Male body image

It’s normal to worry about your body. Whether you think you’re skinny, or fat, or bang in the middle, all men have their body hang-ups. But how does your body image affect you?

A man with a beard, wearing a black beanie hat and black hoodie

What do men think about their bodies?

The most common concerns are about height, stomachs, chests and hair loss. Oh, yes, and of course, most men worry whether their penis is normal too. Dr Stephen Edwards, a Psychology lecturer at the University of Wales, is currently researching male body image. He believes that young men today feel more pressure to look good than they did just five years ago, but the concern is with looking buff rather than slim. “Having big muscles is not an issue for women, whereas it is for men,” he says. “Being “too” thin is not a problem for women, whereas for men this is.” Elliot, 16, works hard at maintaining his body because he thinks you “have to” and is also concerned about his health. “I don’t want to be tired and slow all the time and I don’t want to be fat” says Elliot. “It gives you more status to look good and people take you more seriously.”

Distorted body image and health problems

“As a general rule, body image concern in women would be associated with eating disorders, whereas with men exercise addiction is a concern, as is the use of anabolic steroids,” says Dr Edwards. Over-exercising, being obsessed with your weight or appearance, excessive dieting, taking steroids and other unhealthy behaviours to get the ‘right body’ can indicate a problem. If any of these issues ring true for you, you might find it useful to talk things through with your doctor (GP).

Do men suffer from eating disorders?

Yes. We’re not sure how common it is, as lots of men don’t ask for help, but an estimated 10-15% of eating disorder sufferers are male. However eating disorders are a growing problem for men. If you’re worried you might have an eating disorder you should tell your GP. They will be able to give you the support and treatment you need.

Gay men and body image

Russell, from Manchester, is 21 and gay. He feels that there are considerable demands within the gay community to look good, because the gay media only presents one ‘type’ of man as the ‘ideal’. “I would never go anywhere without looking glammed up,” confesses Russell. “It’s high on my agenda, and the gay men’s magazines portray an image that most gay men try and follow. You can choose whether to give a damn, but people who say they don’t probably do on some level inside.”

How can I feel better about my body?

Start by remembering your own body is unique. Men’s health magazines and films may present an ‘ideal’ male body, but really there’s no such thing. All men are different and your appearance is part of what makes you special and interesting. Improving your health and social life can help build your self-esteem and confidence. But exercise for you, rather than because you feel like you have to. If you’re really worried about your body shape, it might be that you have deeper problems with low self-esteem. Try following our tips on building your self-esteem and remember you can always have a chat with your GP. They can help improve your mental as well as your physical health.

To find out more about our Body & Soul Club, head here.

Next Steps

  • The Self-Esteem Team (SET) run workshops in schools across the UK to help tackle young people's issues with body image, self-worth and mental health.
  • Beat help people overcome eating disorders through helplines, online support and self-help groups. Call 0808 801 0677 or, if you're under 18, call their Youthline on 0808 801 0711.
  • Through the arts and education Body Gossip, a positive body image charity, aims to empower everyone to fulfil their potential.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015