With shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “More to Love” popping up all over primetime television and the evening news’s obsession with the obesity epidemic, body image issues have gotten a lot of publicity. Women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan are always offering cosmetic and confidence tips to women who, despite already being at a desirable weight, still feel they need to look better (and need 44 new ways to please their men). But in all of these media outlets, one group remains tragically uncovered: underweight males.

As someone who stands at a decently tall 6’4″ but weighs in at just under 140 pounds, I often find myself looking in the mirror, wondering if museums would hire me to pose as skeleton. But more often, I find myself making little jokes just like that one as a coping mechanism so I don’t think about what’s really on my mind: How could anybody be attracted to someone whose ribs are visible nearly all the time?

Walking around campus, it’s hard not to notice the large population of muscular, fit, healthy-looking guys. It’s not that they jump out or anything, but they’re everywhere. I know it’s fickle of me to be upset that I don’t look like them, but it’s hard to stop wishing for something you see countless others achieving almost effortlessly.

Beyond letting body image issues ferment on my own, I have had a fair share of nicknames and jokes made about my particular build, nearly all of which I have at least pretended to be on board with. To name a few: “Skeletor,” “Holocaust victim,” “If you turned sideways you’d disappear” and “Watch out for light breezes.”

Admittedly, many of the jokes are somewhat funny, but they certainly don’t help me feel any better about myself in the long run. I appreciate them as an escape from shame, though. Hell, I even made a Skeletor T-shirt for myself in middle school. I wanted friends, so I was forced to turn my flaws into something likable.

The fact that some people have body image issues and that others make jokes about is nothing new. It’s obviously not a good thing, but it’s not unique to my situation. What underweight men face that others don’t is the lack of readily available support and comfort. In all the school-sponsored discussion on body image I’ve attended since middle school, my situation has never come up. Nor does it come up on primetime TV, on the news or in magazines. Underweight males need to be a part of body image discussions from the start, not just a statistic used to make the other numbers look bigger.

Along with having these body issues underpublicized is an inherent guilt about having the issue in the first place, which can worsen already low self-esteem. Whenever I complain to anyone looking to lose even a little bit of weight, my complaints are met with statements like “Are you kidding? I’d kill to be thin like you.” But you never see someone who wants to gain weight lamenting that they can’t be more like their overweight friends, because the media has trained us to think that this is obviously insensitive, while forgetting to mention that the struggle can go both ways. Not only am I physically weak, but I also lack the mental and emotional strength to accept who I am.

It’s not enough to have an emerging group of young, thin, hipster male role models. Just because there are famous people built like me doesn’t make me feel any more adequate. What I need is for my lack of confidence to be taken seriously, not tossed away as an unreasonable complaint from someone with a divinely bestowed metabolism. This pressure to be macho, when unchecked, can lead to steroid abuse and other unhealthy habits like binging on fatty foods, not to mention intense depression. Imagine hating yourself every time you wear short sleeves because you have to look at your skinny arms and wrists, and you’ll start to get the idea.

While underweight males are arguably one of the smallest groups in the bad body image pie chart, I can guarantee that most of you know a male who, whether he admits it or not, wishes he could bulk up. As someone who has been dealing with this problem for as long as I can remember, I beseech you to be sensitive with these friends, regardless of how “okay” they may seem to be with their weight and build. The common saying of “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” just doesn’t hold up here — the small can fall just as hard, and it doesn’t take much to tip them over.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.