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Men’s Body Image: Ageing and Mental Health

There’s a myth that women are more dissatisfied with their bodies than men. This misconception perpetuates toxic masculinity and can adversely affect men’s mental health. In reality, negative body image does not discriminate between gender or age and many men are unhappy with varying aspects of their physical appearance, including weight, muscle size and tone, and hairline. This pessimism also manifests in men’s physical health and sex lives, as well.

What is body image?

Body image refers to how an individual sees their own body and how attractive they feel themselves to be. While it can seem like vanity to take your looks into account, having a positive body image can build an understanding of yourself and lead to healthier lifestyle choices.

Negative body image typically stems from constantly comparing yourself to curated ideals. This can lead to mental health issues like low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. While most people typically associate these disorders with young women (another myth), it is not uncommon for men to struggle with body image or to have an eating disorder. This toxic masculinity assumes men are above caring about their physical appearances and normalises unhealthy behaviours for many men who do not seek help to manage them.

Factors that may contribute to negative body image in men include:

  • Being teased for being too thin or too fat

  • A receding hairline

  • The expectation that men must always be physically “tough” and “strong”

  • Advertising campaigns and media influence

  • The emphasis of male sports players as the ideal role models for boys

  • Well-meaning public health campaigns

  • A cultural tendency to judge people on their appearance

Destructive behaviours associated with negative body image in men:

  • Jumping on fad diets without proper research

  • Disordered and untimely eating

  • Exercise addiction or dependency (over-exercising)

  • Abusing performance enhancement drugs like steroids

  • Believing that self-worth is tied to how masculine one portrays themselves as

Common physical changes that men experience:

Gaining fat: Men tend to gain weight steadily starting at around age 30 and continuing until roughly age 55. A man’s excess weight tends to be carried as belly fat, which increases his risk of heart disease.

Losing muscle: Male hormones begin to decline around middle age leading to the loss of muscle mass. Your body will respond less dramatically to strength training as you get older, but consistency in the gym will boost testosterone levels. 

Heart disease: Even a healthy person’s blood vessels and arteries become slightly less supple with time, which can contribute to high blood pressure. Heart disease is relatively rare in men in their thirties and forties, but risk factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure can creep up quickly with age. 

Prostate enlargement: This small organ tends to get larger as you get older, pressing against the urethra or bladder. Prostate cancer also becomes more common with age.

Erectile dysfunction: Although many men continue to experience normal sexual function well into advanced years, erections become less frequent for some men, and the ability to have repeated sexual intercourse in a short period of time becomes less common. Sexual desire—libido—may also decline with age. 

Skin issues: Skin gets thinner as you get older, which can cause slower wound healing and greater sensitivity to the cold. Crusty, rough patches, known as solar keratosis, become more common after age 45 and is considered a precancerous condition.

Receding hairline: About half of men have male pattern baldness. While some men with a genetic predisposition may begin to lose their hair before leaving their college years, most who experience thinning notice it by their mid-thirties or later.

It’s natural for the body to change as it ages. Accepting the changes and being aware of the changes can help you make healthier lifestyle choices. It can also help to maintain or boost a more positive body image as you age.

Four ways to improve your body image:

  1. Shift your focus to how your body functions rather than focusing on how your body looks.

  2. Develop reasons for exercising that are not focused on your body's appearance such as stress release, sexual vitality, or improved concentration, rather than concentrating only on changing your body shape.

  3. Treat your body with respect, including eating well, sleeping enough, and not undertaking punishing exercise routines, fad diets, or abusing drugs.

  4. Accept that your body is getting older without comparing yourself to how you were when younger.

Getting help for body image issues

Talk to your doctor about your physical and mental health. The mortality risk of an eating disorder is just as high among men as it is for women, as are the complications and comorbid diseases associated with it.

Men with anorexia are at increased risk for developing bone conditions like osteopenia and osteoporosis and may require testosterone supplements. Men with bulimia may suffer from tooth decay, bowel and oesophagus complications, as well as electrolyte imbalances. Men with binge eating disorders may experience higher blood pressure and cholesterol, gallbladder complications, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

If your mood is being affected by how you feel about your body, you are noticing that you are overly focused on your body, or if you are developing destructive behaviours (like crash dieting, binge eating, or compulsive exercising), speaking to a counsellor or psychologist specially trained in the areas of body image can help you to break negative beliefs and behaviours.

 

Digital health coaching is a premium feature of the Naluri app that connects you with a team of health coaches including a clinical psychologist, medical advisors, dietitians, fitness coaches, and more. Reach out to hello@naluri.life for more information on how you can use Naluri to become your healthiest and best self.

Written by:
Chloe Pharamond