Like women, men suffer from body image issues as well; at least, Western men do. A book called “The Adonis Complex: How to Identify, Treat and Prevent Body Obsession in Men and Boys” delineates this idea, which, judging by the number of one star reviews written for it, is controversial to say the least. I googled “Adonis Complex” because the title of the paper I will discuss today is “Male body image in Taiwan versus the West: Yanggang Zhiqi meets the Adonis complex.”
More broadly than masculinity and muscles, physical fitness has been linked with work ethic as well. The origin of this idea is unclear, but in America, it may be traced back to President John F. Kennedy’s admonition to the nation on their poor physical fitness levels.
In an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated in 1960 titled “The Soft American,” he said:
“For physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies.
In this sense, physical fitness is the basis of all the activities of our society. And if our bodies grow soft and inactive, if we fail to encourage physical development and prowess, we will undermine our capacity for thought, for work and for the use of those skills vital to an expanding and complex America.”
Today, many people use this idea to spread motivational images. They associate hard work with a fit-looking body. I’ve criticized this idea before on instagram. I call it fit-looking because fitness to me is more about biological fitness, which doesn’t require lifting weights at the gym to optimize, but can.
To me, it’s quite obvious that lifting weights isn’t related to hard work or masculinity. Working hard in the gym is quite an easy thing to do in my opinion. Although it does take dedication, the goal is so desirable, and the steps required to achieve it are so mindless, it’s a very common pursuit.
But on a global level, not everyone is yet infected with this virus. In Taiwan for instance, men don’t care about having bigger muscles. They don’t see it as more masculine.
That’s the conclusion a group of researchers came to when they studied body image in Taiwanese men vs Western men in the US and Europe. They found that in Taiwan, pictures of men in their underwear are rarely seen in magazines. Men do nine times fewer chores than women do and are the heads of the household.
The authors hypothesized further that perhaps there are fewer roles in Western society for men to display masculinity, so they have turned to the body as a source of masculinity. In Taiwan, a male’s masculine nature is reinforced in society. I guess you could blame feminism for eroding it in the West? I don’t know.
Whatever the case is, masculinity is about a man’s behavior. Being big and strong is cool too, but if a big and strong body shrouds an insecure society-pleasing individual who works out not for himself but in order to feel more attractive, he isn’t very masculine. The problem with that statement is, everyone likes to say they do it for themselves, but the fact that they’re even doing it, hints that they are influenced by Western beliefs and culture.
I started working out to achieve an athletic goal. I was not interested in bodybuilding and did not perform any bicep curls and didn’t waste my time with bench pressing. Along the way however I also wanted to achieve a different looking body so I changed my workouts a little. I was insecure about my appearance, largely because of the culture I am living in. I have learned from this and now I am more of a man than ever because of the confidence I have developed from within. If my arms look fat compared to 2 years ago, that doesn’t stop me from wearing a tank top in the gym. The bodybuilder however would feel too insecure, because he has cultivated his masculinity not from within, but from the mores of the fitness culture.
I guess you could argue the way a man cultivates his masculinity is entirely based on the culture he lives in. Since there is no one culture in America, men may be lost on how to cultivate masculinity.