As I write this, Dani Mathers, a former Playboy model is on trial for a severe incident of body shaming. She faces jail time for using her phone to record a 70-year-old woman naked in a locker room, then uploading the video to Snapchat. Mathers, who can be seen mocking the woman in the video, could spend up to six months in jail under a California law making the act an invasion of privacy.
This high-profile case has brought attention to the damage of body shaming. Body shaming is the act of criticizing someone because of their physical appearance. It is an act which reduces a person’s value and reduces them to physical characteristics.
There’s been a lot of attention on body-shaming and being body positive recently. There have been many campaigns aimed at young women about body positivity – a great thing. Some ad campaigns from companies like Dove, Nike, and JCPenny have created appearance-positive ad campaigns targeted to women.
No such campaigns that I’m aware of exist for men and boys. And while one might argue that our culture places more importance on women’s beauty than men’s, there are still many issues for males.
Let’s just take height, for example. In elections, taller candidates almost always receive more votes. Taller men are far more likely to be appointed CEO than shorter men. This isn’t a conscious bias in our culture, but it affects men daily.
Yes, men are body-shamed.
As a kid, I struggled a lot with weight. I’d put on a lot of fat, go through a growth spurt and lose it all, then gain it all back. I probably did this six or seven times before I was 18. And I was picked on relentlessly for being fat.
I remember my parents dropping me off at an overnight camp, and the first thing out of a counselor’s mouth was, “Wow, you’re fat, why don’t you go run laps?” I can remember an older kid I didn’t even know coming up to me on the street and saying, “I really hate fat kids.”
I have visible physical deformities, and I’ve been called a cripple or had people make judgments about my ability based on my appearance. It sucks.
We criticize men for their weight, their height, their baldness, their hairiness, and their penis length. It’s as if any of these things, or a combination thereof, make a man what he is.
How many comedies use the appearance of a male character as the butt of the joke?
The images of men in the media are no less unrealistic for average guys than the images of women are for them. I’m no Hugh Jackman, and I don’t have a cadre of trainers getting me ready for my next photo shoot.
Shame does damage.
Shame has been called the most destructive human emotion, and I believe it is. Shame is the feeling that there’s something wrong with you as a person. It differs from guilt which is the sense that some action I did was harmful.
Shaming, judgment, and exclusion from others are processed in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex or ACC. The ACC is also the part of the brain that processes physical pain. Social pain is no different in the brain than physical pain.
Shame not only hurts, but it’s destructive. Chronic shame has been linked to depression and addiction. In young men, shame can lead to destructive behaviors and violence.
There is a counter-argument that somehow body-shame makes people want to become healthier. This is horse manure. Shame is a mental stressor that leads to less healthy decision-making. It makes people want to withdraw and leads to poorer health outcomes.
Combatting Male Body Shaming
Body shame sucks the big one, so what do we do about it? We can take a few positive steps.
Recognize your judgments.
We all judge people based on appearance – clothes, hair, weight, etc. Pretending you don’t is just burying the problem. Try to recognize the judgments you are making based on appearance. Making this process conscious is a significant step towards changing behaviors.
Don’t body shame.
Don’t refer to people by physical characteristics. That’s not a “fat guy,” that’s a person with feelings. Don’t criticize appearance or joke at other’s expense.
Get comfortable with yourself.
If you feel shame about your body, it’s time to get comfortable. Seek therapy if you can’t work it out. If someone shames you, do n’t hesitate to stand up to them and say, “I don’t appreciate that.”
Go shame-free with your children.
Before we had children, my wife and I decided that we would never shame them. That is, we can address behaviors with the kids, but we would never tell them that there is something wrong with them. We’ve also taught them not to shame others, no calling people fat or stupid, etc.
It’s also important to teach kids resilience because you can’t control what others do.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join like-minded individuals in The Good Men Project Premium Community.
We have pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Your support of our work is inspiring and invaluable.
The Good Men Project is an Amazon.com affiliate. If you shop via THIS LINK, we will get a small commission and you will be supporting our Mission while still getting the quality products you would have purchased, anyway! Thank you for your continued support!
Photo credit: Getty Images