It’s clear that the image that the Hollywood film industry has projected for many years has helped establish some sort of standard of beauty in the collective unconscious. Even if it has been admitted for some years that the female sex is particularly affected, this does not prevent men from being affected by this biased idea of the ideal type. So much so that even recognized stars like Johnny Depp are not immune to being banned when they no longer fit the established criteria.
towards a little more equality between men and women
Popular culture can fill the most vulnerable minds with all sorts of prejudices about how we should look and even about living more holistically. But when actress Natalie Dormer, best known for her role as Margaery Tyrell in the Game of Thrones series, commented on the subject and said that men too are objectified (ie: made into a thing or reduced to an individual’s object status or an abstract thing) than women, this has reinvigorated the public debate.
Take this thread on Tumblr for example. Inspired by Dormer’s statement, there are a number of films and series that perpetuate stereotypes, often with similar male standards, particularly when it comes to physique.
Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer: Men are just as objectified on TV as women are
The actress has joined the commercialization debate in TV and film, stating that both genders are equally judged on their looks.
So it all goes back to an interview Dormer did with Radio Times a few years ago, in which the actress responded to Emma Thompson’s comments about ageism and sexism in the film. Emma Thompson first said that “some forms of sexism and misogyny have continued to entrench and have actually become more pervasive” and that the overall opportunities for women “still really suck”.
And Dormer added that, as far as she could see, male actors were subjected to just as much objectification as women. She then said:
My personal experience has been working on phenomenal projects that objectify men just as much as women. Actors suffer too.
While some will argue whether women or men suffer as much, there is no denying that society demands idealized physiques from men, with coveted ideals literally named after gods and superheroes. .
Which brings us to the interview between Bored Panda and Dr. Esther De Dauw, a researcher working in the field of superheroes, gender, race, and anti-hegemonic narratives. She believes that men are also treated as objects in the mainstream media, but she sees a difference in how they shape the image of men and women. She said:
Compared to the very narrow definition of beauty and femininity that women are forced to adopt, the mainstream media still offers a certain diversity of masculinity. Think of the idea of the “Dad Bod” (referring to the average look of a family man who isn’t lean and fit physique) which doesn’t really have an equivalent in women.
The media, and blockbusters in particular, portray men as physically strong and needing to dominate the space at all times. Women should be petite and pretty. The media reduces women to objects of beauty but demands men to look more like action dolls. Women are a sexual fantasy and men are a power fantasy and actors are expected to look like it.
The co-author of Toxic Masculinity: Mapping the Monstrous in Our Heroes comments that while the pressure on men isn’t quite as strong as it is on women, “it’s definitely getting there”:
Increasingly, the ideal male norm is to be extremely muscular and prominent. The Adonis Complex (Pope, Phillips and Olivardia) addresses the steady rise in eating disorders, steroid abuse and exercise addiction among young men obsessed with the idea of being as muscular as possible and the negative effects this is having on them has life.
We still very often think that our identity is rooted in our body. Our appearance reflects who we are, and in terms of gender identity, we see our bodies as something about who we are as women (including transgender women), men (including transgender men), non-binary, or other gender identities are. This trend towards the powerful and muscular body aims to establish a masculinity based on strength, endurance and the ability to use violence, all these qualities which taken to extremes can be very toxic to men and those around them. The pressure to conform to this very specific standard is leading to an increase in eating disorders and steroid abuse among young men out of fear of not being masculine enough, and this fear that drives you to do unhealthy things is a rock angle of toxic masculinity.
De Dauw therefore explains his point here by stating that male beauty standards are a big part of toxic masculinity. However, she tends to qualify her point by reminding that the body is just one part of a person:
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with our bodies reflecting who we are as individuals. Many of us experience a positive sense of self-expression when cutting our hair, getting a piercing, a tattoo, or just choosing an outfit. There’s also nothing wrong with lifting weights to get stronger and using that to build your confidence. Having respect for your body and your strength is a healthy thing.
Your value is not determined by whether you have a “six pack” or fit into that size 8. You are not defined by the ideals of beauty that you see all around you. And that goes for both men and women.
open the debate
At least this debate has the benefit of getting people thinking about some interesting questions. First of all, one may wonder about the notion of the ideal type, the definition of which has long been debated in the sociological community. The discrepancies between the theoretical justification of the topic and the empirical reality for the analysis have led to many ambiguities regarding the use of the term.
Finally, this topic obviously raises the question of man’s power fantasy. It is therefore possible to approach the topic in many different ways. Where some will take a more philosophical approach, considering this attraction to power is inherent in the human species and applies to many civilizations. Others will take a more biological approach, arguing that this is just a manifestation of a primitive instinct that suggests that a strong and powerful man would be synonymous with stability and security for our species’ continued existence. As many possible answers as there are points of view on the question.