Working out and looking good: Body image and men
By Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN
February 17, 2017

If I were to generalize, there are a few primary reasons why men work out: vanity/aesthetics, sports performance, to rehabilitate an injury or fix a health issue, and for overall health and wellness. More likely than not, you either want to look good, play better, and feel better or live longer.

If we are being completely honest, of the four reasons mentioned, vanity is often one of the strongest motivators for men to engage in exercise, especially younger men. You are a human being after all, born with a strong sex drive connected to a powerful desire to attract the opposite sex. You want to look as good as possible, maybe even more so than feeling as good as possible. That’s one reason why you’ll endure painful workout sessions – to build your best body. Pain in the pursuit of pleasure.

Yet very few people come close to achieving their perception of their ideal outward self. This can lead to numerous issues including negative self-image, lack of confidence and low moods. Guys, it’s time we talked about body image.

YOU CAN’T ESCAPE YOUR GENES

There are three main body types in exercise science: Ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.

They are genetically determined, you are born one of the three, and you cannot “change” into another through diet and exercise. Ectomorphs have skinny builds, low percentages of body fat and a difficult time adding significant amounts of muscle. Mesomorphs are the gymnast-types with athletic, muscular builds. Endomorphs possess larger frames, have a greater amount of body fat, and have a tougher time building defined muscle.

The good news is that all three body types can absolutely achieve their best bodies through consistent healthy eating and exercise. Think of the skinnier male runway model, the more muscular triathlete, and the college linebacker. Completely different and distinct body types, yet all three can look amazing in their own right and be healthy as well.

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

When people think of the media putting forth unrealistic body images often women come to mind first, before men. Yet men can also suffer from body image issues as well. The media bombards you daily with images of the “perfect” male – in magazines, movies and all over the internet, images that have often been heavily enhanced, edited, photo-shopped and more. Social media has made the problem even worse, with “real” people sharing only their best filtered, and posed, moments in time.

Having been both a fitness model and natural bodybuilder myself, I can tell you firsthand that while the men in the magazines and media may look “perfect” on the outside, it often came at a cost to their health. Many achieve their statuesque physiques through unhealthy practices, including dangerous diets and performance-enhancing drugs. If it looks too good to be true (naturally) it almost always is. You should never sacrifice your health in the pursuit of a better body.

BAD WORKOUT ADVICE

Want to look and feel your best, once-and-for-all? The secret is to find the right healthy eating and exercise information from reputable sources and then be consistent. Thanks to technology, there has never been a greater amount of really bad fitness advice made so easily available to so many people. This is a big problem. You cannot get to your destination if the directions you are following are all wrong to begin with. Be sure to do your homework and design your plan based on sound exercise science from qualified health professionals.

MAKE VANITY #4

It matters not what your reason is for starting an exercise routine – To look better, play better, feel better or live longer, you will ultimately get all the other three as “side-effects” along the way. It’s inevitable. So put vanity at the bottom of the list and focus instead on one or more of the other three: Getting better at a new sport, fixing a weakness, or just feeling better. Yes, your body can change for the better along the way, and so can your self-image.