The issue of the male body-image is a consistently overlooked and ignored subject. At a time of ripped role models, gym-junky influencers, and hordes of photoshopped advertisement campaigns, how are dudes holding up under the pressure?

Firstly, this is not an argument against exercising, dieting, athletic actors, or even injecting anabolic steroids in your ass. The aim, if any, is to provide a reminder to men to remain realistic with their personal body expectations because those they may emulate are taking short-cuts that they can’t afford access to. Feelings of dissatisfaction and self-consciousness are unfortunate consequences of the human affliction which we call cognitive thought. What concerns me, are the role-models that young boys and men base their self-evaluation on, and the ever-blurring line between the motivation of what men can look like through training, and pervasive dogma of what a man should look like.

A survey of university students from the United Kingdom and Denmark revealed that 8.6% of these young men and women considered themselves “too thin”, while 53.7% evaluated themselves as “too fat”. As stated, self-doubt and worry are normal components of human cerebral functionality. My question is, what factors could be perpetuating and exacerbating the doubts which eat away at the impressionable minds of young men? For me, you don’t have to look far. Take a glance at the media and entertainment sectors, continuously serving up storylines overflowing with stereotypes. Skinny men still hold the intellectual role of the programmer, gamer, or nerd. Overweight and chubby men are still being pigeonholed into the buffoon, comic, and side-kick roles. Meanwhile, strapping men are shown to stop the baddies, save the day, and get the girl; all while cracking wise and covered in a neat layer of grit to make those guns really pop. Now guys, which one do you want to be?

While I don’t think that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is entirely to blame for the current body fixation in our culture, I would argue that the superhero genre has normalised and celebrated unattainable body appearances and massive body transformations on a global scale. Way back in 2011 when Captain America: The First Avenger was released, actor Chris Evans’ body transformation lit headlines alight. At the beginning of the movie, he is the sickly, useless Steve Rogers. Rogers then takes part in a super-soldier treatment; he’s injected with serums and blasted with vita-rays…Wham! Out from the ambiguous, scientific fog struts Captain America. He’s an anatomist’s dream, every muscle protruding through his skin. He’s taller, he’s bigger, he’s stronger. He’s America’s hero! He strides towards his love interest, the equally gorgeous Peggy Carter. She stares at his oncoming, jacked rig, raises a hand to his swollen pectorals, and pulls her hand away with a gasp!

The problem isn’t Stan Lee’s storytelling, his comics have been part of popular culture since time immemorial. However, Marvel’s monopolistic domination of the box office has lasted—so far— for over a decade, and as a result, it’s ideas and images have completely dissimulated into our society’s zeitgeist. With it has come a barrage of hulking male heroes whose awe-inspiring physiques have sunk into the subconscious minds of young males. These body shapes, in all their galaxy-saving glory, are not natural. They are, to put it plainly, the product of artificial enhancement. We’ve all probably heard that bodies like that require intense dedication, but let’s have a quick look at what else is necessary. To monitor diet and health a nutritionist and a physician are two must-haves. As is a personal trainer, preferably one who is world renowned, which Marvel’s Disney money can afford. Then, get to work training twice a day, for four-to-six months.

Two more small things you’ll need if you’re hoping to match the muscle of your favourite on-screen action hero. The first is ‘performance supplements’, like steroids or testosterone enhancers. This addition to a busy work-out schedule is a topic frantically danced around by media and entertainment industries – “What’s the secret to that physique?”, “oh well, a lot of chicken breast, steamed broccoli, kale…” I’d imagine the players involved in Marvel will take a leaf from Dwayne ‘The Rock‘ Johnson or Arnold Schwarnegger’s “do as I say, not as I do” book, and admit to using steroids to further their budding careers years down the line, while utterly denouncing their usage in the same sentence. The final factor in getting that ripped beach body; movie magic. By this, I don’t mean days’ worth of dehydration, downward lighting, flexing, reps between takes, or standing on boxes, I’m talking about computer-generated imagery. Ask yourself, if today’s CGI technology can feasibly turn 76-year-old Robert Niro into a 20-year-old soldier for The Irishman, couldn’t they add a few inches to Wolverine’s arms?

A final point, the celebrities portraying these characters do not remain in their superhuman form in their day to day life. Their size and muscle is built up, through the methods I’ve underlined above, in preparation for a particular role or shoot. They subsequently lose this body shape when they return to their normal, civilian lives and start enjoying themselves again. The unfortunate thing is, we don’t get to see this return to normalcy, and we continue associating them with their God-like form.

Studies show time and time again that regular exercise is beneficial for your mental well-being. So, enjoy your fitness journey and the advantages it brings, but don’t hold your mind and body hostage to these unreachable body image expectations. Boy, you look fine as hell.


Nicholas Lane – Features Writer