without qualms, speaking on their emotions and pushing for even more change. I am hopeful for what is next and it is awe-inspiring to see that more and more people are breaking free from the pressures of society and sticking a middle finger to the ideals that had previously been set out for them.