Proud2Bme | HuffPo’s Tyler Kingkade is Changing the Way We Talk About Male Body Image

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HuffPo’s Tyler Kingkade is Changing the Way We Talk About Male Body Image

By Ellie Herman--Body image is a universal struggle. Too often though, the focus is placed solely on women's feelings about their bodies' inadequacies. It is just as difficult for men to find peace with their bodies, and it can be even more difficult for them to speak up about their body anxieties.

As senior editor and reporter for The Huffington Post, Tyler Kingkade is bridging the gap between men's and women's body image frustrations. He’s using his personal story of body shame to help others realize the power of acknowledging and speaking out about their own fears. Tyler recently graced us with his wisdom, answering a few questions about his research and recent pieces on male body image. Be sure to check out his work!  

Ellie Herman: In I'm A Man, and I've Spent My Life Ashamed of My Body, you write: “Sometimes I complain about my weight to my close friends, but they say they don't see it. Some tell me they think I have an athletic build. Others say I'm skinny. I don't believe it, and I grab my flab to prove it. I see my body bulging out of my shirt in the mirror. I don’t see an athlete. I don’t see skinny.”

Men are typically taught that body image is not something they should openly talk about. Do you believe this and do you think talking to your friends is beneficial in finding body acceptance? How would you bring something like that up among friends?

Tyler Kingkade: Yes. Masculinity has historically promoted the ideal of a man not having weakness, not having shame and not having flaws. Yet, at the same time, we aren't supposed to care. To care about flaws is considered a feminine trait. We can shift those ideals, but it takes time. Right now, I don't think many guys would admit publicly they don't feel great about their body. I had a lot of friends—male friends—tell me after the story published that it was something they'd love to say, but don't feel like they can.

EH: You mention a fear of others thinking you're fat. Do you think that is your biggest fear? Do you think body concerns are scarier than other thoughts because the body is a constant part of your life?

TK: Yes. One of the most important realizations I came to in researching this piece was acknowledging the “I'm judging myself more than others are judging me,” and identifying what my main fear is. One psychologist asked me, “What is the worst thing that a friend would do if they saw you were fat, and what's the chance of that actually happening?” It made sense.

EH: You've spoken to many experts in the field of body image research. Is there one piece of coping advice you have found to be most useful in your own struggle to accept your body?

TK: You have to acknowledge what your fear is. Specifically, what it is that you're afraid of having happen. Then once you know what it is, ask yourself if there’s a possibility that it would come true. Logically, the answer is likely going to be no when we're talking about body image. That helped me a lot. From there, I've also been applying a little bit of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, something I'm reading more about and hearing get picked up.

The basic idea behind CBT is thinking through our quick reactions, and then trying what makes us uncomfortable. For me, that was getting invited to the beach and saying, “Yeah, I'll go.” Then I thought, “Well, I'm always hesitant to wear a T-shirt, because I think button-ups will make me look skinnier.” So then I went out just wearing a T-shirt and found out that my fears were not only unfounded, but the opposite happened. For instance, I feared women wouldn't think I was attractive. Then one day when I was out in a T-shirt, I hit it off with a gal and we exchanged numbers. It didn't lead to a relationship but it showed the fear of being unattractive to the opposite sex wasn't based in reality.

EH: What is your biggest regret due to 27 years of body hate?

TK: I'm not sure this is the biggest ever, but at least for now, this is what I think of: Not going to the beach more, or not wearing tank tops when it was too hot to be wearing more clothes.

EH: When I consider male body image problems, I feel the tendency is to assume males are most concerned with muscle tone, broadness and bulk, rather than extra weight, too-wide areas, fat, blemishes and such. Do you agree with that stereotyping, or is male body image not so unlike the complaints of women?

TK: Yes, this is certainly true. I think we also need to acknowledge the different directions we are pulled in based on gender norms and social ideals. Actually, my younger brother is really self-conscious about being too skinny. When we were on vacation, I had to talk him into wearing a tank top. But he eventually gave it a shot, and I think he felt a little better. I noticed a slight difference, and he even bought a couple tanks. I mean, even as I feel too tubby, sometimes I get hesitation about wearing a tank top because I worry my upper arms aren't big enough. Again, it's just that I need to acknowledge what my fear is, if it's logical, and then what I can do about it.

Another way you could think of this is the dual ideals for women—the curvy, voluptuous figure versus the skinny model type. Guys, I think, have similar dilemmas of being big and ripped, or that skinny rock star size.

EH: I'm so impressed by your candid acknowledgement of your struggles. Can you describe briefly your thoughts in wanting to write about and expose your body image problems?

TK: It took me a few years. I thought about it for a while, then once we got to the fall months I would put it off as irrelevant. Something clicked around March when I decided I was definitely going to write about it this year. My hesitation was whether I really had it bad enough to claim a problem, and whether anyone would relate. I think I tested the waters a bit by chatting with friends and co-workers and getting positive responses. Right before I made up my mind to do the story, I talked with someone who is a personal trainer and I look at as being very fit. I was shocked that despite seeing each other at the gym three times a week we related on not feeling good enough  and on how we both think exercise is so boring!

EH: So many strangers certainly have contacted you in response to your articles, but how have your close friends and family reacted?

TK: My dad opened up a little to me about feeling frustrated with his weight, which is new to him because he's a pretty reserved guy, and because he was scrawny when he was my age. I've had friends talk to me about it a little. My colleagues supported me more than any other article I've ever written, and that felt beyond encouraging. It was purely uplifting. I think that felt better because while I am friends with many colleagues, and I hang out with them outside of work, a lot of them just see me at work and don't know me super well. So for them to tell me they were proud of my work, or they thought my piece was good, felt very reaffirming.

EH: Women are criticized for comparing themselves to Photoshopped models or trying to mold themselves into the “ideal female” that men desire. Do you think men are similarly influenced by media imagery or is it more a self-comparison?

TK: Guys get bombarded with images of ripped dudes with that "V cut" above their belt in Men's Health and Men's Journal. We've always had models to compete with, whether it was Abercrombie's muscular guys a decade ago, or the modern underwear ads today. I mean, this is something I'm torn on. Yes, media influence is there, but men also aren't dealing with 2,000 years of oppression. I'm fine having men ogled and objectified a bit, because we deserve it after so many decades forcing it solely on women.

But we should also be able to say, “Yes, that's a great body, and so is this.” You don't need gallons of protein shakes, or supplements to push you to work out until you're dizzy. In the end, someone's personal health and happiness should matter more than whether their body reflects magazine covers, regardless of their gender.

About the blogger: Ellie M. Herman grew up in Selinsgrove, a small town in central Pennsylvania that boasts about its cows and high school football records. She is a 2015 graduate of Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, with a B.A. in psychology and a minor in women’s and gender studies. She hopes to pursue a career in counseling psychology, perhaps after attending graduate school. Cars and sports are two of her other interests.

For more interviews, check out:

Writing for Recovery: An Interview with Author Neesha Arter

Style Has No Size: An Interview with zacheser of Chubby Guy Swag

Embrace Being Different: An Interview with Olympian + Author Jessica Smith

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