Today's Male Beauty Standards: Feasible or Farcical?

Illustration by Rishima Mathur

By Liam Hordijk
Published on January 23rd, 2021

When you consider how, ideally, a man should look, what do you think of? Perhaps the ruggedness of Beckham, the plastic perfection of models, the throbbing muscles of weightlifters; now pop these all in a blender, hit start, and see that the result is what some males impossibly, yet obsessively, want to achieve.

Male beauty standards have been highlighted even more with the emergence of media. In the past few years, advertisements depicting men with perfect physiques have flooded the minds of boys and men, with videos of less-than-adequately-dressed Calvin Klein models and their like plaguing the self-confidence of the male gender. A study was conducted on two groups of men to understand the effects of these advertisements — one group was shown advertisements containing fully dressed men, while the other was exposed to advertisements of the Calvin-Klein-underwear ilk. Unsurprisingly, the latter group reported feeling less confident with themselves post-viewing, expressing a comparably stronger belief that their bodies were not satisfactory.

The silver screen has also been to blame for these standards: stars like Dwayne Johnson packs muscle that is completely unrealistic. I mean, who else do you know that can make his pecs dance? Yet the list of high-grossing movies are dominated by these actors of muscle, carving a simple yet toxic message into the minds of every man: to be brave, to be admirable, to be the superhero — your pecs also have to dance. Fair.

This painful bar has conditioned the youths of today into dysmorphic embarrassment, and into slaving to achieve the “ideal” appearance, while fighting the pathological belief that one's own muscles are too inadequate, too small, too flimsy, too weak, too inept. A boy will compulsively check his weight, excessively consume protein shakes, and fanatically inspect himself in the mirror for signs of improvement, all in the hope of looking good. 90% of boys in middle and high school do exercise in hopes of ‘bulking up’; what happened to doing it for fun?

Muscle, muscle, muscle: another study was conducted, revealing that the average man believed that the ideal body was an extra 30 pounds than their current bodies. Seriously, 30 pounds. That’s as much as a three year old!

But it is not only the body that men fret about, as there are other worries, similarly and dauntingly difficult to alter. These concerns include: hair loss, height, and skincare, with the first worth a whopping 1.5 billion industrially. Hair loss is linked to a lack of self esteem, with a bigger forehead or a bald spot yielding stress and feelings of inadequacy — as if all of us should look like Chris Hemsworth in the Thor movies.

Height is also a prominent concern, as people associate taller men with qualities such as charisma and leadership — even a more robust dating life — but this is a factor that men simply cannot change; this isn’t the NBA, after all, you’re not going to be better if you’re six foot five.

Looking back at the changes in male beauty standards, though, you’d be surprised. In the 1870’s a wide waist was considered attractive, since it implied wealth, and later on, in the 1930’s, Hollywood-esque bodies were seen as desirable, before taking a turn in the 1960’s, to idolising men with overgrown hair and skinny physiques.

I suppose life’s really a rollercoaster when it comes to some things. Following these twists and turns, the bulking and beefing we now love today has exploded into the world. It is obvious that beauty standards for men, as with all else, have changed, but for the better? That’s for you to decide.

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