Male Actors and The Plight of Staying Fit
Hugh Jackman is our mental image of Wolverine in the Marvel X-Men series, but what does it take for men to get to this point? There may need to be a deeper conversation surrounding men and their body dysmorphia.
There is a rise in eating disorders among men. Our societal idea of beauty, in the past centered around thinness with women however, there is often different reasoning with men. The disorder often manifests from a necessity within a sport and or job. As a sports player, it is obvious. The job expects you to work vigorously and look a certain way. This is unfair to the men who may not have the body type naturally that supports the ideal type for their sport of choice. They may continue to work in ways that push their bodies to their limit in order to look the part for society to accept them as attractive. This is a sports example, however, I want to delve deeper into a specific job example which is the field of acting.
In the acting field, men feel a need to look within the ideals of attractiveness. Their body is their money maker so they are often driven to do so many things in order to maintain and gain muscle within their body. Men in this field often develop deep muscle dysmorphia (a distortion of the view of their musculature) due to the way that men are viewed. Not having a “sexy” body can often lead to losing one's job. Also, with the internet in play on Instagram and Twitter men might have trolls or other people telling them that they are ugly or that their bodies don’t meet a standard of attractiveness that a superstar should have. In my personal celebrity lurking moments, I have seen the cruelest comments underneath famous male actors' photographs. People tend to get really personal and mean and no one tends to call them out on it because people aren’t thinking of men having eating disorders. In response to this men may begin to over-exercise, begin to use and abuse steroids, and develop many different disorders surrounding eating in order to maintain a strong following and acceptable amounts of sexiness.
A good example of this to me is what happened with actor Kumail Nanjani. Kumail is a Pakistani American actor and comedian known for his amazing work on his first movie called The Big Sick. In this movie, he has his own body type. Nothing is out of the ordinary. He looks at a healthy weight and size. However, as he has gained notoriety over the years he was finally offered a huge part in an upcoming Marvel movie called The Eternals. Most people didn’t see Nanjani for several months after that announcement, and then, once he went on the interviewing circuit again he was jacked. He was utterly huge. His whole body was swole. As someone who has been conditioned to society's ideal of attractiveness, I was awestruck. But then, I immediately asked myself why was I starstruck? Wasn’t he attractive before? He has the same face just an unrealistic looking body. If you look on youtube to watch the video of his training regimen it looks really intense.
This video is one that honestly, seems funny on the outside but I instantly thought of the double standards with men and women and eating disorders when I saw this video in January. He talks about his regimen for working out and how much he has to do in order to maintain this body type for his job, and then when Jimmy Kimmel gives him cake at the end, the elation in his face is intense. He looks like he’s being set free from prison. He doesn’t even know if it is legal because the eating cake isn’t in his contract.
In my previous life (seven years ago, a career ago) I used to be in this business. I’ve seen a lot of men develop eating disorders due to the strain of needing to look rugged, or swole for a part. I have even seen men starve themselves for a part and then for another part next month gain 40 lbs. I always thought to myself, this can’t be healthy.
I think the discussion around men with their eating disorders comes from an expectation with no movement coming behind it. Women have a body positivity movement that has come into play now. We have goddesses like Lizzo coming through with the fullness of herself and Beyonce even coming back talking about her stretch marks after pregnancy. For men with these same societal pressures these movements are small and not seen as visibly. It is easier to see Dwayne The Rock Johnson everywhere with his rippling muscles on screen, than it is to see yourself in the mirror and accept your body for what it is.