It goes without saying that here at The Jackal we’re all for gender equality, whether in the workplace or when it comes to parenting. But there’s one area where we don’t want equality: body shaming. Not that it’s in anyway more acceptable, but women have been made to feel ashamed of their bodies for centuries. Now, it seems it’s men’s turn, too. And the shaming mechanism du jour? The accusation of the ‘dad bod’.
First it was Olympic Gold Medallist Greg Rutherford, who has been taking part in Sink Or Swim, a Channel 4 show where previously non-swimmers train to swim the English Channel, while also raising money for charity Stand Up For Cancer. An honourable cause, but that didn’t stop viewers laying in to Rutherford’s perceived ‘dad bod’ after he posted a picture of himself in training on Instagram earlier this week.
Rutherford stood up to the commenters in a subsequent post, defending his body. ‘I was also called out for having a dad bod yesterday, as if that’s something to be ashamed of. I very much realise I’m not in the shape I was as a professional athlete. I’m fine with that, I love cake and beer…’
And even Khal Drogo himself, Jason Momoa, couldn’t prevent trolls brandishing the ‘dad bod’ accusation after pictures of him on holiday surfaced this week. Momoa, who starred in Aquaman last year, had to contend with comments like ‘someone needs to start lifting again’ and ‘been working on his Dad belly’ alongside shirtless shots, often juxtaposed with stills of him from the film.
Of course, you could point out that you can see Rutherford’s six pack in the pictures (not to mention he’s currently training to swim the English Channel), and that Momoa, despite having unflexed abs, is clearly still in great shape.
But that’s not the point. Whatever the physiques in question look like, the comments this week have shown that it’s now open season on body shaming men. We’ve already written about why there needs to be an increased conversation around male body positivity and for men to take a leaf out of the burgeoning women’s body acceptance movement. But the ‘dad bod’ accusations this week show that that conversation is more vital than ever.
This kind of body shaming only exacerbates the pressure on men to fit into unrealistic expectations of masculinity, and what a ‘real’ man looks like. You just have to look at advertising, TV and films – ironically, like Momoa’s Aquaman – to see that the idealised male body has changed over the last few decades, and is now bigger, brawnier and more muscly than ever.
But those washboard abs and mammoth arms are no more realistic than the pressure on women to have a supermodel-worthy silhouette, and the pressure is causing a lot more than just overcrowded gyms. Male body dysmorphia is on the rise, as are male eating disorders, and a recent study of men aged 18-24 found that 22 per cent of men in the US have ‘muscularity-oriented disordered eating’. Add to this the fact that the use of anabolic steroids is on the rise, and an estimated 1 million British people take performance-enhancing drugs, and you have a serious male body image problem with potentially hugely damaging side effects.
The ‘dad bod’ name-calling of Rutherford and Momoa is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the growing pressure on men to fit in with as certain socially-ratified aesthetic. But the fact they both were casually shamed in such a way points to how insidious male body shaming has become, and how much men, like women, need more to start speaking up in support of body positivity, as well as demanding to see a much wider variety of body types across the media landscape.