When I was 14, Men’s Health Magazine filled me with self-loathing.
I enjoyed the quick, do-on-your-bedroom-floor workout routines. And the inherently sexist ‘Tips to Rock Her World in the Bedroom’.
In part it made me feel mature. Adult. But mostly it was a pervy glimpse into the thriving sex life I one day aspired to hold.
Yuck, I know.
Sex tips aside, the magazines began to have an adverse effect on me. Each time I put one down, I would find myself feeling less… comfortable.
It wasn’t conscious. It wasn’t a formed thought or feeling or emotion. Rather, it was a lingering buzz; a near-silent uneasiness deep in my gut I could never quite put my finger on.
Until one day I could.
It was inadequacy.
Bec Sparrow talks about finding contentment in the way she looks rather than comparing herself to the unattainable, on The Well. Post continues after audio…
Young men are barraged with the same perfection and opulence and unattainable curves young women are.
They read the same articles. Follow the same Instagram accounts. Scroll the same Facebook feeds to an extent their subconsciouses are overloaded with the same skinny-yet-muscly, touched-up ‘role models’ that young women’s are. Whitened teeth. Regal aura. You know the type.
The difference is… they aren’t told there’s an equivalent.
From a young age, mothers try and teach their daughters that the people they see in the media aren't real; that their faces are digitally brushed, and their teeth chemically whitened.
Normal people don't look like that.
It's a conversation every mother in 2017 has with her daughter.
But it's one we aren't having with our sons.
We seem to hold a belief the media young men consume has little to no impact on their mental health; that young men are far less self-conscious about the way they look than young women are.
However - having just been a young man myself - I can tell you this isn't remotely true.
While countless articles explore feminine body positivity, and celebrate the beauty of the natural female body, I found myself suffering in perplexed silence as to why I couldn't find a male equivalent.
Rather than being reassured it was okay I didn't look like the topless models in Men's Health... rather than reading articles aimed at me telling me the way I looked was normal, I had to take the female equivalent, and apply it to myself.
Because - apart from my wonderful Mum - no one out there grabs young men, looks them in the eye, and tells them it's okay if they don't have a six-pack.
No magazine or website or TV channel profiles a thin-haired man with skinny legs and a convex tummy.
No one with a public platform highlights the fact this is not what a man looks like...
A man has imperfections. He has moles and pimples and a face that might not quite be symmetrical.
He has eyes that might not be piercingly blue, and eyebrows that might touch in the middle.
His teeth aren't perfectly white. His ears might stick out. His skin might be pale and blotchy and his jawline can't be used to slice deli meats.
This is not what a man looks like.
Brad Pitt's face is his job. His looks are his currency and with that I have no problem.
But this isn't even Brad Pitt. It used to be, before a makeup artist spent hours changing the colour of his skin, the lines on his face, the style of his hair.
It used to be, before a digital artist opened up Photoshop and erased each and every imperfection until his face had the flush texture of a newborn baby's behind.
It used to be Brad Pitt's face. But the face our young men are seeing on this magazine cover is 30% makeup 60% Photoshop, and 10% Brad. At best.
This is not what a man looks like.
A study conducted by the Australian Government in 2015 revealed that 16.5% of boys aged 4-11, and 15.9% of boys aged 12-17 had a mental disorder of some kind. That's 335,000 Australian young men who are battling mental illness. Some struggle with depression; some anxiety; others eating disorders.
I'm not saying GQ or Men's Health or any other men's magazine is solely responsible. That would be irrational.
But mental health issues among young men is on the rapid rise.
When it comes to the cause, we need to start looking somewhere.
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