I just finished watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tonight. Normally that puts me a in good mood. Not tonight. Stewart and fellow comedian Kristen Schaal spent time making fun of the recent explosion of media commentary on the “dad-bod phenomenon.”
Celebrity men, many of them considered to be icons of sexuality over the last decade-plus, are being photographed shirtless showing off their imperfect physiques. The comments for the most part focus on how many women still find these men attractive and desirable. Cool. I like that men are considered desirable in what is a very typical male body.
But what I don’t like hearing most of these commentators say is men don’t have body image issues. It’s kind of like climate science deniers saying global warming is a hoax because they felt chilly today. It’s ignorant and harmful.
What is the ultimate effect of this dad-bod commentary? Simple. To have body image disturbance and social anxiety is to have a woman’s problem. It is a source of shame. It’s an indignity. And you better not talk about it. That’s the message.
So what happens then? Again, simple answer. Men continue to isolate away from discussing the issue of body image disturbance. Any why stop there? Don’t talk about eating disorders. Don’t talk about feelings. That’s what women do, and I’m not woman.
How’s that been working for men so far? Not well. Men and boys are being diagnosed at ever higher rates of emotional disturbance, eating disorders, and self-harm. And we’re not getting help either. We just keep striving to be perfect providers, emotionless hard-ons, hard-bodied, sexual superheroes, able to drink hard, party hard, work hard, and keep it all together without a lick of help. Our buddies are there to help us move, play golf, drink, and shoot the bull. Not for the emotions. Not for the anxiety. Not for the discomfort. Not for the self-doubt.
And the result? We are the most addicted, eating disordered, and disconnected cohort in history. Don’t think for a minute that minimizing the experience of males does anything but push men and boys further aware from the needed discussion about body image and self-esteem in our culture.
I have a dad-bod. I am recovered from 20 years of body image loathing and eating disorder behaviors. I don’t love the shape of my body. I never have. But my wife and son love me and love to hug my big body. I love them. I accept my dad-bod. But don’t make fun of me, dismiss me, or dismiss the hurt I experienced for decades for having an imperfect body. I earned this level of comfort. It was not given to me.
Jon Stewart may be a genius political satirist, but he and his writers need to take a longer look at the impact of the shaming they did tonight.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, CEO at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 877-674-2843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.