21 October 2016
Study finds that a significant portion of men care about their physical appearance. Photo: Bloomberg
Study finds that a significant portion of men care about their physical appearance. Photo: Bloomberg

When you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see

Now that March 8th, International Women’s Day, is more than a month behind us, it’s probably safe to talk about an issue so neglected in the modern social justice agenda – male self-esteem.

Good male self-esteem seems to rely primarily on two things: the presence of positive male role models while growing up, and one’s own physical body.

Having a positive male role model is such a hefty subject, so it’s better to leave it for another day, and for now let’s talk about muscles.

Let’s start off with a British study from 2012, which found that more than 80 percent of men regularly engage in conversations about their bodies (a new development in the west where until recently body talk was restricted to between women), and that more than half of them are unhappy with their muscularity.

The most common topic was their unhappiness with their “beer belly” or “belly fat”.

Furthermore, the health experts, psychologists and statisticians found that 35 percent of men were willing to sacrifice a year’s worth of their lifespan if it gained them the ideal body!

Roughly 63 percent of the respondents wanted stronger arms and a more muscular chest.

Meanwhile, about 60 percent of the men surveyed said body talk affected them personally – mostly in a negative way.

Body talk seems to affect men the same way as women do, as studies on women have shown that merely five minutes of body talk can lower overall body confidence.

The survey revealed that talking about their body made men more self-conscious and in some cases prevented them from going to the gym. A vicious circle as it were.

When describing each other’s body the most common terms used in the vernacular were “six pack”, “man boobs”, “beer belly”, “chubby” and “ripped”.

More ominously, 17 percent of the men felt fat everyday while 18 percent had a fear that they might gain weight everyday, thus making the subject a source of near constant stress.

As a result, 4 percent of the men reported making themselves sick to control their weight, while 32 percent had exercised in a “driven or compulsive way” at least once.

The survey also showed that 32 percent of the straight men and 59 percent of the gay men would regularly compare their own appearance to people better looking than themselves.

This focus on physical appearance affects not only adults but also children and adolescents.

Anecdotal reports have it that first-time gym members are decreasing in age in most developed countries.

Intense exercise, such as that practiced by most Olympic athletes, is well established to be harmful for the long-term health of any body, due to the massive amount of stress hormones developed.

However, the consequences can be much more severe for developing bodies.

Another UK study has shown that teenagers are the healthiest when they get 14 hours of exercise a week, which is surprisingly double the seven hours recommended by most experts, and that those who did more than 17.5 hours of exercise a week had the same combined level of mental and physical wellbeing as those who did less than 3.5 hours a week.

And Aristotle wins another one with his golden mean.

Hongkongers are of course no strangers to the aggressive marketing strategies of gym salespersons and trainers.

In my case, I recently managed to snag a fairly cheap membership at Physical Fitness for 15 months at HK$258 (at just one center, and without a towel), though I’ve read reliable posts on internet forums that you can get even cheaper deals at all the centers.

The salesperson was nice, though it was a bit disconcerting to get constantly complimented while haggling over fees.

Yet on my second trip to the training center just a week ago, I actually got negged by a trainer after postponing offers of initial free lessons.

“Negging” is a strategy of using backhanded compliments or insults to undermine the other person’s self-confidence.

In my case, I was balding, and he said he could help. When I repeated his statement with an incredulous tone, he quickly explained that improving the neck muscles would help with the blood flow to the scalp. So much for genetics.

To conclude, men both young and old seem to be better off when they have the mental fortitude to ignore those around them and engage in a moderate amount of healthy exercise.

Field trip anyone?

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A Hong Kong-based writer from Norway

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