Do men really worry about their weight?

As a new survey suggests four out of five men confess to being unhappy about their body shape, Sarah O’Meara and Dave Mark ask whether the 21st century male is truly obsessed with his looks

A MAJOR national study has revealed that over 80 per cent of men don’t feel good about their appearance. In a survey by the University of The West Of England, four out of five men are unhappy with their ‘level of muscularity’, while over a third would sacrifice a year of life to achieve ideal body weight or shape. In addition, over half of men questioned said that ‘body talk’ affects them personally, mostly in a negative way. But do these figures tell the whole story?

YES by David Mark

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MY seven-year-old was sketching last night. She’s good at that kind of thing, and apparently your children like it when you take an interest, so I put down my crisp sandwich and wandered over. Her picture, to my eyes, was of a perfectly round sun rising over a tree-lined meadow. “Are you going to put some birds in the background?” I asked, showing willing.

She looked at me quizzically. “On your head?”

It turned out the picture was of Daddy in his new roll-neck sweater. I was a tad upset. I went straight to the kitchen and told my partner that our youngest was picking on me. Then I ate the chocolates out of the Advent calendars we had bought in bulk in the January sales.

What am I going to do about it, aside from microwaving her wax crayons? Well, I’m not wearing the roll-neck, for a start. But I had a slice of Banoffee Pie for breakfast, and if I was wearing a step-counter on my ankle, it would read roughly six by midday. Still, I’ll be crying on the inside. I’ll be wishing I was fitter.

I used to be fit, you see. I was healthy, toned and had pectoral muscles that could be relied upon to stay still while brushing my teeth. I don’t like the fact that, when I catch sight of myself in shop windows, I look like a capital D. When my teenage son asks questions about what age I started losing my hair, or leaves leaflets in my office about heart disease, I get a wee bit down. And turning to my partner for comfort is hardly to be encouraged. While she is permitted to spend an entire evening in tears if I say something insensitive, she’s apparently perfectly at liberty to tell me to put a shirt on before I go downstairs to make the tea, in case I scare the children. Admittedly, I shouldn’t have said the words “one, two, three” before lifting her off the sofa when she was ill, but, in my defence, I thought it would be funny.

And it turns out I’m not alone. This research shows men have serious issues. We’re concerned about how we look – and we’re even starting to talk about it. To some extent, this might be deemed positive. There’s a lot to be said for getting a little fitter, and using our fears to galvanise our resolve and adopt a healthier lifestyle (and stop our trouser buttons from turning into deadly projectile weapons).

But it seems that for all of our fears, we’re not doing a great deal about it. Obesity is still a growth industry. Gym membership may be up, but the number of people actually working out on a regular basis is down. So, we’re worried about how we look, we wish our bodies were different, but we’re not doing anything about it. Finally, we have gender equality!

NO by Sarah O’Meara

I NEVER thought I’d see this in my lifetime. Too much talk of man boobs and six-packs has finally seeped into the deeply buried male subconscious and they’re finally learning to feel our pain. Blokes now, apparently, feel so ashamed of their ‘moobs’, the mere mention of another guy’s ‘ripped’ abs can prompt a shame spiral so powerful it sends their gym membership flying towards the bin.

To be honest, I’ll accept that last part, but the rest of the findings are harder to swallow. The truth is, I rarely hear any man speak openly about weight worries. The closest my husband ever comes to self-doubt is when, after giving his Father Christmas-style tummy a couple of theatrical pats, he’ll look down and frown at the too-long wobbling aftershocks. But the grin quickly comes back – plus a tragic gag about being ‘all man’ – before he disappears back into the fridge. So, when are men getting all upset about their appearance?

Do they snuggle up together over Men’s Health on the train commute? Do they discuss David Beckham, below, and his six pack? Or perhaps they engage in what experts call ‘body talk’ while exercising their divine right to get the drinks in? That would explain why they usually bring back two pints of 230-calorie lager – with one as a chaser. They’re comfort drinking.

I truly had no idea such a male crisis was going on, and I’m disappointed I’ve never had the chance to help out. Swapping calorie counts sounds more fun than trying to remember the original cast list of 1970s sitcom Taxi, while engaging in bedtime chit-chat.

After all, I too understand what it’s like to yearn for toned arms, slim boyish hips and a jawbone that cuts glass. Plus, I’ve got decades worth of tried-and-tested weight regulating techniques, including wedding anxiety (half a stone), breaking up with boyfriend (almost a whole stone) and semi-starvation (no stones, as you tend to drink instead), which I’m happy to share. But handily for guys, and this survey, all this misery is happening behind closed doors. Experts says that 80 per cent of men engage in ‘body talk’ at the gym (if they’ve still got the nerve to go). Well, that explains why they spend so much time standing idle, chatting by the weights.

And as a result of this – and the media’s influence – self-esteem levels have dropped so low, a third of men would lose a year of life in exchange for the perfect pecs. Given that men live up to 10 years less than women anyway, this is turning into a six-pack/soulmate stand-off. So, if there is a problem, I propose a solution. Let’s shut down all the gyms. Then we can get back to the real problem: Do I look fat in this?