This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is body image, and the effect it can have on mental health.
Previous campaigns from brands such as Dove and Misguided have outwardly challenged misconceptions around the ‘bikini body’ resulting in women’s bodies finally being celebrated in all sizes, races, genders and aesthetics – but there is still a long way to go.
The conversation has been predominantly focused on women, and now men have been urged to speak out on more issues about body image and challenging stereotypes in the media.
Manual, a men’s health and wellbeing platform, have put together a campaign called ‘Men of Manual’ to challenge the stereotypes of the male body.
It’s timely, since a new study published by New Macho reported that 80 per cent of people agree that adverts are influencing gender stereotypes, and outdated ideals about what masculinity looks like continue to be enforced in the media.
More and more men are being judged against the muscular aesthetics typical of a Gillette model – chiseled jaw, washboard abs and tanned – but the Men of Manual campaign seeks to highlight the different shapes men come in, embracing their bodies and their mental health.
Ben Whittaker, the UK’s first plus-sized male model is a part of the campaign and said: ‘Growing up seeing men on social media, seeing this ‘Men’s Health’ body, being told that all men have to look a certain way, and they have to have chiseled chests and rock hard abs, it put a strain on my mental health.
‘A lot of my mates were smaller than me and they were toned and I was the biggest in my class, I did feel depressed and think “am I meant to look like this?“. But there’s no such thing as a perfect body, it doesn’t actually exist, all bodies are unique in their own ways.’
A heavy use of social media has an impact on mental health as well and that’s where James King spends his time challenging body image.
He said: ‘It’s really easy to get stuck in a cycle of ‘I hate my body and nobody else is gonna like my body’. I had to forcibly say to myself ’stop hating your body so much – what bits do you like about yourself and highlight those parts!’.
But James added that changing mindsets is the most important thing about body confidence.
‘I’m still not 100% there and I even got the fear today, but I find things like this shoot push me out of my comfort zone. A massive part of all this is changing your mindset.
‘I’ve actually found social media really good platform for it. While I believe social media can be bad for mental health, I just started following more positive, inspiring people made me feel like I can be big and confident on Instagram without being a thirsty bear.
‘I posted a half-naked photo of myself in the bath and thought “oh god, everyone’s gonna hate this” but I got all these likes and I felt amazing about it afterward. Things like that really started to help me.’
For trans-model and activist, Kenny Ethan-Jones, finding confidence in himself was the thing that made him happiest.
He said: ‘Going to the gym was a huge part of me overcoming any insecurities I had about my body. I was skinny – I weighed about seven stone – and then I went up to ten stone.
‘That added weight made me feel a bit more masculine, stronger and gave me that confidence. When you feel that confidence, you radiate it out to everyone else and they feel it, too.’
George Pallis, Co-Founder of Manual, said: ‘If you only look at the men in adverts, you would think that all men have six-packs, the perfect amount of stubble and permanently bronzed skin.
‘It is completely unrealistic and doesn’t reflect what masculinity really looks like.
‘In a world where opening up about mental and physical well-being is arguably more crucial than ever before, it’s vital that we all work together to de-stigmatise men’s wellness and improve the health and happiness of men everywhere.’
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