WOMEN

19 Men Go Shirtless And Share Their Body Image Struggles

"No one can tell I have a belly when my shirt is on, so I feel like I'm exposing a secret when my shirt comes off."

08/14/2015 03:44 pm ET | Updated Aug 14, 2015

The fruitless quest for a "perfect" body isn't unique to women,  though based on the body image conversations we tend to hear, it's easy to think so. 

Rather than obsess over attaining thinness, however, men are more likely than women to consider themselves underweight, and focus on getting more muscle tone, studies suggest. But there is a range of expectations for what a "masculine" body should look like -- and negative associations with the ones that fall short. One study found that men linked being fat with "weakness of will," while being lean and muscular was associated with "feelings of confidence and power in social situations." 

According to mental health experts, men may have a harder time accessing communication tools to express their insecurities and work through them. While there's recently been more cultural celebration of a diverse range of body types for men and women, for men to communicate openly about body concerns still carries a stigma

In an effort to demonstrate that men of all ages and sizes struggle with body image, HuffPost Women photographed 19 men, from those in their 20s to their 60s, without their shirts and spoke candidly with them about their body hang-ups.   

Spoiler alert: Men have body insecurities, too, and that's nothing to be ashamed of.

Photos by: Damon Dahlen

Additional reporting by: Tyler Kingkade

  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I don't like sitting down with my torso hunched over my legs -- it makes me feel gross the way my stomach reaches over my belt. Similarly, if I have my shirt off, I try to stay lying down or reclined so that my torso is elongated. I also flex my arms and abs almost constantly. The soreness and tension from working out makes me feel better.  I've always wanted a much leaner body type, so even as small as I am, it makes me wish I was thinner. Many of these conversations have brought me to the conclusion that I may have some minor type of dysmorphia."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I'm realistic about my body. I take care of myself and exercise vigorously and regularly, but know that I'm not 30 anymore. I see a lot of guys my age whose bodies look, well, sad, and I am determined not to let that happen. This is embarrassing, but I will sometimes press my fingers on the side of my stomach to try to convince myself my abs are 'tight.' I don't talk to my friends about body concerns very often. I do notice that most of my friends are married and overweight -- not sure if there's a correlation between those two facts, but as a result, we don't talk much about body issues."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "My relationship with my body has changed a lot over the years. I struggled with self-esteem as a young, chubby child. But I had a few important experiences -- like having to use communal Japanese baths and swimming competitively -- that made me quite comfortable with bare skin by the time I got to high school. Recently, I've been struggling more with that confidence. I often feel somewhat weak and flimsy and wish I had a more powerful body. I'm really grateful to have people around me who are very open about their own body issues -- which is the key. Once one friend starts sharing, it sets the space for everyone else to do so as well."
  • Marc Janks/Huffington Post
  • "I feel terrible about letting my body go as I have aged. In my younger years, I was really into weight-lifting, and I know first hand the costs of letting your body go and the uphill battle I face now from doing so. My son repeatedly asked me if I was pregnant when he was younger and now knows that I am very unhealthy, because he is taught in school to not eat what I eat or 'I will become fat like daddy.' I would say I have just given up. Its almost comical. I would be embarrassed to mention it [to my friends]. I am worried what they would think, not only because I am actually very fat, but how weird it would be to mention something like that in a man-to-man conversation? It's simply not acceptable."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I've always been very comfortable with my body, even when I was an awkward squishy pre-teen. But nowadays, I really like how I look. I'm also definitely more focused than ever on how my body feels."  
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I hated my body for a lot of my life. Part of that came from being a 'husky' adolescent / teen and part of that came from being queer and feeling like I didn't have a body that was attractive to other men in the ways it was supposed to be. But getting heavily tattooed and working out hugely changed the way I think about it. So many of the stories that were hidden inside of me -- things I loved, things I was scared of, things that haunted me -- were finally visible, and my body finally felt like it belonged to me because I had a hand in making it the way I wanted it to be. Now, when I take my shirt off, I'm happy with what's there."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I feel comfortable and free when shirtless. I feel that my body is a form of art. There are some areas I wish to improve upon, but I definitely love my body type."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I feel much better about my body than I used to. Until I was in late college, I had an unbelievably fast metabolism, which I realize for many would be a blessing. For me, it left me looking, as my friends once described, 'like a Holocaust survivor.' Since then, my metabolism has slowed to a crawl. I occasionally go to the gym, which I think has helped my confidence somewhat."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I'm OK with my body now. I'm still aware of where I can improve and personal 'imperfections,' but for the most part, I'm OK. [My friends and I] mostly talk about how we need to tighten up and get in the gym."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "Being 59-ish years old, things aren't as firm as they use to be or even in the same places, but I have no problems about my body now or ever. I do chat with friends about how I should get back to a gym and get more exercise, just because I'm not getting any younger." 
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "When I take my shirt off in public, I am extremely aware of my body. It feels unnatural to be shirtless. I feel as though all eyes are on me and no one is liking what they see. I'm 6'4'' on the outside and 5'4'' on the inside.  I feel better about my body now than I did in the past. I don't want a perfect body. I want my body to look fit, but also lived in. Having said that, I run 18 to 20 miles per week and do bodyweight exercises six days per week -- and feel as though if I miss a day, it's all going to fall apart. So, there's that."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I have always been comfortable with my body. Due to my skinny lankiness, I have always received the opposite kinds of comments, with most telling me to eat lots of cheeseburgers every day. When I was younger, it annoyed me. Now I just smile and tell them I absolutely would if it wouldn't kill me."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I feel good about my body overall, especially given my age of 55. With that said, I decided after doing the photos that I want to get back to my college 'fighting weight' of 199 not only for health reasons, but feeling better about myself as well. I keep my shirt on, in no small part because, now that I am single again, I think most women prefer a guy in a nice shirt versus shirtless."  
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I feel like I've disappointed my body. In high school, it was, 'I'm so skinny, I need to bulk up,' but now it's, 'I'm still so skinny, but I have a belly.' My insecurities have doubled in that sense. Having skinny arms and a post-college beer belly is far from the muscular male archetype. I talk to my girlfriend sometimes, but with friends, not really. Straight-guy friend groups aren't immediate sources of empathy and consideration, from my experiences. My closest Asian male friend works out a lot and has an incredible body, so sometimes I feel ashamed when I'm around him. He has my ideal body, and as an Asian male, his own masculinity makes me feel inadequate."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I always felt like I was inadequate. Lately, working [in media] has made me more comfortable in my own two shoes than any other time in my life. I have no idea why, but it seems learning about these spaces and ideas helps. With women I [discuss body image]. They're always quite fruitful. With men, on the other hand, I avoid these discussions as men are constantly trying to avoid looking weak. It sucks."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I feel like I could be healthier in how I exercise and eat, and the byproduct would be a healthier body and mind. Being healthy is the goal, and my body looking better is a perk. I can eat pretty unhealthy and not gain a ton of weight. People get angry about that, so I try not to talk about it."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "I'm usually pretty fine without my shirt off, because I learned how to position myself about things I'm insecure about. My feelings haven't changed about my body -- I've always been pretty comfortable. Although I have realized I have to workout these days to maintain the same shape."  
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  • "Now, today, I'm not feeling great about my body. In the past, I really didn't think much about how I looked shirtless -- I just did it. But when I moved to New York, I found myself in a much more body-conscious community than my small college campus. So, I got a gym membership, worked out a lot, ate well and felt good about how I looked. But I've fallen out of that routine over the past year, and I'm having a hard time getting back into it. I'll wear my pants higher to tuck things in, and wear oversized or boxy shirts that hide my stomach and upper arms. If I'm really not feeling so hot, I just don't go to certain places where I know people will be shirtless. So being a gay man in New York in the summer can be difficult."
  • Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
  •  "I typically feel like no one can tell I have a belly when my shirt is on, so I feel like I'm exposing a secret when my shirt comes off. I don't remember a moment in my life when I felt totally comfortable with my body. It's been especially bad since leaving college, possibly because of the insecurity that comes with new friends, new living arrangements and living in a new town. However, in 2015, I've started to become more secure with my body and more confident.  I rarely open up about it unless it's with close friends. The handful I do talk to always give me the same reaction: Oh, you're not fat! It's nice to hear, but no matter how often I hear it, I don't believe it. Some friends even tell me they think of me as 'athletic.' If anything, I think these responses confuse me, because I still can't comprehend how I would look like I don't have a big belly. It's not that I'd rather them say, Yeah, you could stand to lose a few, but it makes it more difficult for me to process my insecurity against friends' reassurance."

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