“Do You Even Lift?” The invisible issue that we’re not addressing

Sexual objectification of women. How many times so far this year have you heard that issue get raised? Infinite? Me too.

So much of current social awareness seems to be focused on the relentless objectification of women, and the measures we can take to prevent this. While I am all for the removal of this objectification, I can’t help but feel that there might be another side of this issue that we’re overlooking.
Every. Single. Day.

Sexual objectification of men. I said it. We’re living in a society where “do you even lift” and gym culture are the norm. Many issues are raised about the need for more realistic representations of women in the public eye, but don’t we see that this should work both ways?

If we look at the image of something as trivial as children’s toys, the difference is so blindingly obvious. Barbie. Side-stepping the hilarious fact that the inspiration for this iconic ‘50s doll was actually based on a German doll designed for adult men – not children, the toy has has been resized, ditching the “implausible proportions” of their previous dolls, to “better reflect the diversity of the product’s audience”. Barbie is now complete with “solid thighs, a waist able to accommodate vital internal organs and biceps meaty enough to beat Ken at arm-wrestling”, with the thigh gap “officially gone”. While this is undeniably great for the image of women, show me the resizing of the Ken Doll, or show me any man doll without ripped abs and bulging biceps. We’re so worried about presenting unrealistic bodies for women, but what about the pressures of body expectations that young, growing, and adult men face too?

This is the era of Marvel films. It’s the era of superhero bombardment into our media left, right and centre. And it’s not just superheroes; male protagonists on the screen and in the public eye are expected to be ripped. Little boys and girls are flooded with images of men who have spent months preparing for a role. There is an oversaturation every day of shirtless men whose bodies consume all their time. The recognisable, lanky physique of SpongeBob has made a comeback in the new movie, but now features huge muscles. Being on the low end of the muscle spectrum just isn’t represented in the media, but that doesn’t seem to be as ludicrous as it is about women. Curves are in for us. Kim Kardashian’s glorious behind is celebrated, plus-size models are endorsed, but what’s the equivalent? Where’s the “embrace your figure” attitude towards men who don’t fit a mould?

We need to address this. Too often it’s brushed off as a joke. Women seem to be able to share how they’re feeling about these issues – full support at the ready, but we still appear to have the “man up” attitude when it comes to how men are actually feeling. The number of times I’ve opened up about how I feel about this to my male friends is countless, and the number of times I’ve heard them open up about body image to me, or other dudes, is approaching zero. And what would be said anyway? “Feeling low about your body image? Why don’t you just go to the gym then?”

When you find out a woman has been suffering from body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, it’s such a delicate and supported issue – and rightly so. But these obsessive, overly disciplined, and often exceptionally unhealthy behaviours are paralleled so frequently in the gym-junkie lifestyle, without the same concern, but rather with expectation and encouragement. It is expected that men go to the gym. It is expected that men work out – often for over four hours a day, and at the expense of friends, family, work and commitments because of the standards of what’s “attractive”. “Buff” is now the standard, and extreme is commended.

Surely it’s this unhealthy mindset filled with pressures and expectations of a possibly unachievable standard that we’re trying so hard to fight. The movement towards a more diverse selection of female models is ever present, yet male models are almost exclusively shredded. Where is their diversity? I saw a billboard last week displaying a male underwear model with no ridiculously chiselled form.

This shouldn’t be novelty. This shouldn’t make my jaw drop through the floor.

Too often I hear women in the street discussing how hot some guy is across the road. Of course he’s ripped etc. How are men affected when they hear women saying these things about someone who’s just spent their entire afternoon in the gym?

We’re so hyperaware of how women are affected by objectification, but it’s time to extend that respect and sensitivity towards our men.

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What are the first 5 words you associate with “health”?

Today as I was driving home through Sydney’s Northern Beaches, I was considering what the first five words are that I associate with ‘Health’. Using common sense and my own life wisdom so far, I usually consider “healthy” to be synonymous with “happy”, the five words I would normally list as follows:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Energy
  3. Nourishment
  4. Stability
  5. Self-awareness.

However, after a morning of wandering round various health food stores and conversing with a bestie over the current craze – acai bowls – I landed at the following five:

Organic. Vegan. Antioxidants. Juice. Raw.

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Wandering around my favourite Sydney town, Manly

This morning I brunched at Bare Naked Bowls in Manly – a trendy, local hotspot for beachy health-lovers (so much so it needed recent renovations to triple the kitchen size). Sitting in this beloved café of mine, it dawned on me that young, white women dominated the demographic of customers. We had all paid our $15 for our organised arrangement of fruit and were chatting away in plant-based indulgence.

As a vegan and passionate member of the yogi tribe, cafes like this get me jumping, but are we all just making a delightful fuss about a smoothie in a bowl? Have we got so carried away overthinking what should be organic to our bodies that we’ve forgotten to listen to our bodies? What does “organic” mean to consumers these days anyway? Do acai bowl devotees know what antioxidants do and why they are considered valuable? I’ve begun to realise that the current social attitude towards health often seems to be based on buzzwords that people may or may not understand.

Health-food aisles are stocked with words like “paleo”, “whole” and “clean”. Is the rest of the food out there unclean? Am I going to drop dead if my soy has been genetically modified? The vegan staple of coconut oil is now worth its weight in gold, even though it is 94% saturated fat (that fat we’ve been taught to avoid like the plague – the same fat the vegan diet boasts about avoiding due to no nasty animal fats). Do customers see an “insert word here – free” product and instantly assume it is going to be beneficial to their bodies? It’s similar to the “ancient grain” movement, or virtually any food that originated in South America thousands of years ago. Since the uprise of these “superfoods”, it seems impossible now to walk through a health-conscious community without being ambushed by the sound of cutlery scraping through quinoa salad or food smothered in avocado, chia, or the latest rediscovered Incan berry.

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Organising my “superfoods” into the other great trend at the moment… jars

As a medical science graduate, I am well aware that the physical aspects of health are largely based on factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, metabolism, vitamin concentration and a general absence of disease, and while fruits and seeds are hardly bad for you in a conventional sense, current café culture and social media seem to have a different focus.

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#health

When did health become a hashtag on Instagram? When did it stop becoming about eating and doing what you felt like, and turn into eating and moving in accordance with what works for someone else, or to a set of circumstances that applied to generations long before us? We are told of the way our ancestors moved and ate, and that we should follow that. If it’s all about descendants and evolution, then my descendants will surely evolve to be toothless, as so much of the “health” food I’m exposed to is blended and sipped through a straw, requiring zero chewing.

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Acai bowls have even made their way into my home…

I’ve done the juice cleanses. I’ve eliminated all animal products. I’ve lived with a wheat allergy for three years (so am all too familiar with the gluten-free cult), and taken a stab at the raw food movement. Sure there is ample evidence of beneficial results when cutting out added sugar completely, but maybe such restrictive approaches to food aren’t setting up a good or realistic mindset for what “being healthy” actually means. It certainly feels like a first-world luxury to choose to ditch so many universal staples, and instead reach for an acai bowl, cold-pressed juice, or on-tap kombucha.

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Yes, there is kombucha on tap

Perhaps health extends further than the degree of genetic modification that’s on our plates. Perhaps it needs to be considered more how we feel. Inside and out. Holistically. Maybe we should be making equal fuss about the quality of our sleep, social support system, and, maybe more importantly, the way we value ourselves.