If I asked you which gender you believe has more pressure put on them to look perfect, you'd probably laugh in my face. Rolling your eyes and dismissing the question, there's a strong chance you'd see the enquiry as ridiculous, short-sighted or even sexist. Generally speaking, it's an accepted fact that women are always under more pressure than men when it comes to appearance. But the phrase "try walking a mile in my shoes" is perhaps one of the most the most relevant sayings when it comes to talking about men and women.
For centuries, society has spoken about the fact that women are made to feel awful about their looks. They discuss it passionately and with good reason. Almost any female out there will happily reel off an endless list of the societal pressures that sit on their shoulders every single day: we must be thin, but also have beguiling curves in all the right places; we must have long silky hair and when it turns to grey, we're told to dye it back. We should have clear skin but if we don't, we're expected to wear make-up to cover our acne up (but remember, not too much make-up). However, while we're perched in the hotseat feeling like all eyes are on us, many of us assume that men don't feel the same pressures - and, chances are, we're wrong.
The cost of being a woman is sky high, but studies show that in the 21st century, more and more men are paying the price as well. According to reports, men spent an estimated whopping 14.8 billion pounds worldwide on grooming in 2016, suggesting that times are changing and guys are feeling the heat to look good as well. Look around you and you'll see that men are turning to waxing studios, threading their eyebrows, slapping on the fake tan and hitting the gym harder than ever before. The evidence shows that a lot of men could read out their very own list of insecurities about their looks, with the hang-ups ranging from balding and muscle tone, to beer bellies, acne and height-doubt.
In 2016, the Chapman University study, which analysed reports from more than 100,000 men across five national studies, discovered that up to 40 percent of men were dissatisfied with their overall physical appearance, weight, and/or muscle tone and size. In addition, most men also felt that they were judged by others based on their appearance and said they've compared the way they look with other men at social events.
Researchers also looked at the differences in body hang-ups between gay and heterosexual men and discovered that, while gay men were more likely to feel pressure to look attractive (and even avoid sex because of body insecurities), heterosexual men experienced a lot of the same issues, even if they weren't overweight. In fact, 20 per cent of heterosexual men with a normal weight said they hide some aspect of their body during sex with the most common areas being their stomach, chest, butt and thighs, and genitals.
While it's fascinating to find out that males are also feeling like they're consistently falling short of expectations, the question is, are they comparable to the strife of women? When VT spoke to men out there, many of them seemed to believe that the pressure put on men and women was equal these days.
"I think men these days are a lot more aware about physical standards and I think a lot more insecure as a result in general though the idea of masculinity is changing and under scrutiny, so men are maybe working a little harder to attract a mate? I think the playing field is getting somewhat levelled. On the one side, you’ve got female body positivity and self-acceptance whereas there’s not really a male equivalent and when you’re an insecure guy looking at all the man buns and six packs etc online it’s only natural that you’d feel a bit more pressure to stand out from the crowd"
- Henry, 22
"I think the thing is that women are expected by society to care about their appearance, while if men do, they're laughed at. I reckon if a lad put on weight, people would think it's okay to make fun of him, some people, anyway. I've definitely heard my mates slapping our friend's beer belly and telling him that he better get down to the gym. Also, if a guy goes down to a salon and gets a fake tan, or does his eyebrows, people think it's hilarious, so the pressure is put on, but when we try to do something about it, we're laughed at a lot of the time."
"The thing is, you can find a guy who fancies any type of girl: tall, short, chubby, thin, whatever. But you'll rarely find a girl who's like 'I want a chubby guy' or 'I want a really short guy' or 'a bald guy' or whatever. So, consider that and you tell me, which gender has to conform to an ideal?"
- Rob, 34
"In 2017 I believe men are just as conscious and pressured to look a certain way as women. I can appreciate the pressure was more openly spoken about on women in the past, but thanks to social media and gender equality (both great things), men now face the same pressures as women (celebs on Instagram), and are open to as much criticism."
"I think we are judged as much on appearance, but it's made more difficult because we'll be judged and if we try to solve the problem, whatever it is, we'll be either called 'unmanly' - I know exactly what my friends would say if one of us got a fake tan - or just laughed at. So that makes it harder because we deal with the pressure, but we can't do anything about it without getting ripped to shreds."
"I think it's the same pressure, but different. I feel like guys are under tons of pressure on a daily basis, from guys and girls alike. I feel like men are under a lot of pressure, to look good, to have things like cars, a good job and be mentally fit. If the TV projects it, then often that's what's expected. It's only recently those barriers are breaking down, but it's a slow one and as values change, so do the areas that pressure comes from."
- Matt, 22
"I do think that men are under more pressure to look attractive, and I do think that men are being objectified far more nowadays, but I don’t think it’s anywhere as bad for men as it is for women. I think men often pursue status and money to compensate, and women aren’t encouraged to do this as much, which is telling. I think that ugly women have a much harder time than ugly men, but that average-looking men are finding it harder and harder to be noticed, compared to average-looking women."
So, do you agree with any of the men we talked to? There's no denying that many people out there will be angered by this point of view and will insist that women are under a million times more pressure when it comes to body image - and perhaps they're right. But, on the other hand, is it me, or do these guys kind of have a point? We should always acknowledge the astronomical pressure put on women for their looks, but there's no denying that expectations of men have been heightened in the 21st century and the tables are slowly, but surely, turning. However, ultimately we'll never truly know because we'll never get a chance to walk a mile in their shoes.
Featured illustration by Egarcigu