body image · men

Men, meet normative thinness

Forget the “thigh gap,” one of this summer’s new hot, new body parts is found on men. Men with a very low percent body fat, that is. The rest of you have it but we can’t see it. It’s not a body part you train, a muscle you work to get bigger, instead it’s a ligament you reveal through thinness.

How weird is that? For men, that is. I blogged here about men and body comfort and my fear that men and women now both face considerable pressure to conform to a certain body type and size. The days when men could care or not care without paying a price are over.

See How to Flash the Flesh this Summer.

Along with the “under bum” and “hipster” and the “upper crop top abdomen” for the women, there’s the “inguinal crease” to aspire to for the men.

“Popeye biceps and Chippendale pecs are so very over. The trophy body part for the 2014 male is the inguinal crease: the v-shaped dip between the waist and groin. This is nothing new – Michelangelo’s David had it going on – but after a slow buildup (think D’Angelo, and Brad Pitt in Fight Club, and David Gandy modelling Dolce & Gabbana), this year they are everywhere. (See: David Beckham’s underwear adverts.) What’s interesting is that this is not a muscle, but a ligament – in other words, to expose it requires not building muscle, but losing fat. Men’s Health magazine reports that for an optimal inguinal crease, you need to get down to between 5% and 8% body fat. The inguinal crease craze is, in other words, the size zero scandal reinvented for men.”

See Men’s Health, Building a Bigger Action Hero: “A mere six-pack doesn’t cut it in Hollywood anymore. Today’s male stars need 5 percent body fat, massive pecs, and the much-coveted inguinal crease – regardless of what it takes to get there. ”

For much of Hollywood history, only women’s bodies were objectified to such absurd degrees. Now objectification makes no gender distinctions: Male actors’ bare asses are more likely to be shot in sex scenes; their vacation guts and poolside man boobs are as likely to command a sneering full-page photo in a celebrity weekly’s worst-bodies feature, or go viral as a source of Web ridicule. A sharply defined inguinal crease – the twin ligaments hovering above the hips that point toward a man’s junk – is as coveted as double-D cleavage. Muscle matters more than ever, as comic-book franchises swallow up the box office, in the increasingly critical global market. (Hot bodies and explosions don’t need subtitles.) Thor-like biceps and Captain America pecs are simply a job requirement; even “serious” actors who never aspired to mega-stardom are being told they need a global franchise to prove their bankability and land Oscar-caliber parts.”

There’s long been pressure on men to get bigger, build muscle, and bulk up–see my post Do girls get a bulking season?. I know this firsthand from parenting a teenage athlete who lifts weights, worries about protein intake, and looks at the numbers going up on the scale with pride.

But now men are both supposed to build a ton muscle and lose a lot of body fat. How healthy is that? I think around here we know the answer, “not at all.” Magazines that seemed geared to male audiences, here’s looking at you Outside Online–are sounding the alarm bells. See Victory V’s Don’t always Mean Victory. The piece starts with a message familiar to many women, “There’s more to life than chasing definition in certain muscle groups. Maintaining a healthy weight, for instance.”

For years, we’ve been discussing the media’s role in distorting female body image. Dozens of studies and campaigns have fingered Photoshopped images in women’s emotional, mental, and physical health issues. Well boys, it seems your time has come. The pressure to look good, bulk up, and build a “six-pack,” the supposed stamp of ideal male form, is gnawing away at your happiness, too, and prompting Reddit-topping threads and five-figure play-count videos. The question is: What are you gonna do about it?

The article features John Haubenstricker, a Research Associate in the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh, also a dietitian, coach, and bodybuilding competitor.

The images you see in the media of men with six-pack abs and “victory-v’s,” Haubenstricker says, are often shot when those guys are at their absolute leanest. “Maintaining that level of leanness [around four to five percent bodyfat] isn’t typically recommended for very long,” Haubenstricker says. “You’re not getting enough energy to do all of the things you want to do and improve” your fitness. “You’re also increasing your risk of injury.”

As Scientific American explains, “fat is crucial for normal physiology—it helps support the skin and keep it lubricated, cushions feet, sheaths neurons, stores vitamins, and is a building block of hormones.”

In other words, that “ideal” you constantly see splashed across magazine covers is bullshit. It’s an ephemeral state of being even for the people in the photos.

If that sounds familiar, you might be thinking of this post on our blog,She May Look Healthy But…  Here Tracy writes:

One less well known fact is that fitness models and people who compete in the figure category in fitness competitions aren’t actually at the height of healthy when they compete. By the time “game day” comes, they’ve followed a regime that no one recommending a healthy approach to fitness and diet would recommend.  They’ve eaten too few calories for the intensity of workouts they’ve been doing. And they’ve reached a weight that they have no intention of maintaining.

In short, their bodies, admired as models of fitness by so many, are unrealistic even for them!

David Gandy
From the Guardian