Body Image Is A Joke?

A few weeks ago I saw a lot of stuff about American Eagle, a fashion company launching a video for their “Aerie Men” range, which seemed to be following the company’s steps towards using more diverse body types in their advertising and avoiding Photoshop. This was widely celebrated as the body positivity movement has thus far been largely geared towards female bodies.

This campaign, following shortly on the heels of Zach Miko being the first plus size male model signed to IMG was good news. It felt like finally different male bodies would be shown, and this would be an interesting new step towards body acceptance and a weakening of traditional beauty standards.

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The men of the campaign

Unfortunately it all turned out to be an early April Fools gag and there was no new range for larger men. American Eagle tried to say they were still for body positivity and would stop retouching their models but it still felt like a massive kick in the teeth.

Female body positivity has been a growing and admirable trend, with women arguing that there is no one form of beauty and that all bodies are beautiful. It’s been a long road, with several wins along the way, but still far to go.

The group has benefitted from a large online movement spearheaded by bloggers like Bethany Rutter (Arched Eyebrow) who have shown that style has no size limit and models like Tess Holliday AKA Tess Munster, who is vocal in the “eff your beauty standards” campaign. As detailed in the show Plus Sized Wars (more here)  this can have a massively positive impact on women who finally have people like themselves to look at.

The other key is that plus sized brands treat their customers with respect. Their curves are never a joke, they are not the target of parody, they are shown to be beautiful, glamorous and sexy.

That’s what American Eagle got wrong, they made male body image a joke, suggesting that men don’t need it. That body image issues and positivity is something exclusively for women.

And that is bollocks. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that 18% of boys surveyed were “highly concerned” about their weight and physique (here). It showed that many young men were worried about losing weight and toning up.

Young men have the same pressures as young women. The images we see in the media are rather narrow and the implication is that the average Joe just isn’t good enough. It could be said that public attack and criticism of larger men lacks the intensity than that geared at female celebrities, but it is still there, and it still has a detrimental effect.

The problem is that men are traditionally less engaged in fashion and stuff than women, so while fashion bloggers have gained a toehold to fight for body diversity among women, a male blogger is unlikely to gain the same following as men are less likely to seek out a body image hero in the same way.

This is a shame, and tied in with the fact that for a guy to say another dude looks good is still considered shaky ground for many. Kelvin Davis, who featured in the Aerie Men campaign and who may have been unaware of the joke, is a blogger and Instagrammer, (his blog is Notoriously Dapper) but he is one of a small group and doesn’t really have the platform that his female counterparts have access to.

But while the men of the world need to raise their voice and push for change in the way that female body confidence campaigners have, some responsibility lies on the brands and the fashion industry. While Zach Miko’s signing is a step in the right direction it could be criticised in the manner some women voiced in Plus Sized Wars, he’s an improvement on the traditional male model but he isn’t exactly representative of the average larger bloke.

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Zach Miko, who's hiring is a good beginning

Even brands that cater to larger men are guilty of sticking with the stereotypical slim and toned model. Take Jacamo, the online retailer who cater to up to size 5XL, but who use images like this to sell their goods.

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I mean, the dude looks good in the hoodie but it’s hardly going to help the chubbier customer. Will that suit a larger body type? If I use myself as an example of what a Jacamo customer might look like, it’s not really a good fit is it?

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Me

The male ideal of body and the body image issues men experience is a real concern and can cause serious problems for individuals. But it is still something that is not discussed or being addressed enough, because of old fashioned ideas of how a man should be and the toxic idea that discussing insecurities and fears is somehow a bad thing.

We need to encourage boys to talk about how they feel and we need to help change our idea of what is attractive. Men come in different shapes and sizes and there is beauty in them all.

It’s something that needs to be properly handled, not turned into a punchline. American Eagle really dropped the ball on this, and it was a very misjudged April Fool.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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