Updated: May 21, 2019
I asked friends, family, old flames, exes, past tinder dates, and complete strangers about their opinions on body image as a man in their 20s. We talked about social media, bodybuilding, weightloss, the gay community, and the body positivity movement and so much more.
* Some names have been changed to protect identity.
**Some quotes have been adjusted for length and clarity.
I would just like to take this opportunity for everyone who has helped me with this post, and how open these guys have been with me has been fantastic!
How do you actually feel about your own body image, and how does that affect you and your life.
My own perception of my body is positive overall because I am happy with my physique and feel healthy. However occasionally I look in the mirror and feel negatively about it because I am not yet where I want to be. I am happy, but not satisfied. - Kyle, 20
My body positivity is definitely a sliding scale, but nowadays in general it is fairly good. Certainly when I was younger and my weight and height were shifting constantly I worried a lot more about it - Hamish, 20
I’d say slightly negative, I used to be in alright shape but then I stopped playing sport a lot and put on a bit of weight, as well as university, eating rubbish seems to help stress but not your waistline. - Euan, 20
Bit of both. I go through stages of where I believe I have a positive image (when i am eating healthy and going to the gym) but when I'm not exercising and eating healthy, I have a more negative mind set - David*, 20
I'd say my body image is definitely somewhere in the middle, I feel like I will have good days be very happy with what I see but I do think there are days when I am very nit-picky about my appearance, and sometimes I am very hypercritical of my chin is looking a little big, my face looking bloated, or I have a little bit of a beer belly. I become very hypercritical of those specific things, but then there are days where luckily I feel a lot more confident but it really varies on a day to day basis. - Brady,
Yes. Although there's things about my body I sometimes think about changing, I've become much happier with it the last couple of years as I've gotten older and healthier. - Finn, 23
My body image fluctuates between being positive and negative. Currently I'm doing better, I've got a better balance but for a while I prioritised how I looked over how I felt. If I'm honest though, reading information about body positivity didn't help me as such, I just got fed up of feeling horrible, I decided it didn't matter if I looked good but was moody and horrible to be around. To clarify, I had lost weight and was pleased with how I looked, but I started to binge and would feel horrible and then to stop myself gaining weight I'd eat next to nothing the following day. - Michael*, 21
Positive, of course, but honestly sometimes I don't feel good about myself, but I doubt there are people who always feel amazing about themselves! It's not me! - Cristian, 23
My body image is negative as a result of being bullied for my weight between the ages of 12-15. As these are one’s formative years I feel like, if you are not happy with your size at this age it can really inform your self-perception for the rest of your life. - Toby, 20
For a long time the idea of being skinny equating to being less of man has hurt me, and adding that to the ideals that are within the gay community like big muscular, toned, hairless bodies being what is considered attractive has combined in my mind to make me really not like my body that much. I had problems for a long time thinking that I was too skinny and I did struggle with an eating disorder for a while and it was not a great time. It has gotten better but its not great. Now it is easier to keep it in the back of my mind and to not let it control my life day to day but some days I start ruminating on it and it just takes a hold on my mental energy and makes me feel down and sad and not confident. But it really depends, it is fluid from day to day for me personally. - Linus, 21
I have always had a love hate relationship with my body and food, which has stemmed from the reflection I see in the mirror. There wasn't a time during high school that I didn't skip meals, count calories, or weigh myself everyday. I hated my body during this time. - Dave*, 20
Is it common for a guy to worry about their weight?
I think guys do worry about their weight definitely, I’m not sure how common it is but just from what I’ve experienced it’s less than women - James*, 20
Definitely, for me anyway, people can say what they like about me and it won’t bother me at all but I still want to impress folk, obviously girls primarily now I’m single, I’d say the same for other guys, I think they’d want to impress girls and/or guys whoever their into. - Jack, 19
Every guy I know has done it at some point, and if they say the haven't, they're lying. - Hamish, 20
I would say it’s pretty common for guys to worry about their weight/appearance, personally if everyone could just magically be in their ideal shape I believe the vast majority of people would jump at the chance.- Euan, 20
It only becomes a worry when one chooses to fear rather than love themselves. To love is to first and foremost accept, and the only thing we have to fear thus is fear itself - George, 20
I think for guys it's more about how strong you look rather than how fat you are. If you're a skinny guy you still worry about how you look. - Johnathon*, 20
I do, I think a lot of guys try to have the 'alpha male' appearance. Obviously to try and impress the ladies, but also to look bigger and stronger than other males. I personally worry about weight/appearance, but it encourages me to go to the gym and be more active. - David*, 20
I think it is extremely common for guys to worry about their weight and their appearance. I think its an issue that is not as heavily discussed as female body empowerment. Both are extremely important, for guys that issue does exist because ever since I've been a kid the issue of what it means to be masculine and what it means to be a man all really centres on the fact of being this G.I Joe, buff , muscular guy which unfortunately is an extremely hard body type to acquire . I think a lot of men feel insecure in their masculinity and in themselves. - Brady,
A lot of men pretend not to care, but of course they do. It is natural - Cristian, 23
Despite what people may think there is a lot of pressure for men to look a certain way- either excessively skinny or disturbingly muscular. There is very little in-between presented in the media, and while body positivity campaigns for women are growing in popularity there is no sign of a parallel narrative for men. - Toby, 20
I don't feel that guys openly worry about their weight, as someone who's always been slightly underweight I never have. Whether this is due to societal expectations or not is another question - Alexander, 19
Yes, but they don't feel they can be as open about it as women are. - Finn, 23
It is becoming more and more common as a guy to feel more underpressure to look a certain way . Through social media more and more boys care about how they look , more boys want to dress a certain way, look a certain way; more boys are going to the gym and weightlifitng as well. I think that might be because there isnt this discussion about body image as there is for women. You don’t see people complaining about how Hollywood male actors all seem to have the same body with slim and muscles, but maybe if there, like women, there was more of a conversation about it there would be less pressure on boys. - Adam, 21
The general ideal dream body this is presented among males is like really big muscles, ripped, very little body fat, very little body hair , square jaw line, tall, big, burly chest and arms. That is kind of the image that I think is perpetuated, and obviously I am much skinnier and don’t have a lot of muscle, I think that for a long time has made me feel less than adequate, less than manly or not conventionally attractive and it has affected my self confidence a lot and it has also affected the way I interact with other men because I am not as muscular and masculine . Muscularity is also associated directly with masculinity. I think that also talking about body image and body positivity is not as much of a thing among males and I think it is seen as feminine or weak or strange for a man to be open about being worried about his body image unless it is 'I need to build up my muscles' in a more masculine , powerful, stereotypically bro-y way. - Linus, 21
How much time do you spend thinking about how you look?
I do spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about how I look, whether its how nitpicky I am about how my hair looks and if its not flowing the right way, if the curl is not going the right way then I get very self conscious, and I get very anxious about it, which is very bizarre. I think my biggest thing is how self conscious I am about my double chin and the weight around my neck , I spend a lot of time thinking about , and I always catch myself whenever there is a car reflection or there is a mirror, I always take that opportunity to look at myself and see how im looking and what maybe could be changed. I feel like it is so unhealthy to be so critical of yourself so often. - Brady
I do spend a reasonable amount of time thinking about how my physique looks. This is the nature of being into bodybuilding as it requires you to think about which areas need improvement and how much improvement you’ve been making using a certain work out plan and/or diet. Some may view this as an unhealthy obsession but I disagree. It is very healthy to be aware of your body and to make strides towards reaching your goals - Kyle, 20
Not really, I diet and excise well enough to stay happy and not put much thought into it, just check the mirror every morning so see any improvements and make sure I’m not slipping - Jack, 19
I spend nice short and sweet amounts of time thinking about how I look, it's a fun time! - George, 20
Not a lot of time, everyone has good and bad days about their body so I don’t let it get to me. - Frank, 22
I spend a lot of time, probably too much. I always want to look handsome and to feel better about myself. I say to myself how good I look all the time, because if you don’t like yourself nobody else will like you. - Cristian, 23
I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how l look, but for the most part its positive, and the other part is wondering why I still have a skinny pack after eating four pork chops and half a kilo of mashed potatoes. - Alexander, 19
Does body image influence your mental health?
Yes, if I think I look shite then I will feel shite mentally - George, 20
I don't think how one looks affects mental state but rather how one perceives how one looks. - Michael*, 21
I think I push myself to look better because deep down I’ll never really be happy with how I look - Toby, 20
I would say it definitely has an impact on mental health, because you constantly feel stressed and onedge to look a particular way. Before I had a boyfriend I definitely felt like that. One on side you have these people on TV who are slim and fit so I am trying to be slim and fit, then the other side you have my family and my Grandparents saying you look anorexic, you look stupidly thin, you're poorly because you're so thin. They are just as detrimental as any other comments. - Adam, 21
Does your own body image influence the way you see and treat other people?
I probably take note of people's weight changing more than I would have prior to when I became obsessed with my own, not in a judgemental way but rather I wonder how the change in weight is affecting their mental state or whether their weight change is the product of their mental state. - Michael*, 21
I believe that because my diet and physique are things that I pay very close attention to, I probably do perceive other people in a different way from how others may perceive them. This is not to say it is either a more positive or negative way, but simply different. - Kyle, 20
I have my own opinions about my body and that carries over to what bodies I like and don't like. However, I can see the beauty in every one, you just gotta see them for what they really are. - George, 20
I think that my own body image does have an impact on the way that I perceive other people because I do spend time being so hypercritical of my flaws that I think it sometimes makes me be more critical of other peoples flaws too. Sometimes because I am more critical of my flaws, like maybe the weight on my chin, the weight on my face, acne, bags under my eyes, that I begin to pick those up from other people too because it is something I am so hyperaware of at times. It is unfortunate that I do focus more on the negative flaws of peoples appearance rather than the positives. - Brady
Sometimes I feel comfortable, like just talking to people, and sometimes not, like at the airport control, but that is for racism reasons. It's because I see what the others see and interpret it in the wrong way. There's a global image of a terrorist and it's not nice to fit in to it at the airport - Dario, 28
I sometimes find myself subconsciously competing with other men who I perceive to be ‘fitter’ than me, and in my head ridiculing those who I see as over/underweight. Because I have been fat myself I find it more difficult to look past people’s excuses for not keeping in shape, as I know personally how difficult it can be but that it is possible to overcome it. - Toby, 20
How does social media influence your body image?
There’s always the advertisement about everyone looking like a super athlete which just isn’t realistic, I think it mostly comes from the media giving the ideal examples which just aren’t humanly possible due to all the editing that goes on - Euan, 20
I don't know how but I do think my body image is influenced by the media, but neither in a positive or a negative way, but definitely influenced. - James*, 20
Media will always contain extremities of how people look, and it does to a certain extent put pressure on all of us. I feel that I occurs in a less obvious way for men, with advertising and such focusing more on grooming and clothing rather than body image. With male representation in media being huge, it means that there is a larger occurrence of "ordinary" looking guys, and so I feel there is less pressure on guys - Hamish, 20
My body is my own alone and I know it best obviously. To let my body image be influenced by media is to let my true self be covered hidden and disguised by something other. - George, 20
Social media is mixed. A lot of accounts/pages are good for making you feel good about yourself, but you also get the people that go out of their way to make others feel bad about weight/appearance. - David*, 20
Personally no but, I feel like through social media people are constantly under scrutiny for how they should look and if you are slightly overweight or skinny you’re deemed unhealthy - Frank, 22
For guys that pressure comes from social media a lot because we see these guys living and they have these ideal body types, the six pack, the pecs, the big arms, the nice legs, the toned butt, they have this body type that is not impossible to achieve but it is extremely difficult and takes such an immense dedication to working out. So I think it is difficult because some guys, like myself, like im not the biggest gym rat , then I have started to fantasize about the idea of a muscular body type, its really not healthy for me because that is just not ideal - Brady
Yeh I'm sure the media does influence your ideals but I'm not gonna blame the media for what happened to me, It was my own choice to prioritize my image over my emotions. - Michael*, 21
I think social media is so bad. Everybody is focused on aesthetics, forgetting valors. Titstagram is the biggest thing that encourages this.
Me: Titstagram? What is that?
Instagram, you know; but you can call it titstagram because everyone uses it to post semi-naked selfies. - Dario, 28
I try to improve my body image as a combination of, enjoying exercise, becoming fitter, and becoming more attractive. Only the last factor is personally effected by the media, and usually it acts as motivation to work harder and to improve myself - Alexander, 19
Do you feel pressured to look a certain way?
Before I started working out regularly I thought that getting more in shape would help, but now I realise that body positivity is relative. I still feel self-conscious about my size and the only real way around that is to make sure adolescents know that, whatever their size at the age of 13, this only a PHASE. They are still growing into themselves, and should not feel pressured to look a certain way at such a vulnerable age. The most searing comments about my weight have always come from my friends, and though they may argue this is to help, usually it is a cheap way for them to feel better about themselves. On the whole though, my main impetus for losing weight has always been the knowledge that girls won’t like you if you’re fat and lazy. - Toby, 20
I think modern 'lad culture' has more to do with men's poor self esteem than anything else. - Finn, 23
I don't feel as much pressure anymore to look a certain way but when I felt the most pressure, it was mostly self inflicted. I suppose when I was losing weight the compliments i got from friends and family were flattering and served as motivation but nobody put pressure on me to lose more weight or maintain my new physique.- Michael*, 21
I wouldn’t say that I feel pressured to look a certain way by anyone. If anything, any pressure on me to improve my physique comes from myself. I view this as a positive thing though because I always want to improve, not only in terms of my physique but in all areas of life. - Kyle, 20
Yes I do, especially with dating apps like tinder now more and more people are judging you on looks first. - Frank, 22
I don't feel pressure, but I actually want to show a little bit more 'meat' on social media, but I'm not brave enough….yet. But I will. - Cristian, 23
Everybody is 'forced' to look attractive on social media - Dario, 28
There was a shift when I went to university - with all of my independence and freedom I no longer felt the pressure to watch what I ate. Before, every piece of fat I could grab meant one less meal or an extra run on the treadmill. I became uncomfortable around certain people, especially when the weight piled on because of drinking and takeouts. Knowing that I was the biggest in the room made me feel awkward, especially around the sports club 'lads'. I don't think they feel the pressure of worrying about if they will ever put on a pound or a stone. - Dave*, 20
Not in any way, there was one conversation I had with a friend recently (paraphrasing)- Mate: "you should really try getting fat mate its fucking amazing" Me: "not going to lie, I would if I could" - Alexander, 19
Do you discuss your weight and body image with friends or family?
I have openly spoken to friends and parents about my body image and things I would change about it - Frank, 22
I have never talked to my family or friends about some of my body image issues and I think that is just because for me at least, I don’t think that me just being very critical of my appearnce is something that is worth bringing up to my friends and family, because I think unfortunately everyone does that at some point. Everyone is your own worst critic. I feel like my problems are unique enough where I would need to bring it to a friend or family member. - Brady,
I occasionally talk about body image with some of my gym-going friends. In bodybuilding, many people, despite looking fairly muscular to others, often feel ‘skinny’ or ‘too small’ when they look in the mirror. I do sometimes feel this myself and I just remind myself that I am doing well and that I’ve actually made good progress considering where I was in the past. - Kyle, 20
Probably not because I wouldn’t want to bother people with my problems but I wouldn’t let myself slip to a point wear I wasn’t happy - Jack, 19
Most likely not, I’d much prefer to see if there was an issue myself and then sort it out that way. - Euan, 20
I frequently talk to my parents. They are both on diets so it is a relatively common topic - Tom, 20
Personally, I have a bad habit of not talking about things that are bothering me. I don’t want to look weak if that makes sense, I don’t want to bring negative vibes anywhere I go. - David*, 20
I wouldn’t talk about it with family/friends unless pushed to, as I see it as my issue that I have to deal with in my own way. The hard truth is, once you’ve built up an image of yourself in your head the opinions of others are going to do very little to alter that. - Toby, 20
Body Image in the Gay Community
Living in Los Angeles, where there is such a high population of gay guys which is great but its also a breeding ground for a lot of toxic masculinity because you have all these guys that look perfectly sculpted and have clear skin, beautiful hair and toned bodies. It's on display all the time. That constant barage of perfect looking guys can lead to a lot of insecurities in gay guys. - Brady,
Its really difficult especially having the body image issues in the gay community because there is such a stigma against guys who are thin and who are skinny and who are scrawny, as a direct result of internalised homophobia. Having a small body and being frail and being this thin, skinny kind of guy is often equated and subconsciously linked to the Aids crisis in the 90s where those kinds of bodies was often equated with people having aids and HIV and that is kind of where this whole gym culture and muscle culture in the gay community came from. Its not as big of an issue as people seeing a thin guy and equating tht with Aids but it is still an underlying issue in the community.
There is absolutely a stigma against large guys as well, one of the biggest issues alongside social media are dating apps such as tinder and grindr, you see in so many people's bios its like 'no fats' , ' no fems' 'twinks only' and there's like this bizarre market, where what people want is the muscular guy or thin, hairless, boy body type. And there is such a stigma against large guys, in the gay community they are called bears or cubs or whatever, but people are so nitpicky about what they want. It’s a body issue but it is also a race issue too. You see people saying 'no blacks', 'no latinos', 'no asians'. People outwardly have this phobia against bigger guys, as well straight up racist, because they seem that the only thing gay guys want, in LA especially is white, vanilla, cookie cutter, skinny, toned guy, and there isnt any room for anything else it feels like. - Brady
From my personal experience in the gay community, there has been in the past a lot of issues about discriminating against bigger guys, guys who have more fat and less muscle , you know that kind of thing , curvier guys have generally been on the receiving end of the attitudes of disguist but I think we are starting to come around to curvy being sexy, attractive and wonderful. - Linus, 21
I am gay so that means a lot of things with regards to body image , for example in the gay world a lot of people find it very tough to be anything other than this sort of slim really fit muscular young man. A lot of people, a lot of my friends, and me all feel the pressure. Before I met my current boyfriend I tried really hard, working out a lot to get this idealistic gay body image that wasn’t maintainable if you are going to lead a normal life. Since I met my boyfriend its kind of went to shit, but I don't really care because I feel a lot more positive about my body image, you don’t care about what other people think, tht may be just because I feel more 'approved' by my boyfriend. - Adam, 21
I think that there are some specific communities among men that definitely need a Body Positive Movement, or an explicit set of messages that need to be spread, especially in the gay community, where we are all judging each other on our looks and it really affects us. I read somewhere that gay men have the highest incidents of eating disorders and body image issues among men as a whole, so I think there it really needs to be spread . I don’t know as much about straight, bro-y, gym rat community, it just needs to be made explicit that body image is not as exclusively a female thing, because that is obviously seen as emasculating. I think making sure that it is known that it is okay to think about your body image and worry about how much muscle you have, and also perpetuating the fact that you don’t have to be a muscular body builder to be attractive, it doesn’t make you less of a man. Muscles does not have to equal how much of a man you are.
We have to redefine what it means to be a man, because I think what you look like and how your body is built is completely tied to that, not necessarily how muscular you are but if youre just bigger, period. I think you are seen as more of a man, so I think that really affects some guys mental health and how they view themselves as a man. - Linus, 21
Do you want a body positive movement for men?
Regardless of how cliché it sounds, I agree with the Body Positive Movements's message that "your weight doesn't define you" but I'm not sure if pushing this message helps in that I think it's a conclusion you need to come to yourself. - Michael*, 21
To an extent maybe, as long as it’s encouraging people to be healthy, and not just telling people that unhealthy lifestyles are ok - Tom, 20
I don’t think a body positive movement for men is required. That being said, I do think everyone should be treated equally, regardless of their physique or appearance. While nobody should be made to feel bad or mistreated because of their weight, I do believe that everyone should be encouraged to become as healthy as possible, and therefore they should be encouraged to lose fat if that means they will be healthier as a result. This is a win for the person themselves, their family and friends who want to see them do well, and for a society and the NHS. We should all treat each other with respect and encourage each other to get better in every area of life. - Kyle, 20
I think if their can be more positive reinforcement for those who need it that would be great. - Euan, 20
I think it would be good. But a lot of guys might not want to admit that they follow these types of things. A lot of guys want to act hard, and something like this may paint a different image of them. - David*, 20
I 100% think that a Body Positive Movement for men could be very beneficial, I think there are a lot of improvements that should be made in terms of male body positivity and masculinity. If you're not buff and you're not muscular huge guy then youre gonna have issues being a real man, being masculine if you don’t have that huge muscular body. It is hard because masculinity isnt about your body it is about how you treat other people, it’s the way you treat women, and the way you carry yourself, its not just about the way you look. - Brady
Yes! I already follow some guys who are promoting the body positive movement, and it is amazing to see how much we actually feel the pressure to be fit and look like models. - Cristian, 23
My opinion on the body positivity movement might be a little controversial - I believe it is important to be comfortable with yourself, however I think it is dangerous to use "but I'm so happy with body" to justify either obesity or an unhealthy lifestyle. The other extreme is just as bad though, with people living equally unhealthy lifestyles just to appear a certain way. - Alexander, 19
The body positivity movement is cool, but really one need only look within themselves to draw the eternal love from their bottomless heart - George, 20
Trying to highlight that negative self image can affect boys physical and mental health just as much as it affects girls and that this muscle culture is detrimental to boys. Muscles could be seen as something quite healthy, but the measures people go to to obtain it can be steroids or starvation techniques, or the other way around like binge eating can be quite dangerous too - Adam, 21
A fat woman gets less mercy than a fat man. Women are expected to be sexy, because of how history went, and so they have more pressure. If you are nice girl who doesn’t like to show her flesh you will still have many negative examples around you. If you are a guy and you don’t care, you can still not care.
Me: So you think its easier for guys to not care about their looks?
Yes, if think so. If you are a guy money is sadly more important. For the big goal of sex appeal.- Dario, 28
What do you mean by sexualised? That I'm trying to make myself more sexy or do I feel that women are only attracted to my body?
Cause the answers are yes and their loss if so, respectively
Believe me if I get catcalled by a women I'll get an aeroplane to write that I did over the skys of Edinburgh - Alexander, 19
It’s good to remind people that the beautiful people in films and on billboards are paid millions to look like that. - Toby, 20
I think that among men I don’t think we are judged a whole lot for our weight but I think we fear people judging us more than we judge each other for our weight. - Linus, 21
These days thicc girls rule the famous world, but I see no men like that. It needs to change. Also LIVE YOUR LIFE AND STAY HYDRATED - Cristian, 23
I am yet to figure out how to love my body, maybe I never will but that doesn't stop me from loving who I am as a person - Dave*, 20
We need to just let ourselves talk about it. Eliminate the idea that talking about it is emasculating. This is just a perpetuation of men can't talk about their feelings shenanigans, its so stupi. - Linus, 21
Join the community and let me know what you think!