How the Body Positivity Movement Failed Men

The patriarchy is an unfair system that places loads of unrealistic expectations onto women. Women are expected to act, dress, and look a certain way in order to be treated like human beings, and it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to perfect all of these demands. Early feminist movements such as the Body Positivity movement often neglected to mention that men are also victims of the patriarchy.

Although many people see eating disorders as a primarily female issue, a Vancouver study showed that at least 1/3 men have struggled with an eating disorder at some point in their lives. This issue is particularly prevalent in LGBTQ spaces, where over half of men report having body image issues and 84% feel “an intense pressure” to have a good body. In the same survey, only 1% of men felt “very happy” in their bodies. Young boys report wanting to be bigger and bulkier as early as 7 years old and say that they would be interested in starting a workout regime.

With those statistics in mind, go ahead and search #bodypositivity on any social media of your choosing. I’ll go ahead and share a screenshot of how my Instagram search looks right now:

Not a man in sight.

Ever since the Body Positivity movement gained traction in the early 2000s, the attitude and language surrounding its message has been intended for women. Even the wording doesn’t suit the body-image issues that men typically face. For instance, saying “you don’t have to be small” isn’t helpful when men actually face a pressure to be big and muscular. Being skinny is often frowned upon in male spaces, so that statement isn’t relevant to masculine culture. Men also face some other unique differences in body image, such as a greater focus on their height.

Instead, the language we use for men is often quite negative. Since the patriarchy is male-centric, the population as a whole still has no problem with shaming individual men for their bodies. One of the first insults we turn to when talking about men we dislike is the size of their penis, which sets some unrealistic expectations (and is very uncomfortable for a transman to hear!). I’ve also heard people say that it’s “okay to shame men because they have an easier time losing weight and gaining muscle than women,” which is only true on a case-by-case basis and is still body-shaming even if it were 100% true. Just because it’s easier for a man doesn’t mean he has the time, motivation, or equipment that he needs to do it, and it shouldn’t define his worth regardless.

On top of all that, men typically have a harder time reaching out about their insecurities because of masculine standards set by the patriarchy. It isn’t socially acceptable to even talk about feeling insecure because men are expected to put forward confidence no matter how they think, so the core issues end up being pushed aside.

So, in the wake of the Body Positivity movement, men have taken to creating their own spaces to talk about their bodies and celebrate themselves. One such man is Ryan Dziadul, who started the Instagram page @the12ishstyle after feeling frustrated by the lack of positivity for heavy-set men, especially in the world of fashion.

“Do you remember your first experience with a negative body image? I distinctly remember being in the Sears fitting room in second grade crying because everyone was wearing jeans and there weren’t any in the “husky” department that fit me. I had to wear chinos and felt like such a dork. That’s my first memory of feeling like my body was betraying me.”

Ryan Dziadul

Thanks to the efforts of men like Ryan Dziadul, the conversation about masculine bodies seems to be shifting. It’s true that men have significantly more privilege in most situations when compared to women, but that doesn’t mean that toxic masculinity is any less damaging in male culture, and people are finally beginning to see that.

In the meantime, let’s hear some positivity for the boys! Click on each picture to see it full-size.

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