Michael's story: when my body changed, I didn't know how to feel

This content mentions body image or generally discusses weight, which some people may find triggering.

My relationship with my body historically has been good, but I would say it’s because I equated being skinny to being healthy, so when things started to change, it made me feel uncertain about how I should feel.

Noticing my body start to change

Growing up in my teens and well into my 20s, I was a skinny guy – to the point where it was commented on by others, and it became a part of my identity without me actively doing anything to make it that way. Over time, due to a changing life which leaves not a lot of time to do much for myself, I noticed that I was not as slim as I once was, grey hair started, and I began to hear people say, “you are looking tired” to me.

Photo of Michael

​Societal pressure to conform to a 'certain' body type

I think there is a massive amount of pressure nowadays to conform to a certain look or body type. At my stage in life, I have noticed the rise of the “dad bod” which is, as far as I can see, a statement from guys saying they are proud of carrying more weight and not watching what they eat and so on. It seems a response to a lot of what we see in the media – kind of like being cuddly over having those “rock-hard abs” that Facebook tells you about.

I still don’t know how I feel about it though – on the one hand, it is good for people to feel comfortable in the skin they are in regardless of whether they would want to change how they look, but I am not sure if a lot of those men that take this on board would be saying the same to their wives and partners. There is a massive pressure for women to look a certain way; I think there is a fair bit of male entitlement in there that says “we can look how we want”, but there is no similar standard for women.

My body image can have a negative impact on my mood and how I feel. I can be fine for ages then catch sight of myself in a mirror and feel like I am looking older or I don’t feel as smart as I used to because I don’t fit into a lot of the clothes I used to wear. I think it knocks my confidence more than a bit because you get into a rut of seeing yourself in a certain negative way and feeling it is easier to do nothing about it than either committing to be happy with yourself or doing something to change what you are not happy with.

Teaching my children to be comfortable in their own skin

I think to try and reduce this pressure on ourselves and others, it really needs to start with individuals – for my children (one girl and one boy) I want to get them to be happy with themselves both emotionally and physically and to give them the confidence that happiness isn’t about how you look but about what you have in your life.

More broadly, I think men really need to be more open about how they feel about their bodies – the whole discussion about body image has, until recently, been unfairly targeted at women and although I think that is now changing (certainly for younger men) I think we cannot forget that there are whole generations that would find talking about how they feel about their bodies completely alien and this is where support is needed.

Like anything, the more we avoid an issue, the worse it becomes. There is no one measure of what “feeling good about your body” is, but we need to do better from school onwards to help us understand how important happiness is and for a lot of people to see that body image is linked to that.

I would never have thought growing up that it was something that would bother me, but it does, and I think that the way to address it is to normalise people, including men, having conversations about their bodies and not being dismissed as “weak” for doing so.

The double standard between men and women needs to be addressed

However, when getting men to talk about how they feel about their bodies, I think there has to be a much greater understanding of how they apply standards to women as it is very well saying you are happy talking about yourself and the things you are not happy with then criticising how your wife or partner looks – there is a double standard that needs to be addressed.

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