Men Speak On Body Image Issues

Learn what steps men are taking to perfect their own bodies — from Botox to hair plugs (and more!).

By Kent Miller

e men don't cop to it, but we worry about our appearance just as much as any woman thumbing through the latest fashion magazine.

Just take a look at the masses of guys crowding the weight room down at the gym, those hair-restoration ads in the sports pages, and even the growing numbers of men getting cosmetic surgery. Yes, we
Women have bad hair days. But men have bad hair lives.
care about how we look; very much, actually — but in a different way than women do. Let's take a closer look:

Hair loss
Women have bad hair days. But men have bad hair lives, especially when balding becomes obvious. "It's back there and it's growing. I'm tempted to wear a fedora, like in Mad Men," says Eric, a 48-year-old lawyer in Tallahassee, FL. "But that would probably just draw attention."

"I would take all the hair that grows out of my ears and my nose and put it back on my head," says Max, a 28-year-old musician from Philadelphia, PA. "Hair loss is psychologically important for men," says Stanley Teitelbaum, director of the Postgraduate Psychoanalytic Institute in New York City. "Today, men are more inclined to do something about it than they used to." Like getting hair implants? "Hair procedures can improve your self-esteem, but you must be realistic — you are not going to be a whole new person," explains Teitelbaum.

Physical fitness/appearance
"[Men] are not so obsessed with some of the specifics of their looks in the way women are — but they are into being fitter and leaner," says Daniel L. Buccino, a clinical social worker and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. The ideal physique varies with the man, says Buccino. "Some want to be bigger and more ripped [man talk for 'big muscles'], others want to be leaner."

Typical is the comment of Sean, a 19-year-old student in Tacoma, WA: "I like my body. I'd like it if my arms were bigger, though." Scott, a 27-year-old musician in Baton Rouge, LA, can relate: "I wish I had broad shoulders. I do some bench presses and dumbbells, but mostly I focus on running," he explains. "I just want to stay in good shape."

And some body types seem to be genetic, making them impossible to change even for the very physically fit: "My beer belly — same that my mom and dad both have and I've had since I was 18," says Tim, a Los Angeles politics teacher. "I finished in the top three percent in the LA Marathon, but with all the training I still couldn't get rid of the belly. At 43, I'm in great shape!"

"Am I handsome? Huh? Am I?"
William Pollack, associate professor of clinical psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of Real Boys' Voices, says that "women will talk about body issues with close friends" while men typically won't, "but many men can still feel real shame about their bodies." Indeed, the fitness message
She seems to like the things that I don't like about my body.
embodied in the "boy code" — that ''men should look endlessly strong and buff and muscular" — "lends itself to concerns about the body, just as with girls," he explains.

Pollack points to one of the fastest-growing groups of Botox users: businessmen 30 to 50. "Many of these men say they need to look young to get a job," he asserts, adding: "There's some truth in that — but they also feel like they're losing their virility." If a guy has ongoing issues with his attractiveness, says Buccino, "It's time to explore his personality, sense of humor and character."

Be honest with yourself
"Some men make too much of body issues and overestimate the importance potential partners put on their appearance. Others underestimate it — they are kind of in denial," says Teitelbaum. "They expect to connect in ways that they can't anymore." Teitelbaum cites a divorced middle-aged man who "had gorgeous hair when he was young, but now he's lost a lot." But the man's profile gives pride of place to an old photo of himself with visibly luscious locks. "He goes out on lots of first dates," says Teitelbaum, "but the woman finds a reason not to meet him again."

Ease up on the negative self-talk
If you're inclined to fret about your appearance — an affliction that especially bedevils newly divorced men, Pollack says — try to keep things in perspective. Hugh Jackman doesn't just roll out of bed looking like Wolverine. And Superman (i.e., Henry Cavill) sure doesn't pass his afternoons with a bag of chips and the TV remote — not if he wants to keep the kind of body one needs to fight evil and rescue damsels in distress, that is.

You could say it's the full-time job of male celebrities to look fabulous. But you? You've got to study, drive that delivery truck, proof that spreadsheet, and do laundry. So, relax. Don't be so hard on yourself! Keep in mind that your next date probably has just as many responsibilities as you do.

Flattery — it's not just for women anymore
Men like to joke that you can never, ever criticize a woman's appearance, especially when she asks for your honest opinion. But it's not like we're paragons of non-vanity ourselves (I can live for three months on a smile from a pretty clerk myself, but I can't speak for everyone). "My wife likes me the way I am. I try to stay fit just for her," says Scott. "My girlfriend just thinks it's funny when I start pulling my nose and ear hair out. It doesn't really bother her. She seems to like the things that I don't like about my body, so I have to consider myself lucky," says Max.

Kent Miller is currently writing a comic young adult novel. His articles have appeared in Nintendo Power magazine, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The San Francisco Chronicle and The St. Petersburg Times (Florida).
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