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BIGGER, faster, better, stronger: the truth about living up to male body image expectations

Becca Siegel and Simon Yang

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At the school and within society, men are often expected to look like the celebrities that grace magazine covers. The social pressure that accompagnies these expectatations has caused many male students to work out and diet, Stephen Angelakos (12) said.
Although not all of the pressure can be attributed to external expectations, many guys are still internally motivated to exercise and eat healthy, Grant Kaufman (12) said.
At the assembly on December 9th, Chidi Nwankpa (12) spoke about his experience with societal and internal pressures regarding the way he views his body. Nwankpa struggled with dieting and over-exercise during his first few years of high school, he said.
The stigma of insecurity with the male body, however, is not talked about as much as it is with girls, Nwankpa said.
“A lot of us go through issues like this, being uncertain about our bodies, but if we do face body issues, we are told to just man it up and hold it inside, which is ultimately really unhealthy,” Nwankpa said.
Male students will work out after school in either gyms near their homes or at the school’s fitness center. Many of them consume foods that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates, Josh Benson (11) said.
Benson originally began his regimen in an attempt to gain weight. He follows a strict diet of protein, dairy, and produce; he eats two burgers, a chicken burger, fruit, and drinks four cartons of milk everyday at lunch. Benson maintains this diet in order to nourish him for the weightlifting that he does five days a week.
“There is a lot of a pressure to look effortlessly good, which means having abs or being athletic. The pressure comes from people wanting to see other attractive people,” Benson said.
The stress of looking attractive and being compared to others, especially during the annual Paradise Island (PI) trip that many seniors take during spring break, has caused some senior boys to intensify their diet and exercise more rigorously in an attempt to match the bodies of their peers, Angelakos said.
Although he personally does not diet in anticipation of Paradise Island (PI) trip, Angelakos remarked that many of his friends talk about getting in shape to take pictures and look good on the trip, he said.
Many male students feel pressure to increase their physical appeal in advance of the trip, Yarden Hahn ’17, who went on the trip last year, said.
Even without the stresses of the PI trip, many male students still exercise every day, whether to improve at a sport or change their appearance.
David Shen (11), Philip Shen (11), Jamie Berg (11), George Loewenson (12), and Benson all regularly frequent the school’s fitness center.
The Shens prepare for the golf season by strengthening their arms, Berg trains for wrestling, which he does during the school season as well as two to three times outside of school every week, and Loewenson and Benson go to build muscle.
“I have always been skinny and the appeal of working out is that people are always surprised when they see I can lift so much because they have only known me as that, ” Loewenson said.
Eddie Jin (10) and Masa Shiiki (10), both on the Cross Country and Outdoor Track teams, run together six times per week and work out afterwards on three of those days, Jin said.
“As a runner, I don’t need to have a bulky physique, so I don’t worry about other guys lifting heavier weights,” Jin said. “For me, it’s not really about peer pressure but the drive to become a faster runner,” he said.
Kelvin Smith (10), who has played basketball since he was three, began working out routinely even before learning about social pressure, he said.
“For me, working out was always about getting better at basketball,” Smith said. “I personally don’t think it’s common for high school boys to work out because of peer pressure, but for adult males definitely, because I see them lifting all the time,” he said.
Suraj Khakee (10) began to work out when he realized he had to become bigger and stronger to become a better baseball player, Khakee said.
However, Khakee still feels the slight element of social pressure as his motivation to work out, he said.
“I work out mainly because I’m an athlete. But at the same time, social pressure does affect me implicitly. You want to be active, because being fit is just a part of our culture,” Khakee said.
“I got more aware of the social pressure when I entered high school I guess,” Khakee said. “Guys are expected to work out and to be fit. And when others start working out, you feel like you should do so as well.”
“Social pressure definitely may play a role in guys working out in that guys want to look stronger to others, and because others expect guys to be strong,” Shiiki said.

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BIGGER, faster, better, stronger: the truth about living up to male body image expectations