Written by Jessica Eaton | VictimFocus | 08/05/2018
Whataboutery is alive and kicking. You know that, I know that – I wrote a whole blog about whataboutery when we attempt to talk about women’s issues. Read by over 500,000 people, it’s one of my most successful blogs and is still being read around 1000 times a day. People clearly resonate with the observations I made that when we talk about issues affecting women, the ‘what about men?’ and ‘this issue affects men just as much as women!’ comments come out in full force.
The issue with this is that it attempts to create a gender neutral explanation for women’s issues. Sometimes it even attempts to transform sex-based oppression of women into a men’s issue.
Even when we know that a social issue or form of discrimination disproportionately affects women more than men, there are deliberate attempts to move this issue away from women and make it about ‘people’ (men and women). This ignores misogyny, patriarchy and the extra pressures on women and girls to conform to the strict gender role norm they are supposed to perform every day.
One of the examples of women’s issues that frequently receive ‘whataboutery’ is body image and sexualisation of women in the media. I remember posting about the way women are hypersexualised and photoshopped in the media and receiving hundreds of comments (and abuse cos, you know, female on the internet). All of the shitty comments were men telling me that men were also hypersexualised and photoshopped in the media and that the pressure to have a perfect body was as severe as it is for women.
I thought about what I call the ‘hench movement’ which is this recent obsession with men becoming as muscly, ripped and massive as possible. I thought – ‘maybe the guys sending me these comments are right’ (obviously they could have made their point without the abuse but heyho). I started to think that maybe the pressure on women had spread to men – and not content with mind-fucking 51% of the population for decades to make money; the media, fashion and beauty industry had finally gone after the other 49% of the market.
Maybe men were being photoshopped and hypersexualised just as much as women these days?
That’s why today, I was so intrigued to find a new social media experiment in which a group of researchers sent a photo of an average guy to contacts all over the world and asked them to photoshop him into the perfect male body. I was even more intrigued by this because around two years ago, the same experiment was done with the picture of a woman. The results of the experiment with the picture of the woman were pretty depressing and I instantly clicked on the link to see what the world had done with the picture of the man this year.
I was surprised with what I found, so I have compiled the results here from BOTH experiments to show the ideal body of both men and women all over the world – and how much more sexualised and photoshopped the women are when directly compared to the men.
The results finally put to bed the argument that body image pressure, hypersexualisation and photoshopping is as bad for men as it is for women. It doesn’t just put it to bed, it destroys this myth.
Here is the original image of the woman and the man
Key differences for the woman:
The woman is made significantly (sometimes fatally) thinner in every single photo except one. I mean seriously, some of them are really really really thin.
The woman is made much more sexualised than the man in every single photo – some people didn’t even like her white underwear and gave her some sexier lingerie. Interestingly, the man’s underwear was not changed at all except for in Bangladesh where they changed it to more traditional wear. No one put him in speedos or thongs. Shoes were also altered for the women – to make them sexier. No one put any shoes on the man.
The legs of the woman are made longer and thinner in almost every image – whilst the legs of the man are left alone.
The arms of the woman are made thinner in almost every image – whilst the arms of the man remain the same in all but 4 images, in which case they are made bigger.
The body ideals of the woman are so much less obtainable than those of the man in almost every photo – I mean, to get a body like some of these female images, you would need so much cosmetic surgery and body sculpting…
The woman has her breasts and cleavage made bigger in every single photo – Uhuh. Not a surprise exactly. What interests me about this is that big breasts are clearly from porn culture – something evident all over the world. Some countries only made her breasts slightly bigger but no one made them smaller.
The woman has a new thigh gap in every photo but one – and some thigh gaps are terrifyingly big. None of the men were given a thigh gap, although you could argue that was because of his pose.
Key differences for the man:
The man’s body is almost left as original in over half of the images, in some images I had to look really closely to see what differences had been made
Clearly, having a six pack and looking like action man is NOT the standard body ideal for men around the world, with only 4 countries selecting this as an ideal body.
The man is left with an overhanging belly in 6 of the images, something absolutely not permitted in the images of the woman. The woman is brutally made thinner but the man is allowed an untoned stomach in just under half of the images.
The man is allowed body hair, which will come as no surprise to anyone. Only one country removed the body hair from the image of the man – US. Who interestingly were one of the only countries to change his hair and give him a six pack.
The hair of the man just doesn’t seem to be an issue for most countries, who left his hair alone. In contrast to the image of the woman, which had the hair changed in 83% of the images. None of the images of women made her hair cropped or shorter in anyway.
What can this comparison teach us?
Photoshopping and hypersexualisation of women’s bodies around the world is savage.
Photoshopping and hypersexualisation of men’s bodies around the world definitely happens but nowhere near the level of women. Even when explicitly instructed to photoshop the bodies of the man and the woman to make the ‘perfect body’ – much less was altered on the man. Based on these images from these two studies, I would argue that in a lot of cases it’s much more sympathetic and realistic than what is done to women’s images.
The man was mostly allowed to keep body hair, body fat, his own underwear, his own hair, his own arms and his own legs. The woman was brutally photoshopped until unrecognisable in most countries.
The argument that photoshopping and hypersexualisation of men’s bodies is ‘just as bad’ as women is pretty much debunked here. It’s time to stop this neutralisation of women’s issues in society. Men have lots of sex-specific social issues and we need to talk about them – but trying to make women’s issues gender-neutral or even male-centric is not the way forward.
Please use these images and blogs like this one to start media critical conversations with children and young people. We have to build critical thinking and media critical views into younger generations to ensure they understand how unrealistic and harmful body ideals are.
For the original images and studies please click here for the female study:
And here for the Male study:
Written by Jessica Eaton