Unrealistic Media Ideals Lead to Negative Body Image for Men

“Chris Hemsworth from Thor: Ragnarok. That was my ideal body type for years. That was my goal,” said Gabriel Ross, a junior in Berkeley International High School.


“Chris Hemsworth from Thor: Ragnarok. That was my ideal body type for years. That was my goal,” said Gabriel Ross, a junior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS). “That’s a ridiculous goal. It’s just not realistic at all.”

While it is common knowledge that all forms of the media contribute to unhealthy and impractical body standards, what is more often swept under the rug is the way that social media impacts men’s body image: peddling “ideal” body types and contributing to a toxic gym culture, creating issues such as eating disorders and body dysmorphia. 

“What the media says [is that] you have to be big and strong and super, super in shape. Like ridiculously in shape,” Ross said. The expectations for how men should look are “generally more in their [own] control than women’s,” said Kaelan Thouati de Tazoult, a junior in Academic Choice (AC). For women, beauty standards are more often in direct conflict with each other, making the whole “ideal physique” relatively unattainable. 

“Body image for men is a lot more based on what you do in your daily life versus what you’re born with,” Thouati de Tazoult said. “I think that’s less toxic in some ways, because it benefits people who put in the work for what they want, as opposed to just luck of the draw.”

Teenagers see the ideal male body type promoted in all types of media, whether it be social media posts, advertisements, or movies. 

“A lot of people don’t understand the work that’s behind some of these pictures,” said Karis Yoon, a health educator at the Berkeley High School (BHS) Health Center. “Some people have full-on teams. They have really good lighting; they have all this equipment that helps them appear a certain way, poses as well.” 

Yoon added that a lot of men who have an “ideal” body are “also unfortunately using anabolic steroids, [an artificial form of testosterone], to maintain that physique. A lot of celebrities do that in order to bulk up in time for movies.” 

However, many teenage boys don’t know this and turn to diet or exercise routines to achieve their desired physique. According to Ross, achieving and maintaining a specific desired body type is simply impractical for most people because it is an expensive and time-consuming lifestyle. 

“You can’t really control it, unless it’s your career. Bodybuilders can control it, professional athletes can control it. But, for an average person, like a student going through school, it’s very difficult to control,” Ross said. “It just takes a lot of effort. It can take away from other aspects of life and really eat away at you.” 

Fitness influencers often provide diets or exercises in order to achieve the “perfect,” yet often unattainable physique on social media platforms, leading to a toxic gym culture on social media.

“You should not be looking for tips for how to get lean or how to get super shredded on Instagram; it’s not the best place to look,” said Esteban Juarez, a senior in the Multilingual Program (MLP). “It’s like people who look for their news on TikTok.” Fitness influencers are often not credible sources for health or exercise advice. 

What works for one fitness influencer may not work for everyone, as everyone’s bodies are different. “For example, some people, no matter how much they work out, will never have a full on six-pack because that’s just how their abdominal muscles look,” Yoon said. 

According to Juarez, the problem is that “you just see the product. You [don’t] see the four years of work in order to get there.” Juarez said that it takes “three years of continuous sacrifice. But what social media does is it takes those four years, takes the beginning, takes the end, and mushes them together.” 

Ross, who is on the BHS wrestling team, has been consistently working out since sixth grade. “I would kind of injure my arm sometimes doing exercises, and keep going, because I couldn’t skip a day,” Ross said. Yoon explained that over-exercising could result in stress fractures and muscle injuries, especially if the body is not ready or used to strenuous exercise. 

Disordered eating behaviors are also common in gym culture because the whole point is to achieve a certain body type. Trends like intermittent fasting and taking steroids are normalized on social media, where men will joke about how they haven’t eaten in 24 hours or brag about feeling sick after eating an extra two thousand calories. 

Yoon recommended reaching out to a health professional, like a doctor or licensed dietician, for advice on how to maintain a healthy relationship with food and exercise. In order to stay healthy, the most important thing you can do is to listen to your body.

Ross described the importance of balance to one’s health.

“There’s always a good balance for everyone,” Ross said. “Fitness is good, but it shouldn’t be what rules your life.”