The Realities and Big Lies of Male Body Image


Hair, Height, and Everything in Between:

The Realities and Big Lies of Male Body Image

By: Adam Nisenson, AMFT, CSAT-C

Hair, Height, and Everything in Between: The Realities and Big Lies of Male Body Image

By: Adam Nisenson, AMFT, CSAT-C

To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in one’s self. –Simone de Beauvoir

Becoming Ken is just as impossible a feat as becoming Barbie.

It’s no longer a secret that a woman’s relationship with her body will often be tumultuous throughout her life. The issues of body image and physical perception are being shown the cold, harsh light of day in today’s changing social climate, often for the first time, in a very real way. But while more people than ever before are aware of women and their ongoing fight with self-image, it’s not just the girls who are struggling. Of the estimated thirty million Americans living with an eating disorder, roughly a third are men, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. And correlating the ‘ideal body’ with one that looks somehow different from their own is something that’s happening at a frighteningly young age—in as early as six to eight-year-old boys, according to a heartbreaking report by Common Sense Media. So how does The Big Lie feed into this male body image crisis? And more importantly, how do we move away from trends that lead to depictions that end up endangering men and boys both physically and psychologically?

Boys, Men, and Their Bodies

There was a time when all body image, eating disorder, disordered eating, and addictive food behaviors were strictly filed under the women’s problems header. Give ‘er a vibrator, boys, she’s obviously hysterical—nothing more to be done here. Thankfully, the nuances that surround these issues have since become much more widely studied and understood—along with the fact that half of the overweight adult population and at least a million Americans suffering from an eating disorder today are in fact men. And a deeper look at the issue uncovers a startling reality: male eating and body dysmorphia disorders often go undiagnosed, untreated, and misunderstood.

Intrinsic in the outdated school of thought that cultivated The Big Lie is the idea that displaying feelings or showing emotions is a sign of weakness. Unfortunately for boys brought up to believe in this version of “manliness,” being taught to suppress any signs of sentiment doesn’t make the growing pains of life any easier.  Bullying, low self-esteem, abuse, depression, adolescence, and all the other hallmarks of disordered eating that appear in women will also make themselves known in men, but it can often be much more difficult for boys to deal with these issues openly, even among friends. This can lead to less teen boys and adult men seeking treatment for their body issues and eating disorders.

Historically, men also haven’t been held to the same unrealistic standards as women to be thin or out of proportion in the name of beauty. (Consider Adam West and his Dadbod version of Batman). But times have changed—in a big way.

Hashtag Fitness and the Superhero Effect: Unrealistic Expectations

From Hugh Jackman and Dwayne Johnson to anyone gracing a superhero costume, it’s hard not to notice a striking trend of the silver screen these days: the leading men are getting ripped. Women have long-since been exposed to ridiculous standards of beauty in Hollywood, but in recent years, a huge emphasis has been placed on the ever-present need for chiseled abs and bulging biceps on our headlining gentlemen.

And it’s not just the big screen. Turn on your computer, flip on your television, or peruse social media for more time than it takes to do a box jump and you’re bound to come across at least a half dozen people giving you their #gymmotivation for the day—replete with rippling bicep mirror selfies, ads for weight loss supplements and a guaranteed way to get you shredded in 90 days. While living a healthy, balanced lifestyle is something everyone should strive for, the fact is that most of these bulging, massive, 0% fat bodies are realistically something only attainable for a small percentage of the male population.

But that doesn’t change the message being bombarded to men—and boys—via pop culture and The Big Lie: You need big, strong muscles and washboard abs to be brave, dependable, and worthy. You must look a certain way to be a real man.

And it’s more than just the shape of their bodies. Hollywood, the media, pop culture—they repeatedly tell men they need to be lean, strong muscular. They tell men they need hair and a beard (but it must be the right kind of beard!) and offer consolation on height perception, how to fix complexion issues, sexual performance… the list goes on and on.

Keeping it Real

There has been a push in recent years for more acceptance in media, with retailers like Target and Aerie moving towards inclusiveness within their print and online advertisements. Their most recent billboards, posters, and flyers have featured female models of more varying sizes and heights, and with more normal features (yes, even stretch marks and breasts of two different sizes) left in. It’s time for this conversation to cross over—for our boys to realize that they, too, come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors: and that that’s ok.

Keeping the lines of communication open, keeping an eye out for signs of depression or disordered eating behavior in your children or your friends, and pointing out unrealistic body expectations when they are being shoved in our faces with an extra helping of creatine is the first step in having that conversation.  


Adam Nisenson is a therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah where he specializes in men’s issues and sex addiction. He is certified co-leader in the ManKind Project and is also the Executive Director of the Jung Society of Utah.

The Truth About Men and Tears


Raw, Masculine Emotion: The Truth About Men and Tears

By Adam Nisenson, AMFT, CSAT-C

Raw, Masculine Emotion: The Truth About Men and Tears

By: Adam Nisenson, AMFT, CSAT-C

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before—more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”

–Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“Boys don’t cry.” How many times has this stereotypical, patriarchal notion been reinforced throughout your life? Parents, coaches, society at large—the concept that a man expressing his emotions or exposing the slightest sign of vulnerability, pain, or sadness is tantamount to weakness is one that seems to endure. It’s bombarded into our psyche throughout our lives; a lie that somehow remains ingrained in our culture and the idea of masculine identity; The Big Lie, reinforced time and again from childhood through adulthood and beyond. The reality is that it takes a great amount of strength to be open in moments of grief and pain. To share our sorrows and vulnerabilities with those we love is to gift them with our respect. To trust and allow them to support and console us at our most vulnerable is not only ok, but essential to living our healthiest, most authentic life.

The Most Human of Emotional Responses

In 2017, following the birth of his fraternal twins, actor George Clooney admitted to the Daily Mail during the Toronto Film Festival that he cried roughly four times a day. It’s not an entirely shocking concept. Parenthood—new parenthood in particular—is an awe-inspiring, terrifying jolt just violent enough to reduce even the greatest among us to rubble. Consider attempting to maintain some semblance of normalcy (eating, dressing, contributing to society) while literally learning to keep a brand-new human being alive. All while chronically sleep-deprived. Add to this the profound and spiritual understanding that you – you! – created human life and “New Parent Cries Often” hardly seems like particularly headline-worthy news.  

But headlines it did make, with every publication from Harper’s Bazaar to Metro picking up the “story” and roaring to the heavens about Clooney’s somehow shocking admission. Had Clooney’s wife—had any other woman—revealed that they cried often during the stresses of new parenthood and there would have been no news to report. Women crying is seen as a normal expression of emotion. Men crying is seen as an aberration, a bold admission of weakness. Which is, of course, nonsense.

A Manly Cry

Science and our body’s own natural response system tells us that crying is normal, healthy, and necessary. But culture and the concept of a masculine identity continue to insist that strong men don’t cry, while many parents continue to raise their sons to cry solely in private—if at all. History, however, sides with the criers.

While women’s tears have often been associated with emotional weakness, up until quite recently getting misty-eyed was perfectly acceptable for men. Literature and history alike are filled with the tales of warriors, heroes, and lovers who were revered and respected despite often openly expressing their emotions—and yes, that means crying. Japanese samurai often sobbed during epic battles, and Abraham Lincoln was known to cry during his speeches. The hero of Chretien de Troyes’ round table fame, none other than Lancelot, was known to weep whenever he missed his true love and was adored all the more as a character and warrior knight by readers for it. And the Bible is chock full of examples of everyone from kings and entire cities to Jesus himself crying for all to see.

So… where did all the tears go? Regardless of the shift in “masculinity,” our bodies and minds were not designed to swallow and withhold emotion.

The Science of Tears

Of course, we’re not Samurais, so stopping in the middle of battle or a crisis situation for a good cry doesn’t make much sense. There are certain times when opting for stoicism is the better choice and the fact that in modern society men outnumber women in areas like law enforcement, public safety, and military personnel has certainly contributed to the rise in the image of an unemotional, detached, hero persona that so many have come to associate with a “real” man. Luckily, after years of berating men for expressing their grief, joy, or pain through tears, there seems to be a slight shift towards returning to see men’s tears as a sign of masculine strength.

But even setting the emotional value side, there are genuine, documented health and biochemical benefits to having a cry, as well. For starters, while you might feel a distinct difference between tears of sadness and those of joy, your body rarely makes a distinction. Intense situations of any kind can trigger responses (like the famed fight or flight instinct) in us. Tears act as a type of pressure valve, releasing an excess of stress hormones, including cortisol. Left unchecked and constantly suppressed, chronically elevated levels of these hormones can wreak havoc on your mood and disposition. That sense of relief and calm you feel after a good hard cry is in major part due to this hormonal release.

Those mood-elevating benefits are especially important when you consider than men are less likely than women to seek help for depression than the opposite sex—and three to four times more likely to commit suicide. Emotional suppression can manifest itself in other physical symptoms as well, including anxiety, acute pain, muscle soreness, chronic headaches, sexual dysfunction, gastrointestinal distress, eating disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

Developing enough trust to accept that you won’t be judged for expressing your feelings and vulnerabilities can be a scary, sometimes trying experience. But learning that not only do real men cry, but they embrace the fullness of all their emotions—and share them with those they love—is an essential step towards living an authentic life from the heart.


Adam Nisenson is a therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah where he specializes in men’s issues and sex addiction. He is certified co-leader in the ManKind Project and is also the Executive Director of the Jung Society of Utah. The EFT Clinic is thrilled to have Adam on our team. Email Adam (adam[@] or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment with Adam!