Over the past week, I have been to several physical activity classes where the onslaught of “New Years’ Resolution-ers” has been very apparent.
Packed spin, core, and yoga classes, and waves of people coming to try out the climbing wall are all fantastic to see, but the pressure to shape up once the calendar turns to January can be rather overwhelming.
The start of a new year can be the push one needs if you’re looking to make some changes, but who says you have to change at all?
Male body image is a newly investigated topic with the increased presence of the male form in media.
The idealized male form is a mesomorphic body type with the ‘upside-down triangle’ shape characterized by broad shoulders and muscular arms tapering to a narrow waist and flat abdominals. A very low body fat percentage helps to display the muscles to the greatest degree.
This silhouette has long defined masculinity, from the time of the original Greek Olympics. David Zinczenko, author of The Abs Diet, has stated that part of the appeal of this highly muscular physique, especially the highly coveted “six-pack”, is that it is hard to come by and has become a status symbol in its own right. Other status symbols can be bought, but muscles can only be developed with a dedication of time and energy.
The male drive for competition is much more overt than for females, who may observe other women and make comparisons between their bodies, but do not often have an objective measure that can be compared, such as number of pull-ups completed, or weight that can be bench pressed.
In a recent British study of 16-25 year old men all stated that they felt pressure from their peers to attain an ideal body shape, whether that was to reduce body fat, or to gain muscle, or even things that cannot be altered, such as getting taller. Men often express desires to have the same body type as their peers and friends, or a desire to be ‘average’ rather than exceptionally muscular.
However, this may be an underestimation of the importance men ascribe to attaining the ideal physique, as self-reflection and pursuit of what may be considered self-gratification are not considered manly activities.
Men face a dual pressure to attain the perfect body, but simultaneously act as if they don’t care about the way they look.
Women in Western cultures face an almost singular pressure for thinness. However, women are still expected to have a full bust and good muscle tone; though visible muscles are not considered overly feminine. “Shapely-slim” is seen to be the ideal female body type.
Women who participated in an often-repeated body image study were asked to choose from a figure that represented their current shape, the shape most men would find attractive, and their ideal shape.
The majority of the women chose a thinner figure for their ideal shape than the one they thought most men would find attractive, indicating that this pressure to attain an ideal body shape is self-imposed rather than to become attractive to men.
Statements from women interviewed in many studies show a strong link between women’s perception of their size and weight and her feeling of self-worth.
Many women stated that if they lost weight, they would feel more confident, and they would feel like an entirely different person. Women, as opposed to men, are socially encouraged to think about their looks and have personal goals to change themselves.
So what does this mean for you? Perhaps in the wake of this New Years’, consider making goals that are based on more than the size of your body. Goals than encompass you as a whole person, such as “I want to try a new activity every month” or “I plan to eat a new kind of food every week”, and body-positive resolutions such as “I want to tell myself something I like about my body, just the way it is, every day.” With all of the pressure around us as university students, we deserve to cut ourselves loose from outside expectations when it comes to our own bodies.