Traditionally a female concern, body image has now significantly become a male issue (as beauty manufacturers rejoice).
If you don’t see it, look again.
There’s been a boom in men’s magazines that are answering the call of this new self-interest, by creating spin-offs like MH-18, FHM Bionic, and GQ Active, that are devoted to an ideal male physique. Quickly scanning their feature articles, you’ll find titles like “Build Monster Abs”, “Slash Inches Off Your Waistline”, and “Bigger Arms Faster”! Obviously, exercise is a good thing in terms of its benefits on physical and mental health, as well as its impact on self-confidence, however chasing an unrealistic ideal can be dangerous.
Often, the muscular perfection shown in the pages of these magazines can only be achieved by taking steroids. Even though steroids can cause testicular shrinkage, plus kidney and liver failure, according to Health Canada about 83,000 young Canadians, mostly young men between the ages of 11 and 18, reported using steroids at least once.
One user said, “I used it because it works. I lost twenty-five pounds in a month. But, like dieting where the weight always comes back after you go off the diet, steroids also work as somewhat of a fantasy. Once you go off them, what you thought you’d achieved goes away. The only way to truly accelerate your metabolism is the hard way, by exercising regularly and eating right.”
The Adonis Complex, written by Phillips, Pope and Olivardia, examines male body obsession in America. They explain that the irony of the title is that the Greek god it is named for wouldn’t compare to the kinds of body ideals that we are exposed to today, suggesting that ‘perfection’ has gotten out of control. Based on 15 years of research and interviews with men from Boston to Austria, the researchers argue that this unattainable ideal has subjected men to many of the same ills women have faced historically.
It’s no surprise then that according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), nearly 171,000 Americans under the age of 18 (many of them young men) had some form of plastic surgery in 2000, with the most common operation being rhinoplasty: surgery to change the size or shape of the nose. According to ASAPS, you’re a ‘good candidate for rhinoplasty’ if, “your nose is too wide for your face, your nostrils are excessively flared or if your nasal tip droops or plunges.” Unfortunately, to some guys (and girls), it’s worth going under the knife for excessively flared nostrils.
Of course, the total body image extends beyond the physique, so cosmetic companies are getting in on this trend. They are answering the demand with products streamlined for the male consumer. Clinique has developed an entire line of skin care products exclusively for men. Their eye cream claims to diminish the appearance of eye puffs, darkness and fine lines.
If you don’t find what you’re looking for at Clinique, you can check out the men’s products from Biotherm. Their men’s line is called Biotherm Homme. The Detoxifying Cleanser for Men is a 2-in-1 product: a mild cleanser and a detoxifier that prepares the skin with mild exfoliation using a cocktail of 5 fruit acids. Detoxifier? Exfoliation? For guys? Truly a new consumer segment has arrived.
The very market savvy, L’Oreal, is also aware of the new image-sensitive male. Hair colouring is an obvious, inexpensive image alteration that can also be high impact, and as it turns out, is becoming more and more popular with young guys. You can now find guys on their hair-colour packaging sporting great hair in manly shades of Camel, Brick and Black Leather.
We haven’t even touched on the world of fashion, as that almost goes without saying. Guys have more choices today than they have had in centuries (recall history class and Louis IV with his wigs, makeup, and excessive amount of frills). Gone are the days where guys got ready in 2.5 minutes, when jeans and a tee-shirt worked for every occasion. Guys clothing is now brightly coloured, ranges from snug to oversized, and just about anything goes—as long as it looks great.
We must realize, however; that many of the specimens adorning the pages of magazines would themselves like to look like those polished pictures. The sense of perfection surrounding models and their seemingly perfect smiles, bodies, and hair can no longer be attributed to good genes and working out. Thanks to graphic manipulation, noses can be straightened, blemishes removed, bulges reduced, and smiles perfected. With the click of a mouse a truly unattainable perfection can be designed.
Self-improvement is a good thing as it makes us feel more confident when we face the world. However, our confidence is, and should always be, in our own selves as individuals. It is a dangerous atmosphere we create when the power to feel the best we can feel depends solely on our appearance—there is a big difference between trying to look our best, and chasing an ideal that continues to run farther and faster than we can possibly pursue.