We men can be an inordinately proud gender, unwilling to express our feelings and admit our struggles outside of the occasional grunt.
At least, that’s how the stereotype goes.
The reality, as it often does, paints a different picture. Men struggle with depression and many of the other issues women and non-binary folks face, but media representations of men demand a high level of stoicism, that fledgling rage-ulcer be damned.
Times have changed, and thankfully, more honest representations of male behavior are making their way into popular culture, and the folks portraying our superheroes, like Kumail Nanjiani, are starting to be honest about the work involved to make fiction come to life.
Male body image issues and superhero bodies
What man hasn’t caught glimpse of a highly edited movie poster featuring some jacked Marvel superhero and thought to themselves, “That must be nice.” Some of us might be able to brush it off with an innate understanding of the time, effort, and money involved to make that jacked photograph happen.
For others, it brings back some very real male body image issues.
The cycle was bound to repeat itself again when Kumail Nanjiani attempted to break the internet with a glossy, shirtless and jacked photo of himself posted on Instagram. Kumail was cast about a year ago to star in Marvel's upcoming The Eternals film, and reactions to the photo ran the gamut of shock and… okay, just shock.
To be fair, this is the same Kumail who rose to fame as a stereotypical coding nerd in Silicon Valley.
Then again, if you think about it, such a transformation would be surprising from just about anyone. President Obama is generally a well-regarded, highly impressive individual. If he casually posted an Instagram photo flaunting washboard abs, it’d be just as surprising.
Which kind of proves the point of how unrealistic such a body is for anyone outside of entertainment. In fact, if you really dissect it, it’s not that surprising that Kumail was able to have this transformation, as he admits himself in a refreshingly honest caption.
“I would not have been able to do this if I didn’t have a full year with the best trainers and nutritionists paid for by the biggest studio in the world. I’m glad I look like this, but I also understand why I never did before. It would have been impossible without these resources and time.”
It bears repeating that this transformation was funded “by the biggest studio in the world” and that it became his full-time job. He goes on to thank five different personal trainers and a catering company that provided healthy meals. There are startups smaller than the team that worked to get Kumail in superhero shape.
Around a year ago, actor Rob McElhenney of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia made a similar point in a side-by-side Instagram photo showcasing a transformation he made for the show.
“Look, it’s not that hard. All you need to do is lift weights six days a week, stop drinking alcohol, don’t eat anything after 7pm, don’t eat any carbs or sugar at all, in fact just don’t eat anything you like, get the personal trainer from Magic Mike, sleep nine hours a night, run three miles a day, and have a studio pay for the whole thing over a six to seven month span,” he wrote with just a hint of sarcasm. “I don’t know why everyone’s not doing this. It’s a super realistic lifestyle and an appropriate body image to compare oneself to.”
Focus on holistic happiness
If you’ve ever struggled with lofty expectations about how your body should look, comparing it to folks like Kumail or McElhenney, this should spell out pretty clearly the kind of investment it requires. It should also be crystal clear that it’s not a realistic expectation you should have for yourself. Very rarely do cinematic superheroes maintain their physique after filming, because as they’ll admit, such a commitment can suck the joy out of life!
The only thing that could incentive me to stick to such a rigorous lifestyle is, well, the millions that come with starring in a Marvel film. Show me that contract, and fine, sign me up. Until then, we should all focus on incremental lifestyle changes that lead to holistic happiness.