What women can learn from The Sun’s social experiment

In my short time with this blog, I’ve written several posts focusing on various aspects of beauty and body image — and the attempts of marketers to promote more realistic images of women. Of course, there’s another side to the image coin: men. They are bombarded with similarly unrealistic standards of male beauty from media and society. The gender gap is slowly closing on cases of eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder in men versus women.

British newspaper The Sun noticed that men were largely left out of the ‘real beauty’ discussion spurred by marketers, and recently conducted a social experiment, asking a group of anonymous ‘real’ men to recreate the poses of underwear models.

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Images from The Sun’s mock underwear ads featuring real men, alongside underwear ads featuring male models

I found this experiment endlessly fascinating. While I’m not discounting the insight that led to it, I took something else away from it entirely. On the whole, I fervently believe that more men look in the mirror and see someone underwear model-worthy than do women. They look at themselves and think: “Well, I’m no David Beckham, but I’m alright.” Even more important: They don’t let unrealistic images get in the way of their reality — of living life to the fullest, even if that means putting their beer belly and love handles on full display at the beach.

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Images from The Sun’s mock underwear ads featuring real men, alongside underwear ads featuring male models

Now, some of this confidence may be due to the fact that women are far more forgiving about men’s bodies than their own, leading men to feel less pressure from their partners than women invariably do. But I think it goes deeper than that — rooted in the gender stereotypes still perpetuated in modern-day child-rearing. We tell our daughters that they are beautiful, and our sons that they are smart and strong.

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Images from The Sun’s mock underwear ads featuring real men, alongside underwear ads featuring male models

You can see it in the images The Sun captured. The expressions on the ‘real’ men’s faces tell you that they know their poses are ridiculous; that they’re having fun laughing at themselves and the advertising industry at large. I wonder what the results — and resulting social media reaction — would be in a similar experiment with women. No matter how skilled the photographer at drawing out their subject, I think you’d see shades of doubt on the women’s faces, like ghostly orbs, distorting the image.

What can women learn from this male-focused experiment?

  1. There is an underwear model lurking inside all of us. Tell your mirror image that you are underwear-model worthy. Every day. Say it until you believe it. Strike a pose that would make a Victoria’s Secret model proud. No matter how ridiculous it feels. Do it until you feel strong and sexy instead of ridiculous.
  2. Don’t let self-doubt and recriminations hold you back from the moments, people, and experiences that matter. Remember that your stretch marks and scars hold stories every bit as interesting and poignant as the scar stories men recount with pride.

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4 Comments on “What women can learn from The Sun’s social experiment

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