Last week, research said that men’s body image is worse than women’s. Today, I was pitched an infographic that outlines “The Average Man”: Among the statistics is the fact that most men are overweight, and most men consider themselves to be fit (but aren’t). What’s wrong with this picture? In all likelihood, at least some of the data is. But what I find more worrisome—and what’s confirmed by multiple studies—is that more and more people simply don’t know how to tell if they’re healthy. Both in terms of how we look and how our bodies function, we’ve become a nation with a massive mind-body disconnect.
The infographic (pictured below) says that the average man is 5’9” and weights 191 pounds, which is considered overweight. It also says that 69% of men consider themselves physically fit, but only 13% actually are, which makes all this talk about men having horrible body image somewhat confusing, since you’d think that all these men are overestimating their fitness level thanks to inflated egos, right? Wrong. I think this is just a sign that men—like the rest of us—don’t know how to judge their own health anymore. And most of us don’t know how to judge our own looks, either.
Last year, another study revealed that most obese women and children underestimate their weight. And more have indicated that Americans don’t think they’re as fat as they are. Which has all sparked a new theme in media coverage of American health: That we’re all happily getting fatter by the minute, but we’re all too stupid to read numbers on the scale or see our growing asses in the mirror. Which dovetails nicely with preexisting stereotypes about fat people being stupid, but doesn’t really explain what’s happening at all—or even come close to solving our problems with health and body image.
The truth is: We’ve all been feeling bad about our bodies since before we started to get so overweight. Even at our best, we’ve never been able to stack up against the thin women and buff men we idolize. Bad body image has become the norm—regardless of whether we’re actually overweight. Meanwhile, we’ve also lost touch with how it actually feels to be healthy, independent of how many muscles pop out of our torsos or how much our waists nip in. In our quest to look like our favorite movie stars, we’ve un-learned how to eat real, healthy foods and move our bodies to feel good.
All of these statistics about men’s bodies and how they feel about them are just a sign of what we’re all experiencing: I big mind-body disconnect. And I’m not talking about some kind of hippie dippy, let’s-all-sing-om-and-get-our-chakras-aligned kind of mind-body connection; I’m talking about the simple ability to know if you’ve eaten too much or need to get up and stretch. We’re constantly taught to judge what “healthy” or “fit” look like by unreal standards, but we really need to learn what it feels like to get regular exercise and eat right; until then, it’s not just “the average man” who’s going to be confused about his fitness levels and weight. It’s all of us.
Infographic: The Frugal Dad