Chapman University just performed "the largest examination of body image to date," analyzing 116,356 male and female participants to get to the bottom of body image issues. What they found was that the vast majority of men feel they are constantly being judged by their appearance in social settings.
Surprise!, you're not the only ones with body issues.
An astonishing 40 percent of the male participants reported being unhappy with their appearance, weight and/or musculature. A great deal of the negative attention goes towards their bellies, which is not surprising since that's where most men pack on the pounds. As such, 20 percent of men who fall into the "normal weight" category reported trying to hide their bellies during sex.
These numbers were higher for homosexual men. 77 percent of gay men regularly feel judged by their appearance compared to 61 percent of straight men. When it came to body image issues getting in the way of sex, homosexual men felt much more impeded. Only 5 percent of straight men avoid sex because of their image issues, compared to 20 percent of gay men.
So yes, it appears we aren't the only ones sadly staring at ourselves in mirrors, wishing this or that part were smaller or flatter or less jiggly. The difference is we feel comfortable complaining about our image issues to our friends, whereas most heterosexual guys tend to suffer in silence. Not only is this unfair, it may negatively impact relationships, especially if guys are avoiding sex as a result.
So, Dr. Greg Kushnick, founder of Techealthiest, and Dr. Holly Parker, Harvard University lecturer, gave us some great ways to broach the conversation.
1. Put the onus on you first
It may be easier for your guy to open up if he hears you asking how your actions might be causing some of his body issues. "Ask your partner if there's anything you do that makes him self-conscious or doubt his appearance," says Dr. Kushnick.
2. Don't bring it up out of nowhere
Since this is a sensitive subject, you don't want to bring it up out of nowhere, or worse, during a stressful moment. Perhaps utilize a moment when he's already feeling dissatisfied with his body. "Does he look in the mirror with dissatisfaction in front of you? Does he tell you that he’s trying to lose weight or bulk up? You could potentially use these moments as an entry point to a conversation. For example, when he criticizes a part of his body, you could summarize the point gently, affectionately, and directly," Dr. Parker says. Try being empathetic, then maybe ask how you might be able to help him feel better about himself.
3. Just because he doesn't say it doesn't mean he doesn't feel it
"Be mindful of what you verbalize in front of your partner with regard to the appearance of other men. Don't assume that just because he doesn't talk about his self-image, that he isn't sensitive to your comments about other men," says Dr. Kushnick.
4. Don't take his body issues public
I know this one's is hard, but try not to talk about his body issues with close friends and family. It's a very private issue, and you never know what could get back to him. Also Dr. Kushnick cautions against posting unflattering pictures on social media, or commenting on other men you might find attractive. A positive comment for them is like making two judgmental remarks about him.
5. Have a stock of positive comments
Dr. Parker says, yes, you can talk about the areas of his body that you believe need improvement, but you should always couple those comments with a lot of positive reinforcement. Constant criticism without the upside is a surefire way to fuel his negative feelings.