Weight-based stigma and body-image concerns
Struggles with body image, pressure to have a particular body type, and weight-based stigma are often thought of as women’s issues. But research paints another picture. A 2018 study published in the journal Obesity found that 40 percent of the more than 1,500 male participants in the study had experienced weight-based stigma (either because they were underweight or overweight). Other recent studies have found that men struggle with body image; one study found 10 to 30 percent of men show body dissatisfaction, and 69 percent of male adolescents were dissatisfied with their weight. Weight gain may also have become more of a sore spot because of the pandemic. In a recent Canadian survey, nearly one-third of the participants had gained weight since March 2020.
“For both men and women, there’s a pressure not to be overweight,” says Dr. Kaley Roosen, clinical and health psychologist in Toronto.
US studies show that 72 percent of media images and 77 percent of videos stigmatize those with obesity.
“But, for men, there’s also a pressure to be particularly fit, and often, fitness goes with masculinity. And that can look like a lot of different things, such as bulking up or having a trim yet muscular figure.”
Roosen adds that pressures for men may also increase with age. That’s because in their late twenties and early thirties, many must start thinking about and managing their weight, something they didn’t need to worry about in their younger years.
Boys may be particularly susceptible to weight-based stigma, says Roosen, because they’re going through puberty and may be dealing with bullying and being made fun of at school.
Experiencing weight stigma increases odds for engaging in binge eating and lower self-ratings of health. Experiencing weight stigma and internalizing it (for example, blaming themselves) have been associated with more depressive symptoms and an increase in dieting behaviours in men.
In some ways, because the field has been concentrated on women, men are disadvantaged, says Roosen. For instance, for women there are many positive body-image role models on social media, something that is not as acceptable to men.
She suggests trying to avoid focusing on image and concentrate more on how your body feels, when you feel best physically and psychologically, and what your lifestyle preferences would look like when you think of friends or how to enjoy food.
Vancouver-based Abdulla Khatib, 29, currently on the Shopify legal team, considers himself a “student of life.” He’s a University of Toronto graduate and has worked in various areas, including tech, construction, and blogging.
Khatib grew up playing sports and being in shape. When he entered the modelling world in 2012, though, the pressure to have a particular physique intensified.
He responded to these pressures by first realizing that people were always going to have their opinions. Then he directed his focus onto what he had control over and what made him happy. This included being confident in what he was wearing and taking care of himself. It’s what he formed his world around.
“Based on my experience, anyone can probably benefit from directing their effort and energy to self-love as opposed to others’ opinions and trying to satisfy those,” says Khatib.
The necessary balance between self-acceptance and health looks different for everyone, says Brandon Gruber, an Edmonton-based registered dietitian. “We all have our own perspective about what self-acceptance and health means, which are very valid,” he says.
“Our journey of working on our self-acceptance and health might come in waves, which is completely normal,” says Gruber.
That involves focusing on how you’re fuelling your body, combined with movement and/or exercise, and being aware of your mental health. With this approach, you’re more likely to notice when you’re pushing yourself in an unhelpful direction.
Diets could lead to the adoption of disordered eating habits or a clinically diagnosable eating disorder. Warns Gruber, “Just like females, those who identify as men or boys can mask disordered tendencies as a diet or something related to sport or exercise.”
When we attempt to emulate celebrities’ diets or bodies, this can become cause for concern. “We only see so much of the story when it comes to who we idolize,” says Gruber. Plus, there’s a lot of conflicting advice on the internet that could also skew our perspective.
To help you set up a diet plan in a way that protects your mental and physical health, you may want to consult a dietitian. They can ensure you’re not at risk for nutrient deficiency or any accompanying health risks that can emerge when you don’t know how to properly approach a particular diet, according to Gruber.
A knowledgeable dietitian has the skills to create an individualized diet plan. And, as Gruber points out, you can find a professional that takes a nonjudgmental approach. That person can help you find a diet that suits your lifestyle and sets you up for success.
Men’s health across the life course
Theodore D. Cosco, PhD (Cantab) CPsychol