Tough and Tender

Words by: Veronica John
Art by: Gabrielle Poh

In society, men are told to be masculine and to ‘toughen up.’  The longer the beard, the taller the male or the more muscles they have, the more women flock to their side. This phenomenon is baffling to me.  It is an unspoken fantasy society placed on males. Why should men be told to toughen up, when it’s okay to be tender?

For those suffering from body dysmorphia stereotypes such as this can be upsetting to experience. Body dysmorphia (BD) is a mental health issue where one obsessively focuses on perceived flaws in one’s appearance – this can be minor or imagined. It’s a term that many young women are unfortunately familiar with, but what about men? 

Wesley, a University student, shared with me his experience with BD and how it has affected his life and intimacy.

Can you share your experiences with body dysmorphia?

There are many features of my body I wish could be improved and I’m always comparing myself to other guys like… why can’t I be skinner? I guess one thing I hate about myself is my stomach — I’ve always been pretty chubby. I try to work out and lose weight, but I always fail to stick to my plan. From a young age, I always believed that I was ugly. I’m not sure if you notice but my spine is messed up which makes my face crooked. In photos, you can really tell that one eye is way higher than the other, and because of this, I’ve always hated the way I look — which is why I hate photos sometimes because I’m afraid people will notice. 

Do you think people accept you now? Even with the insecurities of body dysmorphia?

I really don’t know. I think they do but I can’t really know for sure because you never know what someone else is thinking. I just feel like there are way too many good-looking guys out there compared to me, so why on earth would a girl want to talk to me? 

Do these struggles impact your willingness to be intimate or your experiences of sex in general?

I guess so. I’ve never had sex and been in a relationship before, so sex isn’t something I think about often, but I guess envisioning myself having sex in the future… it’s just not something I can see happening. I think it is probably because I’m still shy about my body — like how I was saying I’m kind of chubby. So, I’m scared if it does come to sex, they’ll see my fat and get turned off — this kind of ties with my BD. I guess maybe once I learn to love myself first, then I’ll be open to letting others touch me.

Wesley’s interview gives society a broader perspective on body dysmorphia as males are often forgotten about or dismissed when it comes to their insecurities. A Swinburne University study supports this, as it found that men and women are equally affected with body dysmorphia, with up to two per cent of the general population living with this disorder. This is a symptom of toxic masculinity and it’s time it stopped. It’s okay to be tough and tender. 

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