Digital ArtPhotographySkepticism

Of Adobe and Eating Disorders

So Jesse Rosten made this amazing video. Watch it.

It’s brilliant but there’s something missing: men. We get Photoshopped too, why isn’t that an issue.

After the break I fix the missing men problem and go on a little rant.

With very little effort I found a couple ‘shopped ads to add to the little campaign started above by Jesse. I think it helps balance things out a little. Also I used an umlaut instead of an acute accent. Umlauts are way more manly.

original from
Original from Calvin Klein MAN ad

In preparation for ranting I decided that I should go and do a bit of reading so I could speak with authority on why this kind of thing is just as big a problem for men as it is for women. That was a terrible Idea because I found out that it isn’t.

Some quick and hard to argue with stats:

So that’s a little bit hard to rant against. Facts ruin the best arguments. However, just because the misrepresentation of the idealized body isn’t as big a problem for men as it is for women, it is still a problem. Men have to cope with these images of impractically chiseled features and flawless skin and they leave their mark.

It is hard to meet a man that doesn’t think he should spend more time at the gym.  However, unlike compulsive dieting, that’s not really viewed as a bad thing. The result would appear to be healthier guys, no? Well, no.  The motivation for that exercise isn’t often better health and longer life, at least not amongst young men. The impulse to exercise is the feeling that their bodies don’t measure up. We are driven to the gym out of a desire to be pretty rather than to be healthy.  The ‘pretty’ that we’re trying to achieve is the zero percent body fat, dehydrated and Photoshopped body-building model from the CK ads. Most of us don’t have the genetics to be that man, but we think that all it takes to become him is exercise because that’s what Chuck Norris tells us late at night. If we don’t look like them, it’s because we have failed.


Dangerous Lies.

Do you know a man that spends so much time at the gym that they’ve lost touch with reality? Do you know any guys that are ashamed to be seen in a swimsuit? Do you know any boys that feels shitty about the fact that they don’t waste hours lifting heavy things? They are the victims of mass media. They’re trying to bench-press away their body-image issues.  There is even a psychological disorder for the compulsive need to build muscle called ‘muscle dysmorphia’. It’s thought to be as prevalent as anorexia, but much harder to diagnose because it doesn’t normally result in malnourishment; it results in being abnormally muscular.

So in conclusion, women have it worse than men. However, the boys aren’t alright either. When raging against the advertising industry and their portrayal of women, don’t forget about us. Statistically speaking, spend about ten percent of your rage on our behalf.


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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  1. I remember a few months ago a article written by a male model chronicling what he went through to be prepared for shoots, it basically amounted to him starving himself for a period of time before the shoots to have that lean toned look. Unfortunately I can’t recall where I saw it or I would provide the link.

    But now my not going to the gym, or running, can be a protest against mass media instead of a sign of laziness.

  2. “Most of us don’t have the genetics to be that man”

    Yes we do. What we lack is the necessary discipline.

    Body image issues are real and important, but one in three Americans IS medically obese. There’s a difference between mocking people for their weight and pointing out the fact that obesity is causing the fattest regions of the USA to have declining average lifespans.

    The problem with the USA isn’t that we idealize fit forms, it’s that we go overboard with the skinniness and muscle mass aspects of fitness (that and we don’t actually care enough about REAL fitness).

    I’m not arguing that eating disorders or knee-jerk bariatric surgery are good anymore than I’m arguing that, say, the Venus of Willendorf has a shape we should aspire to. I -am- saying that there a rafts of sound medical evidence which suggest that exercise, a certain body size, a specific diet, etc all lead to longer lives and better health during said lives.

    There are many overweight people these days who actually celebrate their obesity as if it’s something that should be respected (as opposed to merely tolerated). I don’t ever mock people for obesity, and I have never even discussed it outside of very close friendly conversations, but it IS true that obesity engenders chronic diseases and shortens peoples’ already-teeny time on this planet. That’s a bad thing.

    I dunno. If we as a culture actually promoted legitimate fitness and got our kids concerned about it from an early age, I figure much of the eating disorders and body-image issues would go away.

  3. @Jambe, Most of your rant is spot on, though I’m going to disagree with your first line. The myth that everyone can have the physique of the models above is extremely pervasive.

    Looking like that requires more than hard work, it requires a genetic predisposition. Almost everyone can be fit and healthy, but cartoonishly ripped and chiseled we all cannot be.

  4. @Jambe: Not every guy can achieve that physique. My brother is 6’2″, weighs 155 pounds, and couldn’t put on that kind of muscle if his life depended on it. Force of will has nothing to do with it. He’s just got scrawny genes.

    Secondly, I’m going to point out the fact that the backlash against the “thin = good” standard of beauty is NOT the same as not caring about the health effects of obesity. When many female fashion models have BMIs that are indicative of eating disorders, something is seriously wrong. Saying that you can be beautiful and still eat burgers every once in a while is not the same thing as saying that we shouldn’t also be striving to lower rates of obesity. Yes obesity is killing people. But so is the bullshit standard of beauty that holds that how thin should you be? THINNER THAN YOU ARE RIGHT NOW.

    Promoting real fitness is a laudable goal! But we have to promote real fitness within the context of ACHIEVABLE standards of beauty in order for people to be truly healthy and happy with themselves.

  5. @Ryan – thank-you for posting this. It’s interesting, as you seem to be on a bit of a theme of posting the effects on society when it comes to the saturation of unattainable body images. First with the fantasy armor, then with rubber spines and bent space. Now here – it’s good to see people addressing the male point of view when it comes to a healthy vision of oneself. I definitely appreciate the research that has gone into all of these posts. There are many guys who are so preoccupied with their own physique, obsession with attaining the perfect 6-pack, that they expect everyone else around them to have the same priorities. The same, of course, goes for many women.

    In regards to obesity – that is a discussion in and of itself. So many factors have created a situation where people are able to expand their waste-lines so easily. Perhaps the constant barrage of images of impossible body types has contributed with the feeling that, “Well, I’ll never be that, so I might as well accept my ‘fate’. Pass me some of those fries, and yeah, I’ll take a side of gravy.” And of course, there is the “microwave”/instant gratification mentality that so many have embraced. Our society is filled with consumers, wanting, eating, taking more. But anyways!

    “You can never be too thin or too rich” – an obvious fallacy of thinking. Well, at least the former half of the statement. When I was younger, I was incredibly thin – to the point where people angrily accused me of being anorexic. (I honestly had a ridiculously high metabolism.) However, I was constantly bombarded with direct influence that I was painfully thin – like “Skeletor” thin. This can have a negative effect on people as well. Making them either want to over-eat so people will just cease their hurtful comments, or become even skinnier out of protest. As it has been said, a balance of what is possible, and what is healthy for the individual should be attained. People say that they desire and strive to be different, while desperately wanting acceptance. And so many times people drop back to what is familiar, what they see… everywhere.

  6. I’m aware there is considerable variation in the maximum size of muscles people can naturally gain. I know the difference between, for instance, a “hardgainer” and an Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was not saying we can all look like Arnold — I was saying we can all look GOOD (that is to say, relatively lean with a touch of muscle definition).

    I know fifty-odd people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds (several skinny siblings among them) who were perpetually scrawny from birth through adolescence until they hit the military — they all came out buffed up (some more than others, certainly, but they all gained considerable muscle mass). I myself was a running-oriented beanpole until my early twenties when I learned how to put on muscle (calorie surplus and muscle-targeting short-burst free weights and/or compound exercises). It’s impossible for me to get huge body-builder musculature, but I have nonetheless fleshed out my scrawny frame a good bit and I’m fairly strong.

    I realize the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but I will only believe there’s such a thing a “genetically un-muscleable person” (which seems a defeatist and frankly discriminatory thing to say) when I see a decent study proving it. I’ve seen many studies on skeletal muscle and its behavior, but if somebody here wants to provide me with one that contradicts my position, I’ll gladly read it and alter my views accordingly. Otherwise I’ll stick to my “we just don’t care enough” guns.

    Just to be clear, I’m not really against scrawniness or heaviness as long as the person isn’t UNHEALTHILY thin or heavy (I do think a fit, somewhat-defined body is an aesthetic ideal, but I also realize people have different interests and differing amounts of time to devote to fitness). My primary concern is that people are neither TOO heavy nor TOO thin, and that they get the exercise and diet necessary to ward off chronic disease and make their bodies (and minds) function as well as they can.

  7. Jambe, you are conflating being ‘chiseled’ with being healthy. Schwarzenegger put on muscle mass by unhealthy high protein dieting and high dose steroid use. NOTHING about that is healthy. You can be healthy with a normal percentage of body fat by getting a reasonable amount of exercise and following a sensible diet. My dad was in the military. He was a star basketball and baseball player for them for years…until he developed a bad luck form of heart disease (it was a type that is neither genetic nor diet/lifestyle related), and died. My dad was thin and wiry, all the basic training and weightlifting didn’t change that. Having a buff and chiseled build, with six-pack abs is not necessarily a sign of good health, nor is it attainable for everyone. Take a look at some pictures of farmers from the early part of the 20th century, when farming truly meant working. Even then, the men display a wide variety of body types. Moderation and common sense makes MUCH more sense.

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