“Positive Body Image” is one of the most searched words on the internet today. As I write, Google shows about 3,20,00,00,000 results in 0.50 seconds.. The trending hashtag on social digital media like such as #positivebodyimage shows – 6.9k people posting on Facebook , 306k posts on Instagram  and <100 videos and channels on YouTube  all related to fitness, fashion, diet, obesity, fat, plus size women and many more. Most of the articles are women-centric, catering to their need for beauty and body care.
It makes me wonder, why men are given less importance, especially when physical appearance and body image have been a part of our culture and society since. The you-turn in the Bollywood industry communicated the struggle of common men. The release of movies like Badhaai Ho Badhaai (2002), Poove Unakkage (1996), Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), Bala (2019), Ujda Chaman (2019) showed the struggle and emotional trauma of obesity, baldness, and an average looking man. With this popularity, it is interesting to investigate and understand the history of positive body image and current scenarios in India for men.
History from “fat-in” to positive body image
The revolution of positive body image started with the notion of a healthy body, mind, and spirit. The idea is to feel good and accept our body and size. But the journey has not been smooth because “positive body image” is one of the sides of a coin and the other side is a ‘negative body image’ dealing with negative emotions like humiliation, dissatisfaction, anger, sadness and in some case depression and wrong perception about our bodies and eating disorder – which gradually becomes a part of our daily psychology.
The Birth of ‘Body Image’
Over a century ago, the problem with distorted body image was brought to light by Lasegue (1873) where she stated, “…the patient said she was neither changed nor is she thinner”.  In the year 1935, Dr Schilder, for the first time, introduced and explained the concept of “body image” as“the picture of our own body which we form in our mind, that is to say in which the body appears to ourselves”. The glimpse of both positive and negative body image surfaced in America during the 1960s on a mass level, when a radio presenter hosted an event, “fat-in” at Central Park, New York, which was attended by over 500 people to support obese men and women from different walks of life. The article, “Curves Have Their Day in Park 500 at a ‘Fat-in’ call for obesity”, dated 5th June 1967 by New York Times, brings up a shocking revelation of the crowd. It captured the mood and emotions by stating some of the obese were confident and happy with their body. Surprisingly, a small group of slim people were seen supporting their obese friends and family. [5,6,7]
Accepting ‘Fat’ as Body Type
In the same year, Lew Louder published an article in The Saturday Evening Post with the title “More People Should be Fat”  . In this article, Lew pointed out the benefits of being fat, discrimination against fat people at the time and the danger of dieting and diet culture.
Dieting below the natural BMI and forcing weight change can cause physical and mental problems especially causing emotional pain. Inspired by Lew’s work, Bill Fabrey in 1969 founded an unprofitable organisation. Today it is known as National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. It helps in positive body image transformation. The organisation is known for providing counselling and programs are dedicated to the welfare of fat people or obesity to help them improve their lives and promote empowerment since obese people are more prone to health issues. Now, the body dissatisfaction percentage among American women is 13.4% and 19.2% in men. But the scenario in India is quite different. Nealy 31% women and 22% men are dissatisfied with their body image. They choose an ideal body type that differs from their current body shape. .
Growing positive body image awareness among men in India
When we look at India, men and women are becoming more aware of their body and size flaws. More number of people are going to gyms and fitness centres. Women want slim bodies and a slim waist with soft skin and good hair. But this trend is soon catching up among Indian men too. They are more likely to spend money to have an athletic body. According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) article published on 5th May 2020 – the fitness service market size value is $2.6 Billion; there are 6 million active users who are spending annually $350 – 400 (INR 25k-30k) on fitness services. .
Today, the idea of a body is not limited to body types or size anymore. Hair and skincare are becoming increasingly important to both men and women. Men added 15% of revenue to the saloon industry in 2018 and the market size is predicted to boom in the coming years. They are now availing services such as peel-off mask pedicure and manicure other than haircut and hair colouring. . The vulnerability to appearance and body has also increased the share of the male grooming markets in India.
In 2018, the market in India valued INR 140.50 billion and is expected to grow INR 319.82 billion by 2024, indicating a spike of 15.14% of the compound annual growth rate by 2024. . The male grooming market in India accounted for $2.6 Billion in 2018 and predicted to soar to 5.5 Billion by 2021 (research by PGA labs). . Men are breaking stereotypes. These days, bathroom shelves have more than one male grooming products as they are becoming more independent in thought and choice of products.
There are campaigns emphasising bringing more positive real-life stories to influence culture. The #BarbershopGirls #shavingstereotypes #ManEnough campaigns show the vulnerable side of men. They do cry and express emotion from tears.. Veet Hair Removable Cream for Men, featuring Kartik Aryan is the latest addition to the male grooming market. Another report states, Indian man’s vulnerability to appearances and body has increased the share of the male grooming market in India.
Why are men concerned with their appearance?
This is deep-rooted as early as the 1930s with the entry of Nargis, Raj Kumar, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala in Bollywood movie. Since then Bollywood films, magazines and the fashion industry continued to influence our lives. It created and moulded our views on beauty and ideal body type for men and women. At that time, the talk of the town was buzzing with fashion, hair style and body types of celebrities. Literally, creating a realistic portrait of a “dream girl” and “dream boy.” Women fancied and yearned a hairdo, haircut, and clothing of famous celebrities like Sadhana, Dimple Kapadia and Rekha. The stunner stars like Madhubala, Sridevi, Zeenat Aman, Parveen Bai and Hema Malini were envied by women because of their beauty and body. In fact, men thought of them as attractive and irresistible.
The image of a beautiful actress with a handsome actor was perceived as beauty attracts beauty. More number of men started to follow dressing style and haircut of male celebrities like Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan to look attractive. The chiselled physique of Sunjay Dutt from the movies like Daud and Vaastav astonished everyone. Soon Salman Khan and many others like Hritik Roshan followed his footsteps. This trend was picked up by the common masses. Many men started to hit the gym to have an ideal muscular physique.
Today, the social pressure from peer, family and media is huge on men to transform their body. Globalisation has an impact immensely to meet the internationalize general. The problem is the perception of one’s appearance is largely shaped by society and media . Society and media set the norms for beauty and body – what looks good and bad. The competition at the workplace is no longer defined by working smart and fast. Now style and appearance have become a sense of competition at work too. The rejection because of appearance from society, family, and friends is devastating. No matter how much India has progressed, the body – size, skin and hair still tops the list, as a basic criterion to find a match. Likewise, women, men suffer from an inferiority complex too.
Medical concerns attached to positive body image for men in India
There is growing concern expressed by healthcare professionals. People with body dissatisfaction are more prone to eating disorders, body dysmorphophobia (obsession with perceived appearance flaws), poor psychological functioning and exercise addiction. A Research conducted by the University of Hyderabad, 2020 report states the body dissatisfaction among Indian women is 31%, which is close to Australian women (33%). For men, Indian men top the charts with 22% body dissatisfaction whereas, Australia rates 15.2%. Suggesting that body dissatisfaction is higher in men and women with high BMI index and are at risk of eating disorder. College girls are 89.8% and boys are 89.6% more likely at risk of eating disorders. . Another study conducted by the Sikkim Institute of Medical Science highlights that underweight men are more dissatisfied with their body than obese. .
Do men really need to do rigorous workout ?
Even though muscular, and toned body has become the symbol of ideal body shape for men, Dr Arvind Gupta’s (a practising Psychiatrist and Psychologist) opinion varies slightly. According to Dr Gupta, “There is no point to be slimmer than the need of body if there is no underlying medical condition, because extremely underweight may indicate a deficiency of nutrition since people are likely to follow the wrong diet. Even though there are some obese leading a healthy life, but they are at high risk of having medical conditions in future.”
He further explains, “The fallout is the way we have started thinking. A lighter way to put, these are the kind of two minutes Maggie noodles. We want our food in two minutes, so we buy precooked food, microwave it and it’s ready o eat. And that same mentality goes with most things. Transforming your body shape in a small span of time is the wrong way. It should be a steady process, but we are not ready to put in such a lot of sustained effort and expect an outcome in a long time. We want instant outcomes and that leads to a lot of problems.
Rigorous workouts, getting your body into shape certain these are not necessary for only men it is happening to women as well. The first point is to have realistic expectations. Secondly, adequate time. When you want a desired body and appearance within a couple of months, the chances of landing up with injury is higher if your trainer and you are not good enough. While this is one danger, the other one is from the use of anabolic steroids that is a medical disaster.
Third point, just like zero figure was considered the benchmark which was wrong, in some way having six or eight pack abs and biceps are now considered as a benchmark. What is important is to understand your body type and how much are you ready to put in and if you’re too keen, you need to give time, nutrition to nurture and develop your body.”
“The whole idea of a positive body image is to not find flaws and trying to change the natural shape of the body. You should work out because you find it important. Your choice should not be influenced by family, friends, and society. There is no point in lowering self-esteem, be a victim of your own delusion of self-appearance from reality based on the perception of the society (family, peer, media)?
“Our work and lifestyle largely define our life and choices for example labour whose work is to pack and deliver parcel will have tone muscles, biceps. His work demands him to lift heavy parcel but someone who is a penpusher like me does not require to have a physique like him. But that does not mean I allow myself to become potbelly, having the wrong waist-hip ratio. If that is the image I want why not? But I should not do in excess. Anything in excess is bad. It is toxic! My point is first, give your body the adequate time; have knowledgeable people who can train you, who know how much to push your body,” concludes Dr. Gupta.
Health is wealth & Balance mind = balanced body
Feeling loveable and good about our body and size with a healthy body and mind should be our priority. We should accept not only others but ourselves too. We should accept our body and understand that transforming a pear-shaped body into apple shape body is not at all easy. Yes, it is only possible by hard work and rigorous workout and maybe, including a self-made diet plan which could be harmful as it could have the least nutritional benefit.
However, this does not stop here; it affects our social life and behaviour too, like – missing out on many things in life. Missing out on your best friend’s invitation to a restaurant on her promotion or skipping an invitation from a friend to a comedy night out just because the day wore you out. We start to prioritize our lives to focus on how we look to create a style statement to define us. But unknowingly, we start to shift into the zone of perfection which, is a myth.
Ask a sculpture maker, an artist (makeup, fine arts), a designer (fashion, product) what is their view of a perfectly beautiful face and body? The answer is simple, we all will look alike and there will not face and figure sculpture, artist, and designer. Our imperfection is what makes us attractive, adds individuality to identity and if channelized the right way, it can open the gate to success, self-worth and acceptance for everyone, everything, anything and to oneself. With this note, I would like to end with #ILoveMen #PositiveBodyImageMen #PositiveBodyImage #LoveYourself #IAMPrecious #MenAreBeautiful #MenArePrecious #MenMentalWellness #LifeBalance #HealthIsWealth #SelfAcceptance and #LiveAndLetLive .
Contributor: Kavita Srivastava
About our Writing Program Student
Kavita Srivastava (35) holds a degree in MBA. She’s an avid reader of business strategies, digital marketing strategies, mythology, mystic and fine arts with a focus on content marketing. In her spare time, she loves to spend time with nature and animals. Some day, she wishes to adopt a puppy with whom she can go hiking and jogging. Currently, she’s pursing a career in digital content marketing.
 https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/bodyimagemovement accessed on 16th march, 2021
 Instagram Accessed from Android App on 16th march, 2021
 https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%23positivebodyimage accessed on 16th march,2021.