OPINION: Toxic masculinity in gym culture hurts us all | Opinion


We’re all familiar with the glorified gym bro stereotype – the campus guy who wears muscle tanks, takes mirror photos showing off his physique, and spends hours in the gym trying to achieve the “perfect” body. Her peers applaud her strength, work ethic and seemingly healthy body. However, they fail to ask what drives men to pursue this lifestyle so religiously. The traditional answer is that men want to be healthy. While that may be part of it, the main reason is more complex: toxic masculinity.

According to Dictionary.com, toxic masculinity is “a cultural concept of manhood that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance, and is socially inappropriate or harmful to mental health.” This mindset is taught to boys from childhood, and the need to conform to it essentially becomes their life goal. How then do they arrive at the social definition of manhood? By going to the gym.

Not only does toxic masculinity have negative mental health effects such as depression and low self-esteem – which only worsens the fact that men are not encouraged to seek therapy – but it also has consequences. physical. Macronutrient counting, restriction, and excessive exercise are part of the gym culture that makes eating disorders more prevalent among men than many realize. Eating disorders can be life-threatening and affect the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological and endocrine systems.

On top of that, the obsession that comes with gym culture can lead to injuries. Consuming pre-workouts and other stimulants allows gym goers to lift more than they would normally be prepared for. This, along with the pressure to max out and lift heavier weights than they are capable of, increases the risk of injury.

This is in contrast to how issues related to gym culture for women are addressed. Women’s fitness articles often address the negative body image issues that women face, viewing exercise as a form of self-care. Men’s fitness articles, on the other hand, do not recognize this and only emphasize the physical aspects. This shows us how the media only reinforce ideas of toxic masculinity when they encourage men to hit the gym.

Another example of the media doing this is with the TV show “Love Island”. On the dating show, the men are “athletic, handsome and competitive”, which makes male viewers feel the need to live up to that standard.

Social media is no better than television. An Eating Disorder Hope study of 1,000 Instagram posts analyzed how users portray male body image. More than half of these posts showed very skinny and muscular men. Many of them also showed men doing things to change their bodies, like exercising. These types of positions had more commitment than those with less physically built men.

While the mindset surrounding manhood drives men to the gym and hurts them physically and mentally, it is also harmful for women. In some cases, the result of low self-esteem leads to sexual violence against women. In these situations, it is considered another way to recover manhood. Moreover, it reinforces sexism and patriarchal systems that disadvantage women in their daily lives.

The norms that men hold for themselves in the gym are often projected onto women with condescending and harassing behavior. According to the 2020 statistic, 65% of women avoid going to the gym for fear of being judged or harassed by men.

None of this is to say that men should give up the gym. Of course, exercising is healthy, and it can be a hobby you do for fun. The problem arises when toxic attitudes about manhood drive men to the gym. Right now, the vast majority of guys in the gym fall into the latter category.

To change that, we need to start reframing our approach to healthy eating and exercise. Men shouldn’t hit the gym just because they want to achieve their dream body, the muscular, toned physique that defines their manhood.

We also need to address the source of the unhealthy gym culture — toxic masculinity. We need to stop teaching boys that strength and power are their most important characteristics. We need to stop teaching them to channel their emotions in aggressive ways, like extreme exercises.

Your male friends may not know that toxic masculinity controls their hours at the gym. If you have a male friend who seems to be going to the gym for the wrong reasons, let them know. We will all benefit from it.

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