Men and Body Image

CPTSD Foundation
8 min readJan 2, 2023

How do you see yourself? Do you look in the mirror and see a beautiful piece of art? Or do you see a monster staring back at you? Many men’s body image is negative, and they need help to raise their self-esteem and sense of self.

This article shall explore men and their body image drought as well as ways men can approve of themselves just as they are.

The Difference Between Female and Male Body Images

Male and female humans see their bodies differently from each other for good reasons, including physical differences and how society perceives them. Research has shown that males are less severely affected than females with fewer body image risk factors; however, another research has found it is more complicated than that (Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2006).

A study conducted in 2010 compared dissatisfaction with body image by participants answering a series of questions. The researchers wanted to find out how male and female body image dissatisfaction is experienced in each sex to compare the results.

When asked about statements about their image when playing and participating in social activities, both men and women reported having negative emotions between sometimes and moderately often. These findings show that men and women are equally insecure when their bodies are indirectly or directly confronted in social situations (Brennan, Lalonde, & Bain, 2010).

However, the research also showed that male body image diverges from female in some critical ways.

Men are quieter about their negative feelings toward their bodies and are less likely to seek professional help leading to delayed treatment. Also, Men are more prone to unusual eating disorders and substance abuse than women.

Male humans are told by society that they must have large muscle masses and be able to perform any physical task. Not having these attributes leads to men feeling extreme shame and guilt.

How Do Men See Themselves?

Many men see themselves as solid and virulent even when they are not. Men risk becoming a negative statistic if confronted by circumstances, society, or another person about their appearance.

Men often engage in self-destructive behaviors such as trying to lose weight using fad diets, forming an addiction to exercise, or abusing steroids. They are also at a higher risk of having suicidal thoughts or actions.

There are many causes of negative body image in men, and some of these factors may include the following:

  • Having been teased in childhood and adolescence
  • Public health campaigns that urge people to lose weight
  • Society judging men on their appearance
  • Peer pressure in adolescence to be tough and strong
  • Society pressing males to play sports to model for boys
  • Ads and other media contributions that emphasize the “ideal” male body

Men face a substantial artificial mountain built for them by society. On the one hand, men are told to be brave and stoic, while at the same time, there is a mixed message of how men must be gentle and open. These two contradictory messages muddy the waters of body image even more.

Is it any wonder our men and boys are unsure about themselves and see themselves as either a hard-nosed hulk of a man or a frail person who needs constant improvements?

Childhood Trauma and Its Effects on Male Body Image

As we have discussed, it is difficult for a boy or man to have an excellent and realistic body image for many reasons. Add childhood trauma to the mix, and you have a real problem.

It is estimated that childhood sexual abuse occurs in 4 out of 6 boys before the age of 18. Translated, that means it is estimated that there are 108.5 million men who have experienced sexual abuse in the US alone, with millions more experiencing other types of trauma. However, these figures are not set in stone, as many men do not report what happened to them, so they are probably higher.

Body disturbances and body shame have been proven in research as going hand in hand and are correlated with negative healthcare behaviors such as smoking and binge drinking (Kling et al., 2019). Men are far less likely to get themselves screened for cancer due to the need to disrobe for the examination.

Male body image problems often have low self-esteem and mental health conditions that are often found together. One study found an association between male body dissatisfaction, depression, and anxiety exists, but future research needs to be done to settle the matter (Barnes, Dimova, Best, 2020).

Childhood maltreatment forces men into an impossible situation. They have deep-seated emotions that need to be expressed but living in a society where to do so marks them as weak and unacceptable. Because of this behavior by society, men are dying at their own hands at an alarming rate ( SAVE).

How Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Changes a Man’s Self-Image

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is caused by childhood trauma. CPTSD is life-altering as people experiencing it have some, if not all, of the following symptoms:

  • Losing memories of trauma or reliving them
  • Difficulty regulating emotions that often manifest as rage
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Feeling detached from oneself
  • Feeling different from others
  • Feeling ashamed
  • Feeling guilty
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Seeking our or becoming a rescuer
  • Feeling afraid for no apparent reason
  • Having a feeling of being constantly on the alert
  • Becoming obsessed with revenge on the perpetrator
  • Feeling a loss of spiritual attachment and either ignoring or depending upon religion for self-worth
  • Have suicidal thoughts or actions

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder leaves men who once lived in a dysfunctional home in a fog of emotional turmoil. Men with CPTSD have great difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, problems regulating their emotions, an interruption of their system of meaning, and problems with their self-perception.

Men have several reactions to complex traumatic pasts in that they harbor shame, anxiety, fear, numbness, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, anger, and sometimes an inability to show affection.

As defined by society, masculinity is toxic and forces men to conform to ideals that break a man’s sense of self and further damage their body image.

Overcoming a Negative Body Image

Not enough people tackle or discuss negative body image for men. Society is in on the problem, including the men who suffer from a bad body image. There are things men can do to improve their body image.

Talk about your body image in public. One way to cope is to team up with another man and talk about it. You can also look for online groups for body positivity. Find a coffee shop or restaurant and observe other men and how they are as imperfect as you, and that’s all right.

Try to embrace your body as it is. No matter your shape, be happy with the way you look. This is a tough recommendation because if you have any self-hate, it is enormously tough to accept yourself as you are. You might decide to lose some weight but do it in steps and enjoy the journey without being harsh on yourself. Lose weight for your health, not because you think it will make you more acceptable.

Don’t fear vulnerability. Vulnerability isn’t a challenge to a man’s masculinity; it’s about being open and honest about your body image struggles. Share your good and bad experiences because doing so will help you heal.

Don’t believe the big lie. Keep in mind that the media portrays men who may appear well-adjusted because of their apparent masculinity but whose body image is probably worse than yours. It is a facade, a ruse, a lie. Please don’t fall for it. It is okay to challenge the images portrayed in the media. Your confidence in your body image should be built upon yourself and your efforts, not on the unrealistic images of other people.

Remember, it is normal to feel some insecurity about your body image. Developing positive habits and being kind to yourself is vital to helping men accept what they look like and only change the things that lead to ill health later in life.

In Closing

It is true that the author of this piece is a female and is drawing off sources to try to understand the hell men go through in our society. However, someone must break the ice and get the dialogue started.

Many men have a horrendous view of their bodies because we, society, tell them they are not good enough. We say so in advertisements, billboards, and other literature where men appear athletic and beautiful.

Don’t get caught up in the rubbish society tells you about yourself. You are perfect, just as you are.

“Being beautiful isn’t everything… Sometimes it’s interesting to show how you feel on the inside on the outside, just through expressing yourself.” FKA twigs

“You will earn the respect of all men if you begin by earning the respect of yourself.” — Musonius Rufus

References

Barnes M, Abhyankar P, Dimova E, Best C (2020) Associations between body dissatisfaction and self-reported anxiety and depression in otherwise healthy men: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0229268. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229268

Bradley University. Male vs. Female Body Image. Retrieved from: https://www.bradley.edu/sites/bodyproject/male-body-image-m-vs-f/

Brennan, M. A., Lalonde, C. E., & Bain, J. L. (2010). Body image perceptions: Do gender differences exist? Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research, 15(3), 130–138.

Hargreaves, D. A., & Tiggemann, M. (2006). ‘Body Image is for Girls’ A Qualitative Study of Boys’ Body Image. Journal of health psychology, 11(4), 567–576.

Kling J, Kwakkenbos L, Diedrichs PC, Rumsey N, Frisén A, Brandão MP, Fitzgerald A. Systematic review of body image measures. Body Image. 2019; 30:170–211. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2019.06.006.

Suicide statistics. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE). Retrieved from: https://save.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/#:~:text=One%20male%20dies%20by%20suicide,and%20females%20(SPRC%202019).

Originally published at https://cptsdfoundation.org.

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CPTSD Foundation

Successfully equipping complex trauma survivors and practitioners with compassionate support, skills, and trauma-informed education since 2014.