Thin men need to be included in the body positivity movement, we just don't know it yet
Amun Bains 17 March 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media
TW: eating disorders, body image
Image by Armaan Latif
I am a thin man, a skinny man. I can wrap the end of my bicep, when held straight ahead, between my thumb and index finger so that they touch. My BMI is 17.5; officially in the “underweight” category according to the NHS website. Bones stick out from all over my body, my stomach is completely flat if not slightly concave from below my navel and all my shirts droop loosely from my shoulders like coat-hangers.
My thinness is largely genetic I believe. I eat three average size meals a day on a balanced diet, snack daily on whatever my sweet tooth craves, and I don’t take drugs; theoretically I should not be as thin as I am taking the average UK male body. My caloric intake is healthy, but it is offset by my genetics and cardio work (which I need to do daily or else I suffer mentally and have insomnia). In short, I am healthy and so are my habits. I do what I was told all my life, eat well and exercise for pleasure.
I grew up without the influence of “toxic masculinity”. My main male role model was my dad; a very thin man that never told me a man needs to be strong. However, he was and is kind and caring, hard-working and that was my idea of a man I should respect. Upbringings determine a lot of how we are and I’m grateful for how I was brought up.
However, being a man means having to do something about the whole masculinity thing by default. So, being thin has always been difficult because of the barrage of media body ideals and societal expectations of men. We have to undo centuries of ideals that are passed down onto boys at birth. Women in my immediate family half-jokingly tell me they wish they had a body like mine, which ends up just making me feel small.
I am self-conscious about my body and have tried and failed to get bigger. I try not to wear short sleeve t-shirts if I go to a social event and I prefer to wear long sleeves when I play football due to the masculine, competitive nature of sports. When I walk, I am aware I look awkward and gangly. It makes you feel like "less of a man", but men don’t admit that to each other; they don't feel empowered to, so we can’t talk about what that does to our psyche. I still could never actually do it, hence this choice of outlet.
For want of a better word, “fat” people share a lot of these feelings, but the body positivity movement already has them in mind. I know Jonah Hill very recently made an Instagram post decrying fat-shaming from the Daily Mail when he was photographed shirtless in Malibu. “Plus-size” celebrities like Lizzo have often preached body positivity and acceptance for bigger bodies.
As a boy, I didn’t play with dolls, but I did have an Action Man; a stubbly beard, six-pack, tree trunk arms, etc. It is unthinkable to me he would have looked like me as I am now. Captain America to Batman, male superheroes are extremely muscular, and the general idea of an attractive male requires a muscle mass unobtainable for 99% of us.
Skinny men are not represented or included in body positivity discourses, at least not to the degree bigger women and men are, so we sweep our insecurities under the rug. This is also an issue specific to men; a thin woman is ideal, but men are not supposed to be thin. It is mentally damaging to almost never discuss this and leave thin men to suffer with it.
In the 2015/16 premier league season, I loved Riyad Mahrez, the Algerian with legs like twigs that managed to ruin men double his size with his trickery and propel Leicester to a league title. That was my Lizzo if you like, I just never knew it until recently. Other thin men don’t know they need representation either— if you tell thin men being thin is undesirable and that putting on muscle is the ultimate good and never question that standard, how can we?
My struggles with body image are identical to those of “plus-size” people: unrealistic body standards have the same destructive impact; insecurity, body dysmorphia, etc. Just because (thin) men don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it’s any different or less true. Society at large doesn’t even acknowledge the problem.
It is not just as easy to eat more and go to the gym. For me to put on any kind of significant muscle I would have to eat well beyond what is comfortable/enjoyable for me to offset my cardio. On top of that, I’d have to spend most days of the week, every week, pushing myself to a limit at the gym I wouldn’t enjoy being pushed toward. I know, I have tried. I am healthy and society telling me to put on weight/muscle is down to unfair beauty standards and not any kind of concern for my health. In fact, it’s more illogical to ask healthy thin men to put on muscle because the motivation is purely aesthetic (unless you are an athlete), as my health is not at risk.
The positive movement for “plus-size” women came from, to my knowledge, women taking control of their narrative. I'm not pointing fingers at anyone for not including thin men in the discourse, I'm quite simply saying “be the change you want to see.” The body positivity movement is doing a lot of good and it can do more good if it considers skinny guys, too.