Personally, I’m a man above the average size. I’ve dealt with body image problems my whole life – living as the constant punch-line to society’s jokes, and asked to find them funny. I’ve accepted this, mostly – I still live in a world of TV shows where heavy men marry super-model women. The idea is to break down he gender barrier in body image; that women might be better able to feel comfortable in their bodies, and men may be more able to discuss their body concerns without fear of ridicule.
Love Your Body Week at UNH
This week is Love Your Body Week at UNH, a week dedicated to positive body-image – being comfortable with the way you are, and loving the way you look – presented by the UNH Eating Concerns Mentors (ECM) and Health Services. ECMs are trained students who provide confidential, individual support and information on body image, eating concerns and eating disorders.
Throughout the week will be a series of events which celebrate and encourage love for your own body. There will be information passed out and presented, a showing of the film Miss Representation to provoke thought and discussion on body image and national culture, the Body Monologues performance that illustrates the internal struggles of eating concerns, and an activity called “Operation Beautiful”, where the UNH community will be invited to write positive messages on post-it notes and stick them across campus. The week will end with a mindful eating ice cream social.
The important part of Love Your Body Week is, of course,the message. We should all love our bodies, and no one should feel ashamed or be pushed into dangerous eating habits because they feel physically unfit for society. Personally, as a man, this week is an important one in opening the conversation to everyone.
As a society, we tend to think of eating concerns and negative body-image as a woman-only problem. This is due largely to the way our society operates – women are held responsible for looking in a way that men find to be utmost attractive. This standard doesn’t seem to exist quite as much for men – when society sees a less-physically-fit man with a culturally-defined “beautiful woman”, we aren’t as shocked as when we see a buff, handsome guy with a more curvy woman.
This creates a dangerous paradigm, and is one of the many instances where seeking to destroy the unfair standards for women is equally beneficial for men in the discussion. Men are expected to be happy with their appearance; when they are shy or self-conscious, they are viewed as less masculine. Self-concern and body image problems are considered a female issue, and men who express these are considered feminine.
At the same time, we expect men to live up to a certain level of fitness as well. We expect six-pack abs and perfect biceps in our movie stars and even many of our politicians. Perhaps it’s not as much of a deal-breaker as the perfect hour-glass figure we expect from our female stars (who also tend to serve as decoration rather than human characters), but the idea of a perfect male body still exists.
In this sense, men are forced to both be confident in their appearance and also maintain it. We’re expected to lift weights, bench-press, and jog – all while eating steak and potatoes. This makes the eating and body-image concerns of men problems that they are supposed to deal with quietly. We pretend they don’t exist, we are expected not to talk about them, we’re told to look good – and if we don’t, be confident or tell jokes.
Love Your Body Week is important for students of all sizes and genders. Being comfortable with who you are and how you look is a vital piece to a self-confident and happy attitude. Being able to discuss your self-image concerns and work those problems out with people who have gone through the same struggle without the fear of judgment and shame is a necessary component to feeling good about yourself.