Hot, Holy & Humorous

Are Women Harming Male Body Image?

We’ve all seen the completely unrealistic images of women with uber-long legs, teeny waists, melon breasts, and flat tummies. They’re on magazine covers, billboards, advertisements, and posters plastered around your local mall. Too often, we look at those pictures and wonder, Is that what a beautiful woman looks like? Is that what men want?

I’ve written plenty about body image for wives, arguing that all those PhotoShopped, airbrushed images undermine the beauty of individual wives—who are varied in their appearance but beautiful nonetheless to the Creator who made them, to the husband who married them, and to all others who love them. Which should include ourselves.

The Era of the Six-Pack

These days, women are not the only ones having unrealistic images and ridiculous expectations pelted at them. Just ask any guy who’s semi-aware, and he’ll tell you the “six-pack” is the new must-have for many men.

When I Googled “how to get six-pack abs,” I got 76.5 million results. Admittedly nowhere near the 496 million one gets if they Google “how to get big boobs,” but still a crazy high number. And how many guys out there are actually going to end up with washboard abs?

Yet six-packs, tight butts, big biceps, and every other muscular show of masculine strength is all the rage now. From Magic Mike to male cover models to superhero movies, the men who garner attention female attention are sporting a body that most only get with a strict diet, extensive exercise, and methods like taking diuretics. And guess what? If a male model or actor is over a certain age and still sporting a six-pack, they may also have had surgical intervention, such as liposuction to suck out fat and reveal muscles more prominently.

Meaning the average man…just can’t live up to the ideal.

Before the Abs Frenzy Took Hold

A lean yet muscular look has become a new standard for male attractiveness. But it hasn’t always been. Just look at these classic actors once considered particularly handsome in their day (and yes, they’re shirtless to show what I mean, but I avoided anything I thought was too much):

With the exception of Paul Newman, those are all just men who are in good shape, reasonably muscled, but not ready to wear today’s Captain America unitard. They’d be sent to a dietitian and personal trainer to push themselves up to the new, ridiculous standard.

Chris Evans, the Captain America actor, told a magazine about getting into shape for his role in Avengers: Infinity War: “For this film it was about three months of training, and I wasn’t looking forward to it…I’ve always liked going to the gym, but these weren’t normal gym sessions. I was puking at the gym. They were brutal, absolutely brutal.”

Seriously, are we wanting our men to puke so that we can look at steel abs for an hour and a half? If so, I don’t think we can say that women are the only ones being fed a pile of poop when it comes to body image.

Are Women Leading This Charge?

I blame a lot of players for unreal beauty and strength standards in our culture—from casting agents to magazine publishers to advertising executives to gym promotions. But you know what? Long before the ab craze, there was Fabio. And who bought those books and fell for the cover model? Women.

Who’s sharing “man candy” pics on Twitter and Facebook? Women. (And a few gay men.)

Who oohs and aaahs over Jason Momoa’s chest? Women. (He’s the actor who played Aquaman.)

The truth is that I don’t know if women are leading the charge, but they are contributing. And for a group of people who don’t like having Barbie-shaped expectations thrown at them all the time and object to being objectified, maybe we should own our part and do better, ladies. Maybe it’s time to create a new standard in our minds for what a handsome man looks like.

What Do “Real Men” Look Like?

Real men have varied body types just like women. Some are lean, some are bulky. Some are broad-shouldered, some are narrow-shouldered. Some display strength in their chests, some in their legs. I could go on and on with the variations, but you get the point that God made a plethora of physiques, all of which can be appreciated.

But your average guy, even in shape, is not going to look like the next Fabio or Black Panther. And we wives shouldn’t make our husbands feel bad about that. Rather, we should regularly and honestly show that we like and desire our husband’s body. Men are struggling with body image too.

Men are struggling with body image too. @HotHolyHumorous Click To Tweet

Gary Thomas wrote a fabulous post about The Only Man/Woman in the World, talking about how our own spouses should become The Standard for us. And while that doesn’t mean we’re blind to the beauty or muscles of some very nice-looking people around us, it means that we cherish the real person we have in our lives.

The world will not suddenly stop the madness of throwing unrealistic body types at us, but we can make a difference in our own home by letting our husband know that he is The One for us.

37 thoughts on “Are Women Harming Male Body Image?”

  1. WOW!You mean my thin wiry physique is good to my “heavy” wife? Lol in all seriousness, I am happy at comfortable with my thin physique AND my greying hair… I’m more concerned with PROPERLY practicing the ART of manliness. It IS a art…having ( you’ll please pardon the bluntness) a penis does NOT make one a man. It is strength tempered by gentleness, logic, a sense of duty, and most importantly LOVE, the ONLY reason one fights, both for the enemies same as what they are doing is destroying them as human beings, and for obvious reasons for the ones a man defends. I believe that manhood practiced as GOD desgined it is MORE actrative to any LADY than the ” perfect” male body… TRUE beauty for both male and female comes from within and shows outside, NO matter what body ( Earth suit) type one has. The body or flesh equates to an astronauts pressure suit, he removed it when he enters his home environment, THEN others see the REAL beauty.

  2. Yes!!!!! I think “eye candy” is disgusting. I unfollow or unfriend fb friends over that garbage. Often those pictures have the man’s pants DANGEROUSLY low also. I don’t need to see their pubic hair (or almost). A bare chest? Fine, whatever. More? PORN (soft core) for women. Blech Treat others the way you would want to be treated. As a woman, if I don’t want my husband ogling half naked women, then I don’t need to ogle half naked men.

  3. I don’t know if it’s possible to change what you are attracted to, and I don’t think that should be the point. The point should be to have reasonable standards and expectations, and not hurt those close to us if you can help it. I don’t think a man in the world cares that women like abs and big biceps, we just don’t love it when it’s thrown in our face if we don’t have those qualities.

    More than anything, I think most men just hate the hypocrisy of it all. Men are called pigs (rightfully so) for making a big deal out of the attractiveness of a woman. That’s fair. What comes off as not fine is then seeing women pretty much every day on Facebook sending each other pics of men and making comments about what they would like that man to do to them. Women talking with each other about how good certain actors look, especially in front of men, is just not cool. It’s not that we don’t know, it’s just disrespectful.

    On the other hand, I’m a firm believer that men should stay in shape and looking as good as possible. Becoming fat is a choice you make in 99.9% of situations, and it’s not fair to your wife. Men, if you were in shape when you got married, make an effort. Your wife might not be as visual as you, but she still sees you. Also, your body is a temple. Treat it as such.

    1. I think what we find attractive can change, has for me a couple times. Now my wife is the standard for me. Nobody else could ever come close.

      The rest of your comment, spot on. Hypocrisy, impossible expectations and laziness in appearance is destroying intimacy.

  4. Do you know what I noticed in many of those black and white pictures? The men had their pants well above their navels. : )
    I appreciate your point though. What greatly disturbs me is the “celebrity pass” idea— you agree with your spouse that if you ever got the chance to be with your specified celebrity, you get a free pass at cheating. Why would you even think about that? Yuck. Drink from your own cisterns.

  5. I always thought it was dumb and not healthy to sit and check out every guys physical appearance and rate how good looking or hot he was…. I had some friends who obsessed over men before I married. I know my husband struggles sometimes with what the world says a man should look like. He doesn’t have the chisled six pack or other such features. He has to avoid eating certain things or he struggles with inch gain in his waist. But I find him very handsome and good looking. I try to avoid anything negative with regards to body image when he does mention something and I can tell he’s struggling. Its what’s inside that matters to me, I just want him to be healthy. And I’m blessed because he loves how I look stretch marks and all 🙂 so I feel comfortable to walk in and surprise him with nothing on lol.

  6. Interesting topic, J!

    I’ve always been fit, but it was never for looks, just for ‘readiness’. And I have had to make use of every bit of strength I possesed to save lives.

    Now, with two kinds of lethal cancer, I’m perhaps even fitter, because I’m still trying to save a life…mine. The hotter your metabolism runs, the better the immune system can work at killing malignancies, or so they say. It’s a brutal daily process, and I have to find an excuse to work out every day.

    As long as I can stay ahead of the tumours, my wife doesn’t care what I look like. She just gets me the XXL t-shirts because my shoulders and arms are big, without comment.

    And that’s fine. I don’t want to be admired, not for this.

  7. This article convicted me a lot, particularly as the wife of a man with a BMI of 44.75. And I’ll admit that I often fantasize about my husband having a normal BMI. I try not to compare him to other people per se, but I definitely compare in to this fantasized ideal I have in my head (which, to my credit, it’s Captain America and could be quite attainable if my husband took his health more seriously). I agree with the idea that a husband’s standard of beauty should be his wife and a wife’s standard of beauty should be her husband. I love my husband dearly. But physically, I’ll admit, I do not particularly become aroused by looking at his body and actually find it very distracting during sex. But I try to focus on who he is as a person instead of what he looks like physically. This is something I struggle with on a daily basis.

    1. Natalie, I plan to write about health/fitness soon. Because that is the other side of this. Once we rid ourselves of ridiculous body image expectations, it can free us up to pursue the health and mobility we should have with the body God gave us. But one woman I know who lost over 90 pounds told me that she first had to accept and love her body so that she could do what it took to care for that body the way she should.

      1. J, I once taught at a high school in Houston. The dance teacher commented one day about a couple of girls walking down the hall: “Those girlie transferred from ****** school. You can tell.” She then explained that girls in dance at that school were weighed almost every day, and they had better not gain any weight or risk being dropped from the program. They had a high rate of anorexia and bulemia there. It’s so sad what we do to our bodies because of attitudes that are physically or spiritually unhealthy.

        My wife lost and has kept off more than 100 pounds. At first, she was obsessed with counting calories, weighing everything, etc. she told me she found that she was just as obsessed with food, just in a new way. We sell ourselves into bondage or allow others to put us there.

  8. I’m 61, graying hair, in decent shape, need to lose a few pounds, exercise fairly regularly. Having had open heart surgery, I’m just glad to be alive. I never had and never will have washboard abs, just not important enough to me to do what it would take. When I talk to my voice students about abdominal muscle support for their breathing for singing, I tell them I have a six pack, it’s just insulated.

    I remember once reading a comment from a little girl about her daddy and his tummy. She wrote, “Daddy has puffy parts so I can cuddle up to take a nap.”

    We make so much in our culture about physical appearance, and a lot of it has sexual undertones, or is even blatantly sexual. I sometimes read a comment from a woman along the lines of “I LOVE the way my husband looks in tight jeans.” I assume it’s because the back and/or the front of him is emphasized to such a point that it is beyond attractive on to alluring on to arousing. Fine. If she likes that, great. But does a wife want her husband to dress that way in public, exphasizing his assets in such a way that he may evoke the same reaction?

    Going beyond reasonable healthiness to an obsession, either with having those abs or biceps or tight butt, or else ogling every man who has them, live or in photos or film, is a perversion of God’s design for our bodies. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we often treat our bodies as an idol, the god who is being worshiped. That is an offense to God.

  9. Great post, J! Personally, I always liked the ‘dad bod’ but I married a man who, though totally inactive, has a lean ectomorph body – no abs, in fact a cute little poochie. I love his body just as it is. Also – chest hair is a good thing! (on men, at least). Of course we notice a man’s appearance, even if only his face. But there is that phenomenon of ‘love goggles’ too. It’s great if we can get ourselves out of feeling unconfident about our bodies and if we can help men do the same.

  10. Funny I have a 6 pack and my wife never noticed. I go to a gym 3times a week to do shoulder work for my rotator cuffs and spin to keep my cardiovascular arena in shape.
    limit my time as a part of my plan to stay healthy. In the gym weight area I notice there day and night on an endless route to build their bodies but not building any smiles on their faces.
    since muscle usually fades in 4-5 days of rest it is a sad endless rut to just stay ahead.
    No one really wants me a 64 year old to pull off his shirt at work so it is better to invest in opportunities of joy that God brings everyday and a smile as a result can be a real sign of wealth.

  11. Another thought: You wrote above, “Rather, we should regularly and honestly show that we like and desire our husband’s body.” Like it or not, we men derive a lot of our identity as men from our bodies. Not just the way we look, not just our genitals, but the fact that this thing of flesh I live in is, to a great extent, me. It’s through the physical senses I perceive the world and communicate that I’m not alone in the universe.

    I know women feel this, too. But every time I or any man I know has evaluated his primary love language, mode of communication, whatever you want to call it, overwhelmingly it’s physical touch. When my wife touches me, not necessarily sexually, I suddenly don’t care about washboard abs or meeting some unrealistic standard.

  12. I love this post, J! Thank you for sharing. My husband doesn’t look anything like the modern standard of “attractive men.” He is broad shouldered, short, stocky, and has his dad bod already before our little girl is born. I love the way he looks, and love him so very much! He often makes comments about wanting to improve on how he looks so that he can “keep up” with me, (tall, lean, and small-waisted+baby bump). I tell him over and over again that all I expect from him is to be healthy, and he is! He eats healthy, regularly exercises, and makes an effort to take care of his appearance. I don’t generally find other men attractive (except maybe Jason Momoa, as you mentioned haha), because none of them are my husband. He is mine and I am his, and I couldn’t compare him to anyone else!

  13. Love it, J! Trying to find the balance between ‘unrealistic body expectations’ and what is actually healthy and attractive is so hard, both for women and men. I often have arguments in my head over ‘loving myself as I am’ and ‘I need to get thinner/sexier’. In the past couple of years I have gradually been changing my inner dialogue, so that the best way to love myself is to form habits that will help me become the healthiest/fittest I can be (my body IS a temple, after all). I have found that changing my focus from beauty and sexiness to health, strength and fitness has been amazing. Still a struggle, but amazing. I have also found that my inner ‘body positive’ dialogue is USUALLY not present when I’m doing anything ‘good’, but is ALWAYS there when I want to do something sinful (gluttony, laziness, selfishness).

    I love my husbands body, and I love the fact that over the past year or so, he has been making an effort to get fitter and stronger, and I find his strong arms, back etc VERY sexy. But I would not intentionally shame him for not looking like that, if he didn’t.

    I do have to admit to sort of lusting after people in tv shows (Jason Momoa in GoT ??‍♀️). I have always found though that it is not just the physical attributes that I ‘appreciate’. I find myself lusting (I am not sure that this is the right word) watching Vikings because I find the men who are very capable at violence, but also very capable at being gentle and kind with their lady to be incredibly attractive. Luckily for me, my husband has those very same attributes ? so I actually find myself appreciating my husband even more after watching.

    A man (or woman) who has so little respect for themselves and their body that they have become morbidly obese is going to be difficult to find attractive, not just because of their physical body, but also because that physical body is a sign of a weak mind, that lacks discipline and self control. HOWEVER, we must be gentle when sharing this truth with our spouses (spoken as a spouse who often struggles with said discipline and self control!).

  14. I doubt it. I see most women saying that they prefer a guy with a “dad bod” but I never see men saying they want someone with a “mom bod” Men’s standards for women are higher

    1. Alice, I’ll tell you the same thing I said when I heard of women liking th “Dad bod”. Poppycock. I firmly believe that looks aren’t as important to women, but I don’t believe for a moment that if a dude with a beer gut is standing beside a muscular man with a six pack that women would ever give Mr. Beergut the time of day.

  15. Remember, that some have …problems , such as thyroid too fast/slow, and others. I have what is often termed a hyper fast metabolic rate, and would like maybe 50 more lbs on me, but my body will not do that, it just seems to maintain at what it has been all my abult life, at 6ft 1in 150_180 lbs. But I am healthy, and my wife often complimenting me HELPS GREATLY in keeping my head screwed on about this. HUSBANDS this WILL help your wives as well.

  16. I been an avid reader/follower from early on and I’ve never commented until now… I think. But as I was reading, especially towards the end I was planning to comment about Gary Thomas and how our spouse should be our Standard of Beauty… period! I was so glad you did it in the blog.
    You ALL CAN LIVE this!!! ALL spouses can. It’s an amazing thing! If you aren’t already, (don’t be ashamed) you can fix it. And when your husband/wife becomes your standard for what is beautiful, your marriage and love life will be more amazing than you ever realized was possible! I’m not as attractive in my own eyes as I once was and I got bogged down in thinking my husband couldn’t possibly want to see ME… especially naked. But through his actions (not so much his verbals affirmation, although they are awesome too) I began to see myself thru his eyes. Now I see my sexiness and I revel in his eyes on me. Like I am the one who turns the lights ON. I want to see him but I want even more for him to see ME because I know without a doubt I am what turns him on. Thru the extra weight, the bad hair days, the stretch marks, the evidence of gravity and all, I know he sees me as his definition of beauty and he’s even starting to realize that he is truly my standard of male beauty too. It takes intentionality! Be persistent. Tell yourself he/she means it when they say you are beautiful. Believe it!!! They REALLY do!
    And in case you think I’m somehow in a unique fairytale of sorts, trust me… It wasn’t always this way. We struggled thru porn addiction (multiple failures on both sides) and mistrust and by the grace of God we made it thru!
    Pray!!! Pray hard! Never stop and do YOUR part and God will bless you.

  17. I would add as a man that being too skinny is a concern for me. I weigh 145 pounds (I have gained 20 over the past few years) and I’m trying to get bigger. My wife has remarked about how skinny I am (there is no sex in our marriage sadly), so body image for men is just as big of a deal as it is for women. I feel sometimes like maybe getting bigger and stronger would help turn her on. Not sure honestly

  18. My husband and i watch a lot of super hero movies and shows and I’ve noticed how meaty the guys have gotten. I honestly, truly watch them for the stories though. My husband is pretty skinny i am not. He still looks the same as he did when we met. I tell him i hate him all the time for it, but he knows I’m joking.
    I also know it can be intimidating watching a show with all these beefy guys, so i try to be mindful.

    Although, i will say I’ve watched Jason Momoa since Stargate Atlantis and now whenever i mention Aquaman, people say all the moms like him. But I’m genuinely excited! I outgeek most of the people i know. Anyone geekier than me tends to be hypocritical.

  19. Thank you for your post J! There is so much written about how harmful body image can be for women. My wife has always been the standard for beauty for me. I have learned to be more mindful of how I consume images of other women because of how it made my wife feel and doubt what I believed and really wanted (Shaunti Feldhahn). Unfortunately, the other side of this is ignored. I remember the 80s when male strippers shows became quite a rage. Bars would have male strippers early to get the girls there and then open their doors to the men. Chippendales claims that more than a million women see their shows each year. My wife quite humanly tells me that Val Kilmer’s “Iceman” character from TopGun is her ideal and she was very interested in Fabio when he was the “thing”. I didn’t tell her that I could quite easily see that I was not in their “league” but it did bother me. This especially became a factor as our marriage started out cold and didn’t improve.

  20. Pingback: Hubbies, Losing Weight Could Improve Your Sex Life | Hot, Holy & Humorous

  21. I must say, this article challenges a couple of assumptions/impressions I’d gained over male self-image: 1) Men LIKE to be objectified because they place so much value on physical appearance (as do women but for different reasons), and 2)Men don’t have the same insecurities about their bodies as women do, because they have more confidence in their ability to change if they wanted to. A woman might look at some airbrushed model in a fashion magazine and despair that she’ll never look like that. The average man, looking at a photo of Jason Momoa (for example – and a shout-out to my fellow Stargate Atlantis fan! :)), would think, “Heck, I could do that; come to think of it, I’m not too far from it now!” Am I wrong?

    Apart from this, I’ve struggled with how important my husband’s physical appearance is to me, and how much of my opinion comes from simply being female versus his body specifically. I’ve never enjoyed or desired to see men naked, and I’ve never gotten especially excited over shirtless male models and actors, although I suppose my tastes have shifted a bit over the years. And while I don’t mind my husband being undressed in front of me it doesn’t get me excited either. He’s not handsome by the world’s standards or even very muscular, but he is a fair amount taller and bigger than I am; and this combined with his kindness, his leadership skills and other manly attributes makes me want him to want me. Trouble is, he (like many husbands) often wants me to take charge in the bedroom, and this simply isn’t my nature – which I’ve recently learned is common to a lot of women. Still, I’ve wondered if his appearance contributes to my reluctance, but after some thought I’ve decided that even if he were some buff-n-cut kickboxer I still wouldn’t be inclined pounce on him and rip his shirt off. Rather, I’d be even more worried about whether I were pretty enough to keep his attention. On the other hand, I do try to gently encourage him to be more active, at least for health reasons as he’s not overweight (although his desk job and my cooking have given him a bit of a gut), but I can’t deny ulterior motives either. He’s told me several times that he wants me to want him physically and even asked me outright what I think of his appearance and what he could do to improve it. I do find him cute in his own way and I like his long trunk (especially from the back) and his shapely forearms, and I’ve listed the things about his nature that I do find sexy. But I’ve also told him I didn’t marry him for his looks (which he said he appreciates). I’m not sure if it would be meaner to say that it’s not his appearance that I find sexy or to start pointing out parts of his body that he could improve upon. I try to stay fit myself and remain confident enough in my own body to be available for him, but how do I a)separate female passivity from lack of physical attraction or b)”make” myself want my husband actively, physically, and not just passively?

  22. Honestly, I’d love to be objectified for my body, and when my wife compliments me it makes me feel like a superhero. That said, I don’t think men have the same level of body insecurities as women, simply because we know that women don’t place quite as much importance on physical attractiveness as men do. I am curious what you meant when you said men can change our appearance easier. I don’t think that’s correct, unless you’re saying that men have higher testosterone and thus we can build muscle and lose weight easier than women. The truth is, almost every wife could be exactly the body type their husband wanted most if they worked hard enough. He married you. You ARE this type, or at least you were.

    1. Ugh. That is NOT EVEN TRUE. If men were regularly objectified for their bodies, they would know what it feels like and stop idealizing that kind of attention. Please don’t make something sound great that is appalling: valuing someone solely for their body parts.

      Now if you tell me that you’d like your body to be seen, appreciated, attended to, loved, etc. as part of the whole package, you betcha! I get it, and I think we wives should do that more.

      But really, guys don’t want to be objectified either. If they knew how it felt, they wouldn’t say that.

      1. J, I stand corrected if this is not true. Again this is simply an impression I’ve gained over the years, observing men’s behavior and hearing their comments (albeit mostly on TV) on the kind of attention they’d like to receive from women. And the second observation actually comes from a Christian radio DJ – not that men actually have an easier time losing weight and/or becoming fit but that (maybe?) they don’t see it as as daunting a task as women do.

  23. With all due respect, and I do respect you, how would you know? You aren’t a man. You don’t know what it’s like to never be noticed by the opposite sex because women have it thrown at them. Yes, I’d love the thought that I could walk in a room and have all the women’s heads turn. It would flatter me immensely, and it wouldn’t bother me one bit that they weren’t looking at me as a full person. I wouldn’t acknowledge it because I’m married, but it would still make me feel good. And guess what…there are men who get objectified for their looks and these men rarely complain about it.

    1. Then with all due respect, how do you know what’s it like to be objectified all the time? And those men rarely complaining about it? No, not aloud. Because clearly that wouldn’t be acceptable to a group of men to say, “Oh, I hate how women only love me for my body.” Even if it’s true.

      Look, this isn’t even a gender thing. It’s not a Christian viewpoint to objectify a person based entirely on their appearance!

      1. I don’t know what it would be like to be objectified all the time. This is true and I admit it. I’m sure that after. Few years it would get old. But would it feel amazing to have it happen for a while? I feel it would even if I don’t know with certainty.

        By the way, I’m not saying that I SHOULD want to feel this way. It’s pure vanity at its core. But let me tell you, that if that were my picture being spread around the internet with crude comments from women about how attractive I look to them, I can’t help but think that it would put me on cloud 9 even if it’s wrong to think that way.

        Anyway, this is not productive and misses the point of your post, so I’m sorry for derailing things.

        1. I think I get what you’re saying, Brian, but using the “objectified” word is a big turn-off for so many women who have fought that burden for so long. That’s why I’m so adamant here. But yeah, to have your physical appearance admired and appreciated, I can understand that. “Objectified”? No.

  24. Well, I definitely don’t want to get into the whole definition of objectification again. I really don’t know any other way to put it other than more or less what happens on any Facebook post with Jason Momoa’s picture. Yes, I would like that to happen to me. Call it what you want. I’m sure women hate it. I don’t have to understand why.

  25. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that I think what you want to feel is value and worth, Brian. Our culture has put a crazy amount of value on our physical bodies, which is so shallow and sad. But I think if you truly found your value and identity in Christ and His love for you, you wouldn’t want so badly for women to lust after you when you walk into a room. You would realize that is actually of no real worth (and troublesome for the women themselves). I don’t know, maybe that’s not what the issue is for you. But it’s a lesson I had to learn myself.

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