A recent viral Internet story involves a man who was fat-shamed on the message board 4Chan because he was seen to be dancing in public until someone laughed at him and made him stop. The photos of the man were picked up by a woman called Cassandra Rules who set up a campaign for the man to have a fully paid trip to LA to dance with 1727 female supporters who supported his right to dance regardless of body type. The man was eventually found and has shown pictures of him training for his big dance off, something Pharrell Williams and Moby are said to agree to be part of the entertainment too.
Wow, if only we all got such a supportive response to our experiences of fat shaming. Don’t get me wrong, I ‘m delighted for the guy and I fully support the ensuing campaign, especially as my research has shown me that men have quite a complicated relationship with their bodies today.
I’m really glad that the debate is beginning to include men because men do have a lot of insecurities about their bodies yet until now the discourse around male body shame has only been about the size of their penises which is thought to be more about how men match up against each other – the penis standing in for men’s manhood – and less about the way that men don’t like the look of themselves in the mirror. Yet in actuality, men are worried about their penises and bodies look to others in a more direct way too. This is because both vanity and the concern about one’s looks is something we currently understand to be quite a feminine obsession and therefore dangerously feminising for men to admit to. Indeed, I found men went to quite a length to distance themselves from appearing vain, yet they still suffered lowered body esteem associated with various faults they saw themselves to have, from the usual body fat, the state of their fingernails to the hairiness of their testicles.
And this is the thing, men do not have the support of a developed and cemented discourse around body insecurities and body shaming that women do. We think of women as being subject to higher standards of physical surveillance by society, and largely this is still true, but men are catching up fast, and are doing so without any political discussion about how unfair it is for men to have to live up to ridiculous masculine ideals. One man described women as having the advantage of having developed a think skin towards the body shaming they are submitted to because they have grown up with it, something men have not whilst simultaneously being thrust into the spotlight relatively quickly. This might be true to some degree and something we should bear in mind.
When we argue that there are no female supermen characters, we are right and there should be more examples of strong female protagonists that show leadership for young girls to aspire to be. But we forget the effect on such hyper masculine figures have on men and boys and this should very much be part of the discussion. It really worries me that in the last few years every day shops like Marks and Spencer are selling Superman dressing up kits with built in padded six packs for toddlers and young boys. How are these boys going to grow up feeling about there physiques? We should be campaigning against these toys, just as much as we campaign against Barbie (not least because they are linked, they idea that there should be one perfect body type per sex – that no none lives up to).
So when we complain about the various industries that play on women’s insecurities we should remember that such a ‘complaining platform’ is something that currently men do not have, so they go it alone. When they are also encouraged not to discuss such problems with male mates too, we have a doubled up situation in which men don’t have access to support. Interestingly, for the men I interviewed such a platform was not even on the horizon in their imaginations, in that they did not complain that women had any sort of political monopoly over the discussion about fat shaming (and they complained about plenty of other things women were seen to have).
I think it is high time men are added to the discussion about body shaming and the effect it has on most of us, of all genders (one could argue transgender people suffer the most). We need more mutual support across the sexes so I wholeheartedly support the party and would love to attend. This I believe is the key to ridding us of such shaming, by speaking out not just about our own type, but in support of others. Then our imaginations will allow us to see that we are in fact supported more by the opposite sex than we fear and that our words can indeed provide solace for them too. I would also love to see men offering similar support towards women, especially en masse and in the spotlight of the media, so men, where’s my party…?