It’s common to feel insecure about your body, no matter your gender. Although many people tend to associate body image issues with women, many men also struggle with insecurities about the way they look. Male body image issues can come in many different forms: You might worry you’re too fat or too skinny, or that you’re too short or too tall, or that your penis is too big or too small. Maybe you’re worried about your amount of body hair, the shape of your butt, your man boobs, the way your face appears, or another body part or your body.
Whatever your body concern is, know that you are not alone. Most people struggle with body image issues at some point in their lives, but there are so many ways to begin overcoming those insecurities. Here are 11 tips on how to start overcoming your body image issues and to start loving yourself.
1. Acknowledge the problem.
As a guy, it can sometimes be hard to recognize when you have an unhealthy body image. This could, in part, be because the societal standards for what male bodies “should” look like can be so ingrained that it may feel normal to be upset if you don’t measure up.
There are a few ways male body image issues might manifest, according to Daniel Rice, M.Ed., a sex educator and exective director of Rutger University’s sex ed organization Answer. For example, you might be embarrassed to take off your shirt at the pool or beach. You might spend most of your free time in the gym trying to achieve a certain look. If you find yourself constantly putting other guys down, making fun of their body type, or putting yourself down or making fun of your own body, you might be experiencing body insecurities. Recognizing this is the first step toward healing.
2. Know that media and porn set unrealistic expectations.
Be it from movies, advertisements, music videos, social media, porn, or somewhere else, we are constantly being inundated with messages about what an ideal male body should look like. Often this image is far from obtainable. “It can often start with the toys and cartoon images [men] are exposed to at an early age,” Rice tells O.school. “Superhero toys and images send the message that bigger is better. The ideal is typically portrayed as tall and muscular.”
Research has also found that constantly seeing muscular bodies celebrated on Instagram makes men feel worse about their own bodies and feel pressured to change their bodies to conform to this ideal.
The porn we see often doesn’t help either. “Pornography often reinforces the idea that to be a good sexual partner, you must have a big penis,” Rice explains. Exclusively seeing big dicks in porn can create the impression that they’re the only acceptable type of penis, but Rice points out that porn is fantasy and is not meant to represent reality. “Pornography is created as a source of adult entertainment, not as a model for what bodies, relationships, and sex should look like.”
3. Understand how structural racism can be a root cause for insecurities.
When the media shows us an ideal male body, more often than not, it is a white body. Even in 2021, movies and TV shows rarely feature men of color as romantic leads or having sexual desirability. That lack of representation can certainly affect how men of color see themselves.
“There are a lot of unrealistic standards set out there by people in the media, and influencers, that send us all the message that men can only be truly desirable if they fit this incredibly narrow paradigm often informed by proximity to whiteness and increased muscle tonality and lower fat percentages,” licensed therapist and co-founder of Viva Wellness, Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC, tells O.school. “This leaves men of all shades and body types perpetually chasing an ideal, and sometimes resorting to incredibly unhealthy tactics to achieve social status and success.”
4. Get a more realistic view of what is “normal.”
“What a lot of people don't realize is many of the images they are seeing are heavily modified with programs like Photoshop to give [that] individual that chiseled look,” Rice explains to O.school. “It can be incredibly eye-opening to explore some of the videos online that show the process of how those final images are created,” he adds. “Once a person is aware of how those images are created, it can make it a bit easier to stop comparing yourself to the body ideals that, for many of us, are not attainable.”
There’s of course no such thing as “normal” — the reality is that men come in all sorts of body types, none of which are better or worse than others. Doing some research on national averages for male bodies can help you get a more realistic view of what bodies look like. For example, the average American man, ages 20 and up, is 5 feet, 9 inches tall, according to a 2018 CDC report. The average American man weighs 198 lbs and has a BMI of 29.1, according to the same CDC data. The average penis size is about 5 inches erect and 3.5 inches flaccid, according to a 2014 study.
Remember, these are averages, meaning some guys are way bigger and some guys are way smaller than the numbers listed above.
5. Pay attention to the messages you receive about your body.
“When I've worked with clients around these issues in the past, one of the most helpful things they've found is actually taking an inventory of all of the messages we receive about male desirability,” Caraballo says. When you can recognize the way a post on social media, for example, is making you feel about your body, it starts to hold much less power over you.
“Being able to identify 'oh that's actually diet culture' or ‘most average people can't maintain that lifestyle’ really helps gain perspective and interrupt problematic thought patterns,” Caraballo tells O.school. “From there, you can start to explore what your own ideals and values are when it comes to your body and create a plan to lead a life that's aligned with those personal interests.”
6. Follow body positive influencers.
While social media can contribute to negative body image, it can also help if you’re conscious about who you’re following. Caraballo recommends curating your social feed to include all kinds of male bodies, including men with bodies that look like yours. He also suggests unfollowing any accounts that make you feel less than. Caraballo explains that “by including a wider range of body types, facial structures, beauty, etc. we actually get a more comprehensive view of what being a man can look like (and still be attractive!).”
If you’re looking for male body-positive influencers to follow, check out some of these social media accounts:
- Kelvin Davis (@kelvindavis)
- Matt Joseph Diaz (@mattjosephdiaz)
- Syed Sohail (@theprepguy)
- Michael Anthony (@thebigfashionguy)
- Stevie Blaine (@bopo.boy)
- Dr. Joshua Wolrich (@drjoshuawolrich)
- Kenny Ethan Jones (@kennyethanjones)
- Marquis Neal (@marquimode)
- Lord Troy (@lordtroy)
- Matt Chu Picchu (@mattchuupicchu)
- Ryan Sheldon (@realryansheldon)
- Riccardo Onorato (@guyoverboard)
- The Body Positive Male (@bodypositivityformen)
- Chubstr (@chubstr)
- Men of Size (@menofsize)
7. Cut out the negative influences.
We often adopt the perspectives and values of the people around us — especially if we’ve experienced bullying about our body from friends or family. It can be very hard to undo such negative narratives. Consider setting boundaries with people in your life about negative body talk. It’s okay to say something like: Hey, can you not make comments about my body? I don’t appreciate the negativity.
Additionally, it can be helpful to unfollow accounts on Instagram and to spend less time around people who are constantly talking about their fitness goals. Instead, spend more time around the people who care about body positivity.
8. Remember that people have different sexual preferences.
Some guys feel like they need to fit the body ideals seen in the media in order to get dates or sexual partners, but that’s just factually false, Rice says. There are billions of people on this planet, all of whom have different preferences for the kinds of men they might be attracted to and interested in. “It can be tough to see in the moment, but the right person is going to love and appreciate you just the way you are,” Rice says.
More often than not, it’s not a certain look that attracts people. It’s confidence, positivity, values, and personality. “Being comfortable and confident in your body is going to help you feel better about yourself mentally and emotionally, and when you feel good about yourself, you may find it easier to open up emotionally and physically to a romantic partner,” Rice says.
9. Don’t tie your confidence to your exercise regimen.
Masculinity can sometimes feel intrinsically tied to fitness and exercise, not as a health regimen but as a status symbol. While movement is of course very healthy, it’s important to understand your motivation for working out: Is it about your health, or is it about trying to achieve a certain look that you think will make you more desirable? It can help to tune into how your body actually feels, rather than focusing on how it looks or how you want others to perceive you.
“Work with some professionals that understand how our relationships with our bodies are not just physical but also mental and emotional,” Caraballo recommends. “Hire a therapist, trainer, body workers, etc. who understand and tout these ideas as central to their practices. They can help you work through things, whether you just want to change your thought patterns or adopt a new aesthetic. With that, you can be sure you're doing the best you can to address your concerns and take good care of yourself in the meantime.”
10. Practice body neutrality.
Rather than striving for body positivity, Caraballo recommends body neutrality. Instead of focusing on loving your body, recognize that bodies are neither good nor bad — all bodies are simply places that house our souls and allow us to move through the world.
“Men can learn a lot from the body neutrality movement and focus more on acknowledging our bodies for how they function and less so for how they look, or are perceived by others,” Caraballo says.
And remember: How you look isn’t everything. In fact, it’s just one very small part of who you are. It can help to focus on the other parts of yourself that you love, such as your sense of humor, your spontaneity, your intelligence and curiosity, or the way you care for others — all of which are very attractive qualities to many people.
11. Seek professional help if needed.
Overcoming the negative messages you’ve received about male bodies from the time you were born, liberating yourself from fatphobia and racism, and learning how to love your body despite what society tells you is no easy feat. So feel free to reach out for support from a professional, such as a therapist or coach, who can help guide you on your journey and provide more concrete ways on how to reframe negative thoughts into positive ones.
A professional can also help you overcome body dysmorphic disorder, also known as body dysmorphia. This is a mental disorder wherein a person suffers from persistent preoccupation with their imagined physical flaws. Those flaws are often exaggerated or not based in reality, according to Jesse Kahn, LCSW-R, CST, sex therapist and director at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City. A professional can help you work through this disorder and help you change these negative narratives you have about yourself.
The bottom line
“If you feel you are alone — you are not,” Kahn reminds. “There are other men struggling with body dysmorphia, body image struggles, and struggles connected to how they relate to food, exercise and fitness.”
Remember: changing your body to fit an unrealistic social ideal shouldn’t be a prerequisite for body confidence. You deserve to feel good about your body, exactly the way it is.