Stephanie Smith: Staged swimwear selfies and the pressure to match up

The rise of the perfect male model is making young men and teenage boys feel increasing pressure to look good.  (PS, these swim shorts are from M and Co.
The rise of the perfect male model is making young men and teenage boys feel increasing pressure to look good. (PS, these swim shorts are from M and Co.
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No sex, please, we’ve been turned off by the internet. Yet another “too-much-time-online” shocker this week as we learn that the sex lives of young men and teenage boys are being damaged by what they watch on screen.

Unrealistic depictions of sexual activity and impressively muscular male bodies are causing young men to suffer performance anxiety. Sex therapist Angela Gregory says she has seen a huge increase in referrals for porn-watching young men who have nothing physically amiss.

Even if they keep it clean, what teenage boys see on large, small and tiny screens could be affecting their health and their confidence. A survey this week by advertising think-tank Credos found more than half of boys admit that adverts make them feel worse about their body.

Perhaps it’s a sign of equality, but teenage boys are being fed the same lies as girls, brain-washed and made to feel inadequate by unrealistic, airbrushed images. On TV, in films, on the internet, on street adverts, there are perfect young men looking lean and ripped. Not actually doing anything, just looking good. Even actors playing Ordinary Joes in TV soaps look like models.

It’s OK to objectify young men, so some are choosing to objectify themselves as they strive to achieve the new body beautiful. A V-shaped torso is a must-have.

All this self-obsession and anxiety is packaged in the guise of “health and fitness”, not just by advertisers but by some young people themselves. The selfie has evolved from silly but safe pictures of mainly teenage girls pouting at their phone to become an outright self-promotional opportunity for young people, male and female, to post endless pictures of themselves in bikinis and tight boxers, after fake-tanning, taken from flattering angles they have spent hours perfecting.

They want to show how “healthy” they look, how proud they are of the success of their fitness plan. They want to share images of their body with their friends and the rest of the world, to inspire.

What they actually want is affirmation that they are worthwhile human beings, even if that means making their friends feel inadequate and themselves look ridiculous.

While older generations may have sexual and physical hang-ups resulting from repression and prudishness, today’s youngsters are being damaged by over-exposing and over-sharing. They are being manipulated and made unhappy by a narcissistic, celebrity-obsessed culture promoted and backed by big business. And there’s nothing healthy about that.

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