Let's Be Honest, Black Men Have Body Image Issues, Too

Morehouse Body Image Issue.jpg

Earlier this month, the staff of Morehouse College's Maroon Tigers student newspaper did quite the amazing thing when they published thier Body Issue, which featured more than 30 students from Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta posing nude (sometimes with each other) and discussing their similar issues with body image, sexuality, sexual abuse, addiction and a cadre of other issues as they ultimately hoped to empower themselves and their bodies as well as help their readers do the same.

Of course, we all know that body image is an issue for women (and the hordes of emaciated models that I and the rest of the world enjoy seeing stomp down the Paris runways every season), but for me and all of my male friends body image is a major issue for us, too. 

In the past, it seemed like we men were exempt from worrying about how our bodies looked in and out of clothes. Being an object of sexual desire isn't really a concern when you're a part of the same group that created the ideas and rules that your society has a about sex and bodies.. For us men, our job wasn't to be praised for how our bodies looked on a pedestal. We were praised for the power we had over others, mainly women, and for what our (big) dicks could do to them. The only ones getting looked at and judged for every inch and curve of their body were women, the real stars of the ever powerful male gaze that is without a doubt the lens we all have to see the world through.

But the days of strict sexual objectiifcation are slowly fading, or rather changing, and now men are subject to a certain degree of that same objectification as well. Thanks to examples like mens magazines, music videos, and all of the hunks we see in the media,we men are all now expected to look like Trey Songz or The Rock...or maybe the Wanted...I'm not really sure about them but I know young girls (and guys) like them. We're expected to all have toned, chiseled bodies and we get shamed by both the men and women in our lives, our friends and lovers, even our families, for not fitting that physical mold. 


Even here in the south where we expect everyone to have a little meat on their bones, having too much meat and not enough muscle can stilll get you ridiculed for not being sexy/objectifiable enough. Yeah, we want meat down here, but for both men and women, we only want that meat on booties, pecs and thighs, never the gut. Men are expected to have big chests, big butts, big arms, big legs and, well, you know the other part that's supposed to be big. Basically, we're expected to have an hour-glass frame with a gigantic tea spout hanging in the front. And if you don't fit that model, you are not allowed to be proud of your body, you are not allowed to speak of it with confidence, you are not allowed to show bits of skin in public, and you are certainly not allowed to go nude because that would somehow be an affront to everything proper in this world and the eyes of anyone watching your supposedly flabby, ugly behind.

So, in the same way that girls aren't "allowed" to wear certain shirts or pants unless they look like "bad bitches," men aren't "allowed" to, say, go shirtless unless they have Shemar Moore pecs and stomach.

Because of all that, I was really really happy to see the above photo where the guy on the right be featured prominently for the issue. As a black man who is not the picture perfect model of chiseled Adonis perfection, it was freeing to see a body like his be included a body like his be praised as beautiful. It was freeing to see the guy on the left and every other various male body be praised on the same level playing field as everyone else. I may be a not-so-regular guy with an average body, but I still want to feel like my body is beautiful and that it's worthy of being seen by another human being, regardless of whether I have a six pack, barrell chest and big booty to show. We all want to be seen and embraced as is.

And equally as important, we as men want to be embraced by one another. I can't tell you how freeing it was to see two men look completely comfortable being vulnerable enough to be nude with each other and letting the whole world see that on camera. Too often, we men aren't allowed a social space to open up our hearts and minds, let alone our naked bodies, with other men in a non-sexual manner (hell, sometimes a sexual manner as well. Damn homophobia). And I think, despite society's unwritten rule that men don't need or want to open up to each other, we all just want to be able to, well, let it all hang with the people we share our lives with. Really, we all just want to feel like we're free with the men (and women) in our lives and not worry about being judged, and this photo does an amazing job of showing just how that desire can turn into a beautiful reality.

I applaud Morehouse for not only tackling the body image issues that we all face, but ultimately the issues of vulnerability that keep us from really seeing each other in totality and applauding each other's truths, bodies and courage. But don't just take my word for it. Check it out for yourselves below Maroon Tigers Body Image Issue.

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Posted on November 17, 2013 and filed under activism, Body Image.