The 21st Century Man

Understanding body image and toxic masculinity from the male perspective

By: Chase Congleton


In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness of body positivity for women all across the world. Many companies in the past decade, such as Dove, have put their focus on increased inclusivity for women. However, among all the progress and awareness for women, what is the status of body image for men?


According to a study posted by HealthLine, over 90 percent of boys in middle school and high school go to the gym with the sole purpose to gain muscle. The ideal male physique continues to move further outside the realm of obtainability as the typical male body type young boys are exposed to increasingly come from blockbuster superhero movies. From a young age, men are subliminally are told that big muscles equate to bravery, courage and boldness. They are also told to stifle their emotions and to "act like men."


Toxic masculinity, a term used to describe stereotypical masculine gender roles that involve boys refusing to showcase any emotion that doesn’t display dominance, has sparked a conversation in recent years. Notably, earlier this year, Gillette released an ad detailing what men’s role should be in the #MeToo era and how men can do their part without overstepping boundaries.


Celebrities such as Terry Crews help take part in the conversation of eradicating toxic masculinity from our modern culture, by advocating for male victims of sexual assault. In order for our culture to allow men to be more confident within themselves, society needs to allow men to be vulnerable.


I decided to interview a male staff member of MODMuze, Nathan Cheatham, who has been a part of our staff since August 2018 and has worked extensively with social media and photography.


In the age of social media, have you ever struggled with body image or comparing yourself to others?

"Yes, I have struggled with comparing myself to others. I think one of the ways that people attract attention to themselves in the social media age is by posing shirtless on Instagram or Twitter. More people are less genuine to their audience because they are attracting them with their body rather than their mind. Society holds our bodies to a high standard. It's a harmful view to look at it, as many men can’t meet that standard."


Have you ever struggled with expressing your emotions?

“Personally, not really. I'm a really emotional person and express how I feel. But I believe that wearing my heart on my sleeve has caused me to have negative feelings toward other men who don't express their emotions. My relationship with those who struggle with expressing their emotions has been hindered because I can't relate to others who don't comfortably express themselves. Society states that men should be these big, stoic beings and never express anything. I think that's wrong and emotions are valid. The expectation of society is unrealistic and harmful to the men growing up with expectations.”


What can be done in our society in terms of dealing with toxic masculinity and male body image?

“Having a better representation of body types and archetypes instead of what's seen in the media would be helpful. We also have to be more open in our conversations with other people because emotions are important and powerful. Without emotions, you fail to relate to others and can remain ignorant of the world.”


What advice do you have for anyone who is reading right now?

“Don't be afraid to be yourself. As stereotypical as that is, we fear society's mold for us. You are your own identity and are free to live and be yourself. Be true to who you are. Oh, and cry a little. It helps.”


Photographer: Darcey Drullinger & Nate Cheatham

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