How the “Body Positivity” Movement is still leaving men behind

Last weekend, Jonah Hill reshared a shirtless tabloid photo of himself to his Instagram, writing that he’s “37 and finally love and accept myself.” The Daily Mail published the shirtless pictures of Hill after he’d been surfing last Friday, the latest of many body-shaming pieces aimed at the actor, director, and comedian.

It’s not just the Daily Mail, though. The media has treated Hill’s body as a punchline for over a decade while his occasional weight fluctuation is reported as a moral failure. With this considered, his response to the media, by way of an Instagram post, is a show of both strength and endurance. But it also shows how the mainstream “body positivity” movement still fails men.

Hill’s post — which has been liked by 1.5 million so far — wasn’t meant to inspire pity or praise, instead, he explains, “It’s for the kids who don’t take their shirt off at the pool. Have fun. You’re wonderful and awesome and perfect.”

But the messaging to young boys is rarely this encouraging. In a similar way to women, the message given to boys and men is that there is a perfect body — and if you don’t live up to it that’s a problem. This is compounded by image-focused social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok and the almost total domination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the ultra-buff men who inhabit it.

For all its faults (namely prioritizing white, cis, able-bodied women), the body positivity movement had led to an increase in larger women in fashion, with stars such as Lizzo and Ashley Graham covering Vogue and three “plus-size” models recently walking for Versace’s Spring/Summer 2021 runway show. Yet as Hill himself has pointed out, the industry is still hostile to men who don’t fit within a thin, idealized body image.

“Even now, I’ll overhear someone discussing my place in the fashion world or whatever, and people are like, ‘That guy? The schlubby guy from Superbad?'” he told GQ. Over the years Hill has proven himself to be a streetwear style icon, though the title often comes with some sort of caveat. Despite regularly speaking to interviewers about his love of fashion, he’s often pegged as an unlikely style god, or praised for his surprising sartorial talent.

Last year, Savage x Fenty released its first campaign featuring “plus-size” model Steven Green in, as you would expect from a lingerie brand, his underwear. While it shouldn’t have been a big deal, this kind of representation is so rarely seen in fashion: “Seeing a man of my size shirtless for a mainstream lingerie company such as Savage X Fenty has never been done before,” Green explains to Highsnobiety.

“The body positivity movement is not greatly serving men,” the model continues. “I believe the moment that was had with Savage X Fenty was one that actually kickstarted a lot of the conversation around men and body positivity.”

Green reveals that after the campaign came out he “had so many men across the world reach out to me and express how that moment has changed their lives and allowed them to feel a confidence about themselves that they have never felt before. They finally felt seen in the media especially in fashion.”

The reaction to the campaign proves that audiences want to see more size diversity in fashion — so why are larger men still being left out?

Perhaps because women’s bodies have been scrutinized in fashion and media for over a century — and it has taken that long for the mainstream “body positivity” movement to successfully advocate for the kind of visibility we see in the media and women’s fashion. The same toxic preoccupation with men’s weight is arguably a more recent phenomenon.

It could be argued that the shift was marked by a particular Gawker think piece on “Gerard Butler’s Belly,” followed by an uptick in tabloid speculation around Leonardo DiCaprio’s minor weight fluctuations and a brief cultural fixation on the “dad-bod” physique. But the level of media scrutiny around Jonah Hill’s body specifically, borders on the perverse.

The body positivity movement has successfully made room for more diverse bodies in women’s fashion. But as the Savage x Fenty campaign made unambiguously clear, men aren’t content with being left behind anymore. And hopefully this time, the movement will include all bodies, to guard against the industry’s racism, sexism, and ableist tendencies. The intersectional approach modeled by Fenty through its campaigns and runways is carving out a new way and contributing to a media landscape where creepy, fatphobic tabloid pieces are understood as an embarrassing relic of the past.

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