Research from leisure operator Better highlighted the growing pressure and insecurities British men feel concerning their appearance.
The survey found that a third of UK men believe that low body confidence has affected their social life, 30% claim it has troubled their love life and 27% that it has impacted their mental health.
Those aged 18–24yrs (the group most active on social media) are also the cohort most affected by negative body confidence issues, including body dysmorphia (81%). This includes thinking often about making their body more muscular or lean, feeling anxiety due to a missed workout or maintaining an extreme exercise plan.
The findings also suggest that British males are less likely to celebrate body positivity than their female counterparts. Better conducted a social media analysis of Instagram, scraping through the top 1,000 posts tagged with the #bodypositivity hashtag, finding over 83% of all posts were made by or featured women. This compares with just 10% of posts made by or featuring men.
Overall, research shows that regular exercise positively impacts male well-being. Men are more physically active than women, exercising on average of 3.4 hrs per week compared to 2.9 hrs. The main motivators for regular activity are noticing physical changes (23 %), such as weight loss and improvements to overall health (20%).
As part of the research, Better spoke to experts and influencers to gain insights into the issues raised. Sam Thomas, a writer, speaker and mental health advocate who has suffered from body image and eating disorders, said:
“In my mid-20s, I started going to the gym for the first time, and I found weightlifting helped improve my confidence and self-esteem. When I went to the gym, I ate well; when I didn’t, I ate less, so I consequently lost weight. The gym doesn’t work for everybody in recovery from eating disorders, but it works for me.
“Fortunately, I’ve never felt peer pressure quite as much as my friends, so I have avoided comparing what I see on the internet and my peers.
“More education and awareness are key so that the current and future generations don’t become adversely affected by what they see and how it makes them feel.
“There’s nothing wrong with men wanting to become body confident, and we need to celebrate men‘s bodies – in all their diversity. But first, we need to eliminate any idea that men have a limited set of body image ideals that men aspire to.”
Phil Hannen, health intervention manager at Better, commented: “I think men teased in childhood for how they look (too fat, too weak, too small, too skinny) tend to carry those negative thoughts into adult life.
“Social media and certain TV shows portray the way the ideal man should look: strong, lean and muscular. The implication is that if you look like this, you attract the best-looking girls and have the most friends. Failure to achieve this idealised and often unattainable look can lead to eating disorders, low self-esteem, relationship problems and even self-harm.
“Exercise has several positive physical benefits as well as improving mental well-being. When exercising, your body releases chemicals that can improve your mood, make you feel less anxious and reduce stress and depression; it can also improve the function of the brain.”
“In today’s pressured world, exercise is important to maintain good physical and mental health. Many men I have spoken to tell me that they use exercise to escape the stresses and pressures of everyday life and that it provides important ‘me time’.”