The Changing Man

Macho, Macho Man

The macho man persona has long been forced upon many (but not all) men since before we can remember. 

With ‘inspiring’ macho men film characters from ‘back in the day’ like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando, Jason Statham in the Crank, Gerard Butler in 300, Dwayne Johnson in Fast & Furious and of course Russell Crowe in Gladiator, it’s no wonder men all over the world have had these guys as role models whilst growing up. All of these heroic characters are muscley, emotionless, brave, strong and pumped with ‘manliness’ (and occasionally steroids) and are often viewed as icons. 

Alongside this macho outer appearance, the idea that men shouldn’t reveal their emotions has long been adopted by some. Often this is reflected within various but not all cultures. Although this macho bravado may be loosening its grip, the ethos it expounds is still causing issues.

Science is slowly catching up with the negative side effects of heroic, emotionless and muscle-laden film characters. It’s proving that trying to be ‘manly’ by quashing emotions, hiding feelings, over-training and not dealing with childhood traumas is in fact detrimental to both physical and mental health.

Throughout this article we’ll explore the newly discovered problems that men face in 2020, from dealing with body dysmorphia to being judged for male grooming regimes. 

Body Dysmorphia In Men

Scientists describe Body Dysmorphic Disorder as affecting “approximately 2% of the population and involves misperceived defects of appearance along with obsessive preoccupation and compulsive behaviors.” That’s around 1 in 50 people. An example of body dysmorphia would be thinking you had a large nose and allowing that thought to play on your mind throughout each and every day, dampening your confidence and distracting your thoughts. You may also seek out radical ways to change your nose structurally or cosmetically. 

A study by Wei Li reviewed the neurobiological features experienced by those suffering from body dysmorphia. They concluded that it’s a complex disorder, which has some connections with “obsessive-compulsive traits” as well as sufferers being affected by “family, interpersonal, and cultural experiences” they’ve failed to deal with. These could include childhood traumas such as bullying or isolation and external pressures from social media and peers, which can impact confidence and cognitive processing. They also proposed that the brain’s visual and emotional processing and frontostriatal and limbic system” may be dysfunctional. This demonstrates that emotional processing can be impacted by past experiences which have been suppressed.  

Li stated that “these may combine to contribute to the symptoms of perceptual distortions and impaired insight, as well as obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.” 

Steroid Use

Another scientific study by Anna-M.Wroblewska et al., analysed the use of steroids by body dysmorphic young men. They found a recent worldwide increase in steroid use to build muscles, with research pointing to “a disturbance in body image in males” leading to such steroid use, resulting in both physical and psychological side-effects. 

So what has driven men to use steroids in more recent years? In answering the question we’ll examine the media’s influence via its representation of the ideal male form. 

A study by Richard A. Leit et al., “sought to examine the effects of media images on men’s attitudes toward their body appearance.” They asked one group of male students to view adverts showing muscular men and the other group to view “neutral advertisements.” They then asked the participants to complete a digital test on their body image perception. They were all unaware of the purpose of the test and experiment. 

The results? Well, “the students exposed to the muscular images showed a significantly greater discrepancy between their own perceived muscularity and the level of muscularity that they ideally wanted to have.” This proves that photography used by the media and other social sites can have a direct negative impact on a man’s body perception. Studies like these should set alarm bells ringing.

With more and more social media sites, adverts, blogs and magazines telling men how to look and how to feel, it’s not surprising that a substantial percentage of men feel the pressure to look ‘perfect.’ (Six packs are highly overrated in this writer’s opinion.) 

Male Grooming Regime

A study by Fiona Sturrock concluded that “image creation, concerns about enhancing one’s attractiveness, reducing the ageing process and the maintenance of health are factors combined with the pleasure of using grooming products which fuel the current market growth” for men’s grooming products. 

If a man appears to take pride in his appearance people can often think he’s self-indulgent, arrogant and unusual. Male grooming, although more of a ‘thing’ nowadays, is still sniffed at. The thought of a man wearing cover up on facial spots or an essential oil moisturiser on dry hands can set people’s tongues wagging, at the very least. But why shouldn’t a man be able to follow a grooming regime? 

A study in New Zealand by Lisa S.McNeill and Katie Douglas reported on the following findings: 

“New Zealand is said to be a typically masculine society, with strong cultural notions of masculinity tied to sport and agriculture. This paper explores the ways in which males engage with cosmetic retail products in such a culture, to fashion a masculine social identity in a society with ever shifting gender rules.

The paper finds the notion of conflict in construction of self-identity has the greatest impact on how a New Zealand male might purchase grooming products, with many individuals struggling to balance gender expectations of ‘manliness’ with social expectations of appearance. The study thus finds that these males tend to create unwritten ‘rules’ around the use and purchase of such products, including acceptable types of product, maximum number of products and packaging colour expectations.” In other words, men tend to choose products which look masculine and do the least amount of maintenance to maintain a ‘manly’ exterior. 

With prejudice and fears of being misconstrued and judged, it’s no wonder the stigma surrounding men’s grooming and body care has lead to negative side effects that can cause short and long-term problems if not tackled and resolved later down the line. 

Cosmetic Surgery 

Ready for the brow-lifting figures

  • 32,241 men had liposuction in 2018 in the US.
  • 17,593 men had cosmetic eyelid surgery in 2018 in the US.
  • 6,729 men had nose surgery in 2018 in the US.
  • 5,046 had a tummy tuck in 2018 in the US. 

And these are the surgeries on record and carried out in the US. There will be more surgeries unaccounted for including those performed overseas. Not to mention the non-surgical procedures on the rise, such as botox.    

Some surgeries take place because of medical reasons or after weight loss, e.g. skin removal, but most of those who have surgery do so for appearance enhancement.  

What To Do Next? 

  • As hard as it may be, you need to embrace YOU. 
  • Unburden yourself of negative thoughts. Cognitive Behavioural Therapists have a terrifying name but are actually brilliant. They can help with putting your mind at rest by retraining your brain’s thoughts so you have a more positive opinion of yourself. CBT takes commitment and consistency, but it’s worth it. 
  • If you want to look after yourself in what’s deemed to be an unconventional way then do so. Your friends will get over it soon, your colleagues will get used to you looking so well and the rest of society who may judge you can fudge off. 
  • Join groups who have the same interests as you. You’ll feel part of a community with whom you can relate and which isn’t going to waste time judging you. Branch out and surround yourself with people who like you because you’re you.

Unfortunately for many men, the fixation of becoming a perfect version of themselves isn’t going away anytime soon. The minute the media and society stops enforcing ‘ideals’ on the world will probably be the minute men and women step back and slowly begin to accept themselves for who they are. Until then, the parting words of advice are as follows: 

Your brain (and sanity) will thank you for it. 

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Sources Cited:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022399996003029

American Psychiatric Association., 2000

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0969698911000634

https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/02634509810229955/full/html

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/eat.10019

https://www.statista.com/topics/3734/cosmetic-surgery/

All information featured in Peak – Brain Training articles are provided for informational purposes only and are not substitutes for medical or physician advice.

Maisie Bygraves

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