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Six-Pack Abs, Large Penis: Unrealistic Body Standards That Make Men Anxious

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Womxn have been under constant pressure for numerous years to comply with the changing beauty standards. There was a time when the slim waist corset was trendy, but today, we live in the era of hourglass figures. We often come across awareness posts on social media platforms about how we can be carefree and live a life free of constraints.

Womxn have started to accept themselves, feel comfortable in their bodies and let go of societal expectations. But what about men? Usually, unrealistic standards and issues about men do not come to light, and there’s little information available, too.

Physical Appearance

The 2000s made David Beckham, Ryan Gosling and Daniel Craig role models for men. In today’s time, men with a beard, broad shoulders, six-pack abs, tattoos, tall height and a professional haircut are most desired. They have to strive hard to achieve these to particularly appeal to others. Even though men are generally less dissatisfied with their bodies as compared to womxn, they are more conscious than ever.

Being in good shape doesn’t sound like something to be worried about. Everyone should be healthy; however, physical health is not everything and neither is public approval the most imperial. When the deemed ‘’perfect’’ body isn’t achieved, negative body image ideas may arise.

Many men chase the ‘’ideal’’ body type — muscular, v-body and narrow hips. Negative body image leads to health issues such as eating disorders, psychological distress and social anxiety. It is vital to know that all bodies are beautiful. Yes, this quote has been a part of many ads aimed towards womxn, but it applies to men as well.

Having a lean physique or a tummy doesn’t make one less of a man. As a matter of fact, Aaron Flores, a registered dietician nutritionist from Calabasas who specialises in male body image, said about men’s beauty standard: “These bodies are attainable for a small number of people — maybe half a percent of the male community. Yet they’re associated with the idea of masculinity — the notion that as a man, I have to look a certain way, act a certain way.”

Sanju Ranbir Kapoor
Representational image.

Hitting The Gym

Fitness has definitely seen a rise, thanks (or no thanks) to unrealistic bodies depicted in media. A study says that 43% of people on Instagram take pictures at the gym. This influence is huge, but a little negative, too. On asking a few friends, I learned that these IG stories do not make them feel good. It’s like a race, a competition. Who goes to the gym? Who achieved the goal early? Who’s getting the most likes on shirtless pictures?

All these questions are raised and are so not healthy. It drops confidence and adds up the pressure. The Snapchat streak trend gets guys to send gym snaps every day and for people who do not have the time, energy or the facility of hitting the gyms, it becomes hard to witness all this every day. Building a body has many positive effects — one gains strength and a feeling of sure-footedness. But one should only build their body for self-satisfaction, and not for the sole purpose of posting on their Insta feed. It’s okay to show the world your endeavours, but ask yourself: is this making me happy? Is it more important than your happiness?

The Dark Side

Many people don’t even have the time to grind at the gym or work out at home. To make good use of the limited time they have, they resort to shortcuts. These shortcuts include the use of steroids and supplements. What are steroids, and what’s so bad about taking them?

In simple words, steroids refer to artificial testosterone. Doctors often prescribe small amounts, but large amounts have serious consequences. Steroids help with muscle gain, hair growth and sexual function, and so people want more of it. Nothing good ever comes for free, does it? Here is a list of harmful effects of injecting large doses of steroids:

  1.     Raises the risk of heart diseases and heart attacks
  2.     Makes one act more aggressively
  3.     Causes body dysmorphia
  4.     Damages liver
  5.     Might cause an increase in fat tissues of the breast if steroid intake is stopped
  6.     Reduces natural testosterone secretion
  7.     Drops fertility

Bedroom Standards

Another unspoken issue that very much exists among men is their penis size. More than womxn, it is men who worry more about penis size. This worry makes them vulnerable to low self-esteem and extreme self-consciousness. Gay or bisexual men have relatively more body-image issues; however, in heterosexual men, penis size remains one of the top three major body concerns, besides height and weight. One in five men are dissatisfied with their anatomy because the idea of a big penis is linked with masculinity and performance in bed. However, this is not true.

I remember watching the Polish drama Sexify, wherein female orgasm is the main theme. In the series, a conversation takes place between the leads about how the size of the penis doesn’t matter in bed. Even though this was a casual dialogue, statistics say that 85% of womxn are satisfied with their partner’s penis size.

Exaggerated moans and screams shown as a response to large penises in pornographic films have set the wrong ideals. Due to such portrayals, the penis pump industry has seen a boost, as a result of which health is greatly affected. It is a precarious process and doesn’t always yield the desired result.

As I approach the end, in a nutshell: men, your bodies are beautiful. A note to ourselves, too, as we give space to women and enable them to feel good about their bodies, we mustn’t disregard men and their issues. Steroid addiction, penis dysmorphia, body-image anxiety/depression and eating disorders are real. They are matters of great concern and need to be talked about more. We don’t have to chase unrealistic standards, we have to chase healthy standards.

About the author: Manya Arora is an author at Pratisandhi Foundation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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