Helena Wadia: So Mathilda, we love getting feedback from our Media Storm listeners, don’t we?

Mathilda Mallinson: Yes! Send some in.

Helena Wadia: And in our first series, we did an episode on fatphobia with wonderful guests, Stephanie Yeboah and Essie Dennis. And we had a really brilliant and engaging discussion with them. And a lot of the feedback was so wonderful and really powerful. And then there was some feedback that you passed on, which was…

Mathilda Mallinson: …which was when we were talking about fatphobia, we didn’t really talk about men or masculinity, it was really skewed towards women.

Helena Wadia: Absolutely. And I think that was natural for us. We are women, I was focusing on endometriosis and the investigation which affects mostly women. And historically, women’s bodies have faced a much larger amount of scrutiny. men’s bodies haven’t really been the subject of debate in the same way. And the body positive movement, for example, while not necessarily a gendered movement has so far kind of focused on women.

Mathilda Mallinson: Right, exactly. In preparation for this episode, I was scrolling through the Daily Mail sidebar of shame. I don’t know if that’s what you call it. It’s what we used to call it at school…

Helena Wadia: 100%

Mathilda Mallinson: …looking into the language and scrutiny of men’s bodies, and it was there. But for every one article reducing men to their appearances, there were 20 doing the same thing for women,

Helena Wadia: right. But when we got this feedback, I couldn’t help thinking yeah, of course, boys are taught from a young age to buy into certain cultural ideas about what it means to be a man. And that has to feed into how they see their body image. Right.

Mathilda Mallinson: And I think so often men are told to display outward strength, but not inward emotion.

Helena Wadia: And that’s exactly what I found out. I’m off to explore what is driving the rising rates of disordered eating in men, and why men might not seek help as quickly as women

Mathilda Mallinson: and I’ll see you back in the studio with a very special guest to discuss everything around this Media Storm.

Theme music plays

Mathilda Mallinson: Welcome to Media Storm, the news podcast that starts with the people who are normally asked last.

Helena Wadia: I’m Helena Wada

Mathilda Mallinson: and I’m Mathilda Mallinson

Helena Wadia: This week’s investigation: masculinity and body image. Why don’t men seek help?

Recent analysis from the Royal College of Psychiatrists has revealed that hospital admissions for people with eating disorders have risen 84% In the last five years, the data shows boys and young men are increasingly affected. The annual hospital admissions for men with eating disorders has more than quadrupled since 2007. A 2020 YouGov survey found younger men struggle with Body Confidence nearly as much as women Body Dysmorphia is now thought to affect men and women in equal numbers. Do these statistics shock you? And is that because the strong silent male stereotype still persists today stopping men reaching out for help,

Sam Thomas: Without any help at all whatsoever, not sort of formal help. I sort of overcame it myself.

Helena Wadia: That’s the voice of 36 year old Sam Thomas. He’s a writer who back in 2008 founded the charity Men Get Eating Disorders Too which helps men speak out and seek help for disordered eating. Sam told me he developed bulimia, an eating disorder where food is usually binged then purged, such as through vomiting when he was 13 years old. He told me it was mainly a response to the homophobic bullying he suffered at school.

Sam Thomas: What I used to do is run out of lessons or avoid lessons completely and hide in the boys toilets, I would lock myself into a cubicle. And I would comfort eat the contents of my lunchbox so it’d be sweets and crisps and sandwiches and things. And then as time went on, these sort of sessions became very regular. Started with comfort eating and sort of progressed into sort of full blown binge eating. And at some stage, it crossed over into sort of binging and purging. Because of the buildup of tension and anxiety, that sort of nausea, sort of sick feeling that most of us will have experienced many times in our lives, I sort of externalized got that out of my system, so to speak. So it’s very cathartic. So that became a very regular pattern during school, after school, very much in isolation, because the nature of bulimia is very secretive, very hidden. And of course, no one knew about it for that reason. I had no idea about eating disorders back then. You know what I mean? weren’t talking about anorexia let alone bulimia, let alone eating disorders in men. Soo it’s was very much the dark ages of our understanding around these issues really.

Helena Wadia: You’re talking about that kind of dark ages thing and, and not knowing what it was, I wonder when you first heard the word bulimia?

Sam Thomas: I actually heard the word bulimia for the first time, when I was reading an agony aunt column in one of my mom’s magazines. And actually, I remember this letter from a single mother, who had recently split from her partner. And when she put the kids to bed, she would binge and purge. Now, of course, I didn’t relate with her situation, but I certainly related with the behaviors. And that’s how I came today to learn of bulimia for the first time. And I remember the agony aunt sort of saying that, you know, this, this disease is called Bulimia. It’s very serious. It’s a mental health illness. And she listed all these health sort of impacts that it would have ranging from cardiac arrest to your stomach rupturing and all sorts of scary things. And being the age that I was, 15, you know, that was really, really scary.

Helena Wadia: Sam attempted to get help at age 16. But he needed parental consent for mental health services, and didn’t want to involve his mum. He describes healing from bulimia without formal help.

Sam Thomas: It got involved in volunteering projects for LGBT youth and mental health. So I kind of find all these different ways and means really to sort of find purpose, I think, over the period of probably about three years, from the ages 18 to 21, the bulimia sort of got gradually phased out to the point where it almost became redundant. And it sounds a bit of a cop-out when I say it like that, over time, without any help or not sort of formal help was in treatment, that sort of thing. I sort of overcame it myself. But there’s a caveat to that, because I never really recovered, you know, I swapped bulimia for alcohol throughout my 20s. So, you know what I mean, it was sort of a switching sort of exercise, I suppose.

Helena Wadia: Did you feel that potentially, if you were a woman, your treatment would have been different?

Sam Thomas: Absolutely. Having reflected on that for many years, that became the main reason really, why set up a charity in first place. In 2006, 2007, 2008, there was quite a lot of media hype around eating disorders, around “size zero”. And of course, it reaffirmed the whole stereotype that people with eating disorders were mostly women, they were mostly younger, they all aspire to sort of fashion and celebrity culture, wanted to be catwalk models, that sort of thing. And, of course, being somebody who’s a man with bulimia, you know, my sort of experience was the complete opposite to that, you know, my early experiences of getting help were pretty much non existent, you know, nothing happened.

Helena Wadia: So has this stereotype of a woman’s illness disappeared, I wanted to find out if charities who provide help for those with disordered eating, have moved away from resources targeted at women only. So I sat down with Tom Quinn from Beat, the UK’s main eating disorder charity, founded back in 1989, do you think that the resources are still targeted towards women? Or have you seen that change at all, in your time working in the sector?

Tom Quinn: Well, we’ve certainly tried to improve, I’m sure, I’m sure there’s more that we could do. And to be very open about this, the majority of people, more than 75% of the people who volunteer for us, who use our services are female. So we, you know, we recognize there’s, there’s work that we need to do to, you know, make sure that guys kind of looking at our website, you know, looking at what we do see themselves in that and feel comfortable seeking help. And I’ve heard from more than one man that said, you know, they went into treatment for the first time, they were the only man there. But what we are trying to do, things, I mean, goodness, five years ago, our branding, you know, the colors we use, you know, lots of sort of stereotypical female colors, things like that. So we’ve really tried to improve our branding, and also some of the imagery that we use to really make any guy that’s kind of brave enough to search for help, we want to make sure that if they, they come to our website, it’s clear that they won’t be alone.

Helena Wadia: In this investigation, I’ve been searching for support groups for men with disordered eating. We’ll hear from one a bit later on. But in reality, there are very few. Beat run a number of eating disorder online support groups, for specific eating disorders, for specific ages, and even for gymnasts. But there isn’t one specifically for men.

Tom Quinn: You know, I think there are similarities in experience between men and women. So I would like to think we create an environment where if men were coming along to one of our online support groups, they wouldn’t feel, you know, sort of out of place. We are, you know, we are thinking, do we know, is that something we need to think about in terms of having kind of support groups specifically for men, and that is something that we’re starting to think about. I think the proportion of men that come forward for help is lower than you would expect, given what we think the sort of prevalence of the illness amongst men are, so there is still work to do.

Danny Bowman: I just felt really abnormal and like I couldn’t reach out and and I’m not embarrassed to say I tried to take my own life.

Helena Wadia: Danny Bowman only got help for body dysmorphic disorder, a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about perceived flaws in their appearance, after reaching what he describes as crisis point.

Danny Bowman: My personal journey started when I was 14 years old, I remember feeling a sense of inadequacy. I remember looking around at other men in my group, I was a rugby player, I played rugby. And I remember just looking at them thinking, everyone looks better than me, everyone’s more intelligent than I am. And that feeling of inadequacy really focused in on the way I looked. And obviously, I was a sportsman as well so I tried to kind of improve my appearance by building muscle and, and I became obsessed with my skin, my weight, my hair, every part of my appearance. And it started to gradually take over my life, I would spend, you know, two hours a day before school, brushing my hair, putting in, you know, moisturizer, brushing my teeth extensively. And then I started to develop purging of food as well. And it got so bad to the point where I was like leaving lessons to kind of focus on the way I looked and stare into the into the mirror, my kind of body image. And unfortunately, I had to drop out of school at 16, because I was spending so much time focused on my appearance and trying to improve the way I looked. And at that moment, I became housebound, I started to spend hours taking photos of myself, analyzing myself, editing it, doing it again, I felt exhausted. I didn’t see a way out. And I remember laying on my bed. It was a rainy day in the Northeast. Unsurprisingly. And I remember thinking there’s no way out this, you know, I’m a man, I don’t know really what’s happening to me, it can’t be a body image problem because men don’t suffer from them. And and ironically, both my parents are mental health professionals, and even then, I didn’t feel like I could talk to them because I didn’t think it was an issue that men suffered from. And, and I’m not embarrassed to say I think it’s important we talk about these things. But uh, but I tried to take my own life. And luckily my mom found me and I was rushed to A&E. And from that point I started to recover.

Helena Wadia: Do you think you would have had a greater understanding of what was going on if you were a woman?

Danny Bowman: Absolutely. And you know, I grew up in Newcastle. There’s the same culture isn’t there, around kind of manliness and lad kind of culture around around certain places. And I think I definitely felt that pressure of trying to be as masculine as I possibly could be. And, and, you know, be fearless and go on the rugby pitch. And the idea to talk about body image and, and open up about that was, was just impossible, really, partially because I’d just be ostracized, you know, you know, what school is like, you get called every name under the sun, if you start to show, you know, any, any sort of difference. So I think that was definitely something that I was conscious of, and did experience as well, when I was younger when I when I did, slowly, probably not in the best possible way, but try to talk about it. And yeah, and I felt a bit demonized for that. But, you know, to men out there, I would I would encourage everyone to open up. I always say that the most the bravest thing you can do right? You know, the talk about men being you know, having to be brave. And you know, the bravest thing you can do is open up about these these feelings because if you open up it creates, you know, a domino effect that other people will start to share their story and will start to create a really solid movement and hopefully get some action in relation to service provision.

Helena Wadia: Danny is now the chair of Male VoicED a charity providing a platform for male narratives around eating disorders. Their peer support meetings were one of the few I found specifically catering to men. I spoke to Brad Powell from the charity who was the peer support group facilitator about what happens in the male only groups.

Brad Powell: They really take the form of free ranging discussion. So for example, they might talk about something that was really challenging over the past month, like needing to go to a social event and finding it quite pressurizing or they might also share something that was really positive for them. So, a challenge that they’re able to overcome. They offer a chance for men to get to hear from other people who have gone through similar experiences, which is really valuable because so many people have never met someone with a eating difficulty before, let alone another man or another guy. And just by knowing that you’re not alone, and by sharing your story, it enables you to have a, it has a therapeutic effect. Just by sharing your story and hearing from other people, it can have more of a motivational and inspirational element where people can work towards their own goals. In the media at the moment, there’s a lot of people who are challenging the previous dominant narrative that men need to be tough, that men need to look a certain way. And it’s people like this, these champions that can change existing narratives and provide inspiration to someone who may be thought, I can’t share how I’m feeling because I might be judged. So hearing from people who have been there, more people sharing their stories and accessing places where men might be who have difficulties, but are maybe not aware of that. So for example, maybe outreach events in gyms, as well as following people who have been there could be a way of increasing and raising awareness of these things.

Helena Wadia: Brad’s mentioning gyms here is interesting. As we’ve heard, disordered eating can affect men in many different forms. But on the rise is muscularity orientated disordered eating, i.e. the drive for a bigger, more muscular body. And this is a key way that disordered eating splits across genders

Dr Jason Nagata: We found actually that in a national sample of US adolescents, nearly a third of teenage boys report that they’re trying to bulk up or gain weight, whereas only 7% of girls report that they’re trying to bulk up or gain weight.

Helena Wadia: That’s Dr Jason Nagata from the University of California. He’s the lead researcher on the study,

Dr Jason Nagata: The tipping point when it starts to become a disorder is really when people are preoccupied are obsessed with their body image in a way that detracts from their quality of life. They withdraw from friends or social situations in which they would normally enjoy and so the boys that I take care of who have muscle dysmorphia, it’s like if they don’t go to the gym all day, they feel guilty, and they aren’t able to hang out with friends or family or eat out at restaurants because the food content isn’t high enough in protein. And so it’s really something that detracts from their quality of life. And that’s sort of when it becomes this disorder.

Helena Wadia: His results also showed that almost a quarter of the young men surveyed report that they’re taking some sort of supplement, steroid or changing their eating habits in order to bulk up

Dr Jason Nagata: Anabolic steroid use is currently illegal without a prescription or a medical supervision. And it is that way, because they can be quite dangerous: they can lead to serious heart, kidney, and liver problems. And in addition to that, for teenagers, it can actually paradoxically lead to stunted growth and height and issues with puberty. And steroids actually, can affect the brain and lead to more aggression, irritability, and poor mental health. And I think it’s also important to note that many of the other muscle building supplements that aren’t illegal currently, a lot of those supplements are not regulated or tested for safety or efficacy. So you can just buy them on the internet, you can usually purchase them over the counter in many stores. And many of those products, because they’re not carefully regulated, actually contain illegal steroids or other supplements that could be unsafe.

Helena Wadia: This kind of need or want to get bigger, to build muscle. Is it a slippery slope to using steroids quite quickly?

Dr Jason Nagata: We do find that people who have muscularity concerns, so if they’re more likely to engage in excessive exercise or even take, you know, common supplements like protein supplements or creatine supplements, those young people are actually three times more likely to use steroids in the future. And so it does seem like there could be a gateway to, you know, more, I guess, benign behaviors that then lead to more serious behaviors. And so I do think it’s important for people who are using some of the other supplements just to be aware of, you know, how it’s making them feel and what they’re tempted to move on to as the next step to achieve muscularity.

Helena Wadia: Dr. Nagata’s research also found that young men who are black were more likely to engage in muscle enhancing behaviors and muscularity-orientated disordered eating. I wanted to hear why this might be and I was contacted on Twitter by someone asking him to be referred to as Lawrence. Lawrence found himself becoming an obsessive gym goer and said that stereotypes about his gender and his race, led to his need to be bigger. Lawrence didn’t want his voice on record. So this part is read by an actor. When did you first notice you had a relationship with the gym that was bothering you?

Lawrence: When I couldn’t think about anything else, the only place I felt worthy was in a gym.

Helena Wadia: And how often were you going to the gym,

Lawrence: I was going like three or four times a day, everything else fell behind: work my mates. At first some of them would come gym with me. But then they kept saying, woah, you’re obsessed, man.

Helena Wadia: So your friends were noticing these patterns did you think you’re obsessed?

Lawrence: Like, even though I feel a bit, I want to be like, I wasn’t obsessed. The difficult thing is you get respect when you’re built. And I felt almost invincible. I don’t know if it was the endorphins or whatever. Because at first people would tell me, I looked amazing, which made me want to get bigger. Other guys would come up to me in the gym right and say “how much are you benching?”, and try to beat me. They couldn’t.

Helena Wadia: Can I ask what made you want to go into bodybuilding in the first place?

Lawrence: I was kind of small yeah. And I always wanted to be bigger. I wasn’t bullied or anything. But I always thought other men look bigger than me. Also, I don’t know. I have this like protector thing in me. I want to act like a protector. I feel I was told by my family to be strong, a protector. I don’t want to blame them but it’s kind of why. And I don’t want to use my voice because I don’t want to make them feel bad if they did hear this. Also, the thing I want to say is I really didn’t think I would ever be someone who was mad about the gym or what my body looked like. To be honest yeah I thought issues with body stuff was for like white chicks. Basically. I was a big, black strong man. And ain’t that what I’m supposed to be?

Helena Wadia: Did you go anywhere for help?

Lawrence: I googled it once or twice. Googled, “am I going to the gym too much?” But then I would just find more and more information on how many calories I should be eating to be lean and shit. I always ended up on more stuff on like, how to buy steroids.

Helena Wadia: Did you ever buy steroids?

Lawrence: Yeah, once. Used it once. Not since. Basically, I had to move somewhere else in lockdown and the gyms shut and shit and I stopped going and I think that broke a habit. So I’m okay now. I go a bit. And I’ve read some stuff online about not going too much.

Helena Wadia: Would you ever go and speak to someone like a mental health professional about your experiences?

Lawrence: No, no, it’s not that bad. I don’t want to do bodybuilding anymore. It’s fine.

Helena Wadia: Going to the gym, counting calories, restricting food. Have we become so used to seeing these actions as healthy that we forget to check in on the people around us? One Harvard Medical School Doctor estimates that as many as 10% of men working out in gyms may be suffering, but never seek help. So does the way we view masculinity: big, strong, tough mean that men will continue to suffer in silence? That takes us back to the studio. Thanks for sticking around.

Mathilda Mallinson: Welcome back to the studio and to Media Storm, a news podcast that starts with the people who are normally asked last.

Helena Wadia: This week we are talking about masculinity and body image and with us is a very special guest.

Mathilda Mallinson: They are a writer and artist often focusing on mental health class and fatness. He created cold podcast After The Tone and was the presenter of Taxi Drivers on BBC Radio Four. They have made a lot of critically acclaimed theater with their company Scottee and Friends and hopefully will be their friend after this. It’s Scottee.

Scottee: You’ll have to do more than a nice introduction.

Mathilda Mallinson: Such a nice introduction! No it wasn’t even, you just earnt all of that from your own accolades. I will do better.

Scottee: No i am great. You’re right. It’s, it’s wonderful to hear how fantastic I am.

Mathilda Mallinson: I always think it must be quite fun saying sitting through your introduction, or deeply uncomfortable. Maybe both.

Scottee: I think, I don’t know when I hear those things, I do feel slightly uncomfortable because I’m a bit like, oh, it’s just a job. It’s just me trying to have some very direct conversation. So maybe we’ll have some of those today.

Helena Wadia and Mathilda Mallinson: I hope so!

Helena Wadia: Twinning! Scottee, in the first half of this episode, we heard about why men might not seek help for disordered eating or body image issues as quickly as women might. But what shone through is that the need to appear masculine and the stigma of not being masculine enough, whatever that means, underpins so many people’s disordered eating habits. It’s a big question, or maybe it’s not a big question, but I wanted to start with kind of what your relationship to masculinity is.

Scottee: Vague. I think that’s the only way I can sort of describe it. I grew up on what was considered to be one of the most difficult housing estates in North London, I come from a very working class, poor background. And so when I’m talking about masculinity, I’m often talking about masculinity from that perspective, I’m talking about the intersection of class and masculinity. So when I think about how I feel in terms of masculinity, I feel like an outsider to it. Because those sorts of men always made me feel like a fraud, that I wasn’t, that I didn’t, I always failed at it. Because I didn’t, I couldn’t play football, I didn’t have the same desires as them. And I was kind of the the sheep in wolf’s clothing. So my relationship with men has often being good enough to be considered one of them. Does that mean that I feel trans? No. Does that mean today I sit here do I feel like a non binary person? No. It just means like, I’m an outsider to it.

Mathilda Mallinson: The fact that masculinity to you felt like something you may be were not quite indicates that there’s something very definite that masculinity is. So what are those characteristics, the stereotypes of masculinity, and how do those tie into body image specifically,

Scottee: I think the constraints and the definitions and the margins of masculinity are really extreme. And they come in forms of like, strength, and robustness, and providership and leadership. And these are things which men aren’t born with, they are taught they are to become, this is what a successful man makes. Those things are rarely available to working class and/or poor men. And I think that’s where we see men’s mental health is so fragile.

Helena Wadia: I know you put a lot of this into your memoir, which is called Bravado, which I think is just such a fitting word for this right now. Can you just tell us a bit more about Bravado?

Scottee: Yeah, Bravado is an observation of a decade of me living with, and in close proximity to, the men and the boys of my estate. I think when we look at the 90s, now like, because the kids at the moment, right are having this like 90s nostalgia, it’s a very different version of nostalgia that I remember the 90s being. I remember the 90s being quite poor, quite fueled by lots of anger and aggression through football through quiet, hyper masculine television, be that Soldier Soldier or Gladiator.

Maximus Decimus Meridius: (from Gladiator movie) My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the armies of the North, general…

Scottee: The things that I was consuming as a kid were these hyper masculine violent imagery…

Maximus Decimus Meridius: (from Gladiator movie) …Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance. In this life or the next.

Scottee: I talk about my first fight, and the first time like being punched. And that being a rite of passage, particularly for working class men. I talked about some really violent imagery that I saw as a child that was really normalized, it was really normal for us to see brawls, because the way in which communities like mine settle things, and it’s called a settler, you know, is through violence often, and people don’t really understand that. But if you come from a community that has been ostracized by mainstream societies who have very little trust within authoritarian police structures, then the only way that you can really settle scores is with your own means.

Helena Wadia: That’s a really interesting way of looking at how that intersects with body image because I guess, it’s like the need to be physically strong, to be able to solve whatever you need to solve.

Scottee: And we see that within our political systems, right, that they are dominated by men who behave in a certain way. I don’t see the difference between the sort of men that I grew up around, and the men that I see biding for the front bench and being a part of the next cabinet, right, they are still using the same devices, they are just using different languages. And at the end of the day, it is about dominance and power and control.

Mathilda Mallinson: Yeah, isn’t it? Isn’t it the case that in US presidential elections that almost always, the winners are almost always taller than their opponents? It’s in the last 100 years, winners have been four centimeters taller than their opponents on average. And in that time, every US president has been on average 11 centimeters taller than the average American male.

Scottee: Wild, isn’t it?

Mathilda Mallinson: We’ve talked about then how these stereotypes around strength have played into body image and you talked about the intersections of class. I’m wondering also does sexuality or does queerness add a layer on to these body pressures? I often hear gay friends complain about extreme scrutiny on gay bodies from both within and without the community or taken me through their grinders flicking through accounts that kind of define their identity purely based on their probably incredibly ripped torso. And so yeah, I just wonder how do you think that that plays into the plays into the pressures on male body image.

Scottee: I think to understand where like queer masculinity is at, with how it’s portrayed within the media and how it portrays itself in the media, we have to, unfortunately, bring in HIV and AIDS. What happened with HIV and AIDS, one of the key signs was that men were losing weight very quickly, and there was facial wasting and muscle wasting. And so gay men went out very quickly, to try and make their bodies be as big and as strong as possible. And then in the early 90s, late 90s, we start to see this tribe emerge, which are known as Muscle Maries, and they are going to be very similar visuals as to how you see a lot of straight men in gyms presenting themselves nowadays, because these men who were so frightened of contracting HIV and AIDS, were trying everything possible to create a visual of health, when I first come out on the scene, sort of like towards the end of this Muscle Mary era, and people just around me looked very different to how I look, this like fat teenager from a counsel state with terrible wetlook hair gel. I immediately didn’t fit in. And I had some really violent experiences in clubs. And I think there is something that gay men do very well, which is, they replicate the trauma, and the abuse that they receive, and place it upon other people. Nobody wants to be the runt of the litter. Nobody wants to be the bottom rung of the ladder. And so everyone is trying to find ways that they are better than the other person. And I think when I recognize the trauma that gay men and queer people have, the way in which we interact with each other on the apps that way sort of makes a bit of sense.

Mathilda Mallinson: Let’s talk about the way that the mainstream media covers masculinity and body image, starting with language. Scottee, your Instagram handle is literally Scottee is fat, which is a word that some people shy away from, why do you choose to use it?

Scottee: Just because it’s a fact. It’s just real. It’s just, it is just real. And I’m alright with that. But it’s you know that that’s taken a lot of work, taken a lot of like thinking about. So I’ve got this show, right, called Fat Blokes. And essentially, I got like a bunch of strangers together to try and make a dance show with me because I wanted to like create a piece of work that had like a really sophisticated conversation about fatness that wasn’t just like some body positive advert that some soap company just done. And they’ve got like a bunch of people who are size 18 in it, because, you know, they think they’re being radical. I wanted to have like a really sophisticated conversation with it. And every time we do it, we get a standing ovation, and people are crying, and they’re not fat people. They’re all people that have been made to feel at certain points in their life concurrently, that they aren’t good enough for one reason or another. And so I think fatness can help us understand some of these things, right? Because we’ve all been made to feel inadequate, because capitalism is excellent at making us feel guilty for not being something so then we buy something to try and rectify something about ourselves.

Helena Wadia: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think there’s kind of a trope that men don’t care about how they look. But in 2019, it’s estimated that men spent $55 billion worldwide on grooming products. So that alone kind of shows that that’s not true, right?

Scottee: Absolutely. I think I think men are concerned and are living with fear that they are going to lose their hair. You know, the most telling moment for me on the internet was when I turned 35 and the adverts that were placed towards me stopped being about what clothes I could wear, and it started to become like project fear. It was like impotency, baldness you need to have this shampoo or have this surgery. And we’ve seen through a lot of these buy at home products, particularly over lockdown where you can like supposedly sort your teeth, sort your baldness, sort your impotency, you can do teeth bleaching, you can do all of this stuff from home. And I think a lot of these products which are marketed towards men are prying on this idea that men’s insecurities are often private. And so these men will buy a product for ridiculous sums of money to try and solve something in private. Because to talk about it overtly to bring this conversation to you and your mates, it leaves you open to scrutiny and makes you then fear just asking for help.

Mathilda Mallinson: I think this relationship between capitalism and male body image is so interesting because there’s there’s two flip sides. Helena you said that men are traditionally seen as not caring about their bodies, but that idea is very culturally relative because in some cultures, men identify themselves and demonstrate their successes through regalia, you know, chieftains and, you know, in the court of Louis the 16th it was men who were wearing makeup and heels and wigs and dresses and then I think capitalism is kind of quintessential to this very down to business appearance that masculinity has had in more recent history. Suits and no nonsense practicality garb, its men being the breadwinners. But then now we’re at a stage where capitalism is seeing how they can commodify male fashion to make even more money. And so the suits become even more expensive than the dresses and the Rolexes. And so I think that capitalism has this really interesting dynamic with masculinity and body image.

Scottee: Absolutely. I think there’s like a different hill to climb with men. And I have to preface this by saying, I don’t think women have got it sorted. They’re all fine. But we’ve had this sense of like body confidence and the body positivity movement, which has largely been focused upon women’s bodies. I think that men need to do the same. There needs to be some form of like moment now that happens, where blokes have these same sorts of conversations. But how are these men supposed to know how to have these conversations, if they’ve always been socialized to be quiet, to be strong? I think there are some fundamentals about masculinity that need to be abolished, and reframed. And one of those is communication.

Helena Wadia: We’ve just spoken about language, but also the images that we’ll see flicking through, not just our social media, but literal news articles as well. The images that almost inevitably appear on news articles on this topic are either like muscle based superhero tropes or their headless fat torsos, when we’re talking about health. I’m doing inverted commas. I forgot this was a progress momentarily. But also those sends like two very binary messages that you’re either one or the other. If you’re a man, you know, how can we reframe that? How can we move on from that?

Scottee: Well then I think we need to reframe fatness, right? Because fatness is used as a shorthand to mean a waiting to be transformed. It’s always the before shot. It’s not the after shot. And that’s the one thing that I find so interesting about fatness and how it’s portrayed in the media. We live in such self-centered times. But the moment that you’re a fat person, everybody wants to save you. Everybody wants to save you from this untimely death because they can just see by looking at you, you’re going to die. What I’m trying to say here is that fatness is often used as a guise, or for concern, when really what it is, is other people are saying, I feel uncomfortable by this, because when I say I’m comfortable as a fat person, that challenges the morality of everybody else who’s placed their acceptance in how they look, they think their success in life is based upon how they look. And then I come along, and I’m like, I mean, I couldn’t care less. You know, and, and I think that is deeply challenging to them.

Helena Wadia: Also, I think we have such an obsession with health, again inverted commas, in our society, that this is why so many disordered eating or exercise disorders go unnoticed. Because if somebody’s going to the gym all the time, if they’re measuring out their food, if they’re counting their calories, that’s seen as a good thing, and that’s seen as a really healthy thing for them to be doing, and everybody heaps praise on to them. But it means that we then miss the factors, especially in men, I think, and especially with masculinity, we miss those factors. We might think, Oh, is that person, okay? Are they developing a disorder, they’re developing an obsession, but we miss it because we’re heaping so much praise onto them for being healthy.

Scottee: Full disclaimer, I am not a dietitian. But as somebody who’s lived with and is in recovery with a restrictive eating disorder, when I see the ways in which these men live their life, it feels very close to the behaviors that me and other people in recovery acknowledge to be disordered eating because essentially what they’re doing is they’re eating a calorie deficient diet and trying to eat as much protein as possible whilst putting the body under pressure.

Mathilda Mallinson: I’ve been nodding my head for such a sustained period of time I look like a bobble head toy. Actually with these headphones on I look like I’m raving at a silent disco. Time now to look at the headlines and some of the stories being written about masculinity and body image that we’re looking at today. So from the Daily Mail, no surprises there.

Helena Wadia: Shocker

Mathilda Mallinson: Love Island’s Anton Danyluk is barely recognizable. As she showcases his muscular physique after overhauling his diet to become a bodybuilder. Before anyone calls me out the she in there is a typo in the original headline, in case there were any questions about the Daily Mail’s editorial precision. Why are we looking at this article?

Scottee: Yes, correct. Why are we looking at this article?

Mathilda Mallinson: It’s a classic Daily Mail sidebar article, we see articles like this all the time. It’s peddled off a Love Island starls, muscular physique, the 2020 contestant has been bulking up for professional bodybuilding. What I find particularly ironic about this article is that directly after using language like “bulging biceps” and “washboard abs” and describing this man as the “hunky Adonis,” the article goes on to report that Anton has faced quote, “cruel comments from online trolls about his initial weight gain, which he’s now working on to transform into muscles.” And so they’re reporting on this cruel trolling that he’s receiving from people who are fatphobic right as it pedals exactly the language and body pressure that is creating this culture, with absolutely no awareness of how those two principals may contradict each other. So what is the effect of articles like this that feed diet culture and that use such objectifying language?

Scottee: Okay, I want to start with Love Island, because I think we have to see how Love Island and Daily Mail have tried to like, spin and steer themselves in the last five years, they’ve definitely tried to like show like, o, we’re not the evil ones, we haven’t done anything wrong. I mean, we can see what’s happening here. And you’re right, that there’s an acceptability politics of fatness that’s going on here, like Daily Mail are being like, he’s only just being fat because he wants to be muscular everybody. Like, how dare you? But then, you know, probably later on, I’m going to assume there’s going to be something about obese kids. And so it’s interesting, where our media will allow empathy to lie. I feel like we should ask them to let me make a fat Love Island. Okay, fat Love Island, and I’ll tell you why it would be far more compelling.

Mathilda Mallinson: This is gonna happen. You heard it here first everyone,

Helena Wadia: Can I also add a caveat that I want a fat bisexual love Island

Mathilda Mallinson: That will be chaos. Chaos.

Scottee: Like Love Island is more than just a television program, right? It is a culture that has touched every part of people’s lives from like music, fashion, interpersonal relationships, politics. And so I do believe it has a social responsibility to do better and be better. And that is purely a comment. I’ve got nothing clever to offer about how we move beyond that. I’m worried for what the next decade looks like, particularly for the younger generations.

Mathilda Mallinson: And on that positive note.

Scottee: Don’t invite me over if you want me to be positive, I never promised any of those things.

Helena Wadia: I do wonder if if there was one thing instantly that you’d be like media can change right now to change the way they report about masculinity and body image is there like a thing that instantly springs to mind?

Scottee: I think one which is tokenism, we’ve seen it on every panel show, there’s like one version of acceptable person that sits outside of the mainstream. In the old days, it used to be like you are allowed to have one woman on a comedy panel because men are much funnier. So they, of course, all have to be there. And the one lady, she’s allowed to say a couple of funny things, but not too many actually. We’ve got like that with tokenism as well. Okay, and so we’re gonna ask the one allotted trans person what they think of the thing? I feel like there has to be more contributing voices, which is why I said yes to come and have a chat on this because that’s essentially what this podcast is about. It’s about diversifying the contributing voices. And what I’d love to see is a sort of diversification of what masculinities (plural) get programmed get put out there.

Mathilda Mallinson: You said it, Scottee. It’s lived experience, but lived experience where it is valued is often done in a tokenistic fashion. And actually, what we need is lived experience to be trusted. As Jaime Wareham, who was our guest on the last bonus episode of Media Storm said, it’s not just about bringing people with lived experience into the space, it’s about trusting people with lived experience to actually take some direction over that space. And that’s what we’re trying to do here at Media Storm. And thank you, Scottee, for coming on and sharing your experience and expertise with us today.

Scottee: I mean, I wouldn’t say if it was expertise, but if you are going to call it that then I’ll happily

Mathilda Mallinson: It is. That’s our lobby.

Helena Wadia: Well, thank you so much for joining us. Where can people follow you and do you have anything to plug?

Scottee: Do you know what people are too lazy? They could just get onto the Internet and they can search beyond the Googles and find it themselves. You know, like I’m too bored of having to give a plug in saying @ Scott is fat on everything. I do have something to plug, I’ve got a podcast that I do which is called After the Tone. I give the general public my telephone number and they leave voice notes for me. As you can imagine it says chaotic as it sounds.

Mathilda Mallinson: My eyes are widening at the thought of some of the voicemails you receive. I will have to tune in and find out for myself.

Helena Wadia: Thank you for listening. We’ll be back next week with a bonus episode of This Is How You Do It with the group Bristol sex workers collective. You might remember them from our series one episode where they were fighting against the closure of the city’s strip clubs. We’ll hear how they won that fight.

Mathilda Mallinson: And the next episode of Media Storm will be out in two weeks time looking at the communities on the frontlines of climate damage, the corporation’s causing that damage and the marketing campaigns that conceal it.

Helena Wadia: Follow Media Storm wherever you get your podcasts so that you can get access to new episodes as soon as they drop. If you like what you hear, share this episode with someone and leave us a five star rating and a review, it really helps more people discover the podcast and our aim is to have as many people as possible hear these voices.

Mathilda Mallinson: You can also follow us on social media @Mathildamall @helenawadia and follow the show via app Media Storm pod.

Helena Wadia: Get in touch and let us know what you’d like us to cover or who you’d like us to speak to

Mathilda Mallinson: Media Storm, an award-winning podcast from the house of the Guilty Feminist is part of the Acast creator network. It is produced by Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White. The music is by Samphire.