“There’s something manly about a big gut, huh?” my brother asked his wife, in reference to a relative’s beer gut.
She smiled as she pursed her lips and cocked her head.
“I guess it’s pretty unhealthy…” my brother responded.
We’re not a skinny family. My brothers and I all struggle with our weight, though you wouldn’t tell by looking at us; we’re all very active. I’ve borne the brunt of my mother’s scrutiny, as a girl, but we’ve all felt it. Growing up with a skinny mother who constantly puts down her looks (and by extension, ours… we have the same genetics… also shut up mom if you think you’re fat then what do you think I am?…I’m not bitter…) really put a psychological strain on all of us.
I wanted to say so much to my brother in that moment: that it was sexist to imply that belly fat was masculine, as if belly fat has a gender; that he should turn his attitude around before his daughter grows up, because she is sure to have her own insecurities; and that a beer gut being unhealthy isn’t the counterargument to “but it’s manly!” (they are separate things).
In many cultures, a big gut on men is indeed celebrated as a rite of passage for married men. There is definitely a cultural connection to manliness. But if you’re going to say that you have the privilege of gaining weight because you’re a man, you had better think about the implications of this line of thought for the women in your life.
That being said, I know the household he grew up in, I know how we all internalize guilt about our bodies; I empathize with him. I haven’t overcome my own body issues overnight; how can I expect my brother to?
I’m working hard on being body-positive myself, but I also want to be an ally for men with body image issues, and that is an entirely different type of body positivity than for women. There is some overlap, but I feel that my experience being a non-skinny woman does not necessarily make me a good ally for men.
There are so many body-positive fashion bloggers, clothing lines, and spokespeople popping up all over the place for women, and while we have absolutely not closed the gap on positive representation for fat women, men with eating disorders and negative body image go largely ignored. “Oh whatever, you’re a guy, you can get away with anything.” It’s true, male privilege is a thing; but that doesn’t mean men’s lives are automatically anything. Especially if we’re talking about the intersectionality of male body positivity and the LGBTQ community. I once had dinner with a group of gay men, several of whom were talking about the diets they were going on in order to lose weight for summer, boyfriends who dumped them for gaining weight, etc. Not every LGBTQ man feels this pressure, but it is a far more pervasive issue than is publicly acknowledged. I don’t even know about intersectionality with other identities. But I will say from first hand experience, jewish guilt doesn’t help.
Even straight white cisgendered fit men like my brother can have issues with their body image; and even if they don’t, they could always be better role models for those around them who look up to them. Healthy self-esteem carries over to everyone in our lives. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Here are just a few body-positive resources for you menfolk/masculinefolk/anyone to whom femme/female body positivity doesn’t apply:
- Dressman “underwear for the perfect man”, and other body-positive campaigns for men. (By the way the Modcloth male employees campaign is super cute… especially a quote from one of the guys saying that the confidence of the women in the women’s shoot inspired him to wear a swimsuit for the men’s shoot!)
- This Bustle roundup. Tons of wonderful masculine fashion inspiration for plus-sized bodies.
- This Ravishly roundup. Brings to light the intersection between body positivity and maleness in our culture, and the pressure to “man up” when one’s self-esteem isn’t at its best.
- This “body positivity for guys” tumblr, which specifies itself as “A body positivity blog specifically for all of us male-identified, masculine-bodied, and/or masculine-presenting people of Tumblr.” There are some wonderfully diverse gender presentations on here.
- This other male body health and love tumblr. Again, very queer-friendly. (Can there be any other kind of body positivity?)
Exercise or don’t. Wear what you want to wear. Be yourself. Male or female, masculine or feminine, cis or trans*, queer or straight… most of us need a little body positivity.