Richard Madden Is Right: When It Comes To Male Body Positivity, We’re Going Backwards

Men and women should both be free from the socio-cultural expectation to look a certain way. That’s true equality – and it’s hotter than any snap of Jude Law in his undies, says Dan Masoliver

Richard Madden as Robb Stark, in Game of Thrones

by Grazia |

The male body has never been so hot. In terms of news, that is. This was the week that a picture of Jude Law as the pope, wearing his leaves-nothing-to-the-imagination-est budgie smugglers, went fully and unapologetically viral. Missed it? This line, taken from an article on, should bring you up to speed: “The more we look, the more we can't stop staring. The pecks [sic]. The abs. THE PAPAL PANTS.” So far, so sexy.

But it was also the week that Bodyguard actor Richard Madden – whose exposed (pert) posterior was credited for bringing viewers back to the BBC Sunday night primetime slot in record numbers – spoke out against what he saw as the projection of “unrealistic body image” when it comes to on-screen nudity. The British actor – or Hollywood heartthrob, as you may have also seen him referred – is no stranger to getting his kit off on camera, as fans of Game of Thrones can attest. And now he has revealed the pressures felt by himself and fellow actors to prepare their torsos for such scenes, citing the “barely eating, working-out-twice-a-day, no-carbing” regimen that it takes to finesse those swoon-worthy abs.

It is a curious and sorry state of affairs that, while conversations about women’s physiques are emphasising “realness” and body positivity, the way we think and talk about the perfect male figure is going in the opposite direction. That while female-targeted ad campaigns by the likes of Boots, Dove and Gap point towards inclusivity and a celebration of all shapes and sizes, the unprecedented success of Magic Mike: Live gives you an idea as to the exact shape and size we now desire our men to conform to.

The truth is, we expect men to smash the stereotypical constraints of traditional, toxic masculinity – and rightly so – as long as they look ripped AF while doing so. The pecks! The abs!

I know, I know: you don’t need some bloke mansplaining the link between the proliferation of idealised physiques and the subsequent onset of disordered eating. Much less do you need me to tell you how damaging it is to raise certain body types up onto a pedestal, or how psychologically and emotionally diminishing it is when these bodies are relentlessly and systematically objectified by every form of media going. For millennia, women have suffered – and still, sadly, suffer – this reality. This indignity.

Bear with me. Predictably, there are devastating real-world consequences for our idealisation and objectification of a very particular style of male midriff. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of boys admitted to hospital for eating disorders doubled. Not men, boys. Muscle dysmorphia, meanwhile, is also on the rise. The most recent estimates by the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation are that 10% of all gym-going men suffer from the anxiety condition where musculature is seen as being too puny, too undefined, no matter the reality. The condition has not only been linked with depression and increased risk of suicide, but has also fuelled the swelling of the illicit steroids market. Over a million Brits (mostly, though not exclusively, men) are now self-medicating with these image-enhancing drugs, according to public health experts, with boys as young as 13 found to be users.

It’s a subject that I have some experience of myself. During a former role as features editor of Men’s Health magazine, I was invited to undergo a 10-week body transformation challenge. You know the sort. And you know what? I got ripped. Within a few weeks, I lost the love handles, waved goodbye to the beer belly, and welcomed a full set of previously unseen abdominals. I had proved, to myself and to my readers, that such physiques were not unattainable. And the fact is, they aren’t. With enough hours in the gym, enough careful monitoring of calorific and macro-nutritional intake, anyone can do it.

What’s more, eating well, working out, these things are good for you, and <Men’s Health> does a great job of promoting healthy behaviour. What isn’t good for you, however, is the feeling that not having the six-pack means falling short. It took me 10 weeks to get ‘the perfect body’ and feel fantastic. It took me about the same amount of time to watch all my hard work (and hard muscles) retreat behind a flabby layer of bad habits, and feel depressed.

“What about the dad bod?” You might ask. Well, what about it? That supposed trend lasted a full five minutes, and certainly had no impact on my own flabby reluctance to peel my t-shirt off at the beach. No, Richard Madden’s hypothetical dad bod would not have landed him the Bodyguard job, much less broken any viewing records. Just ask James Corden: last week, while guesting on David Tennant’s podcast, [he spoke about]( how overweight people “never really fall in love... never have sex” in TV or film, adding, “certainly no one ever finds you attractive”.

So. Is this what equality looks like? A world where men and women can sit down together in front of an episode of Love Island and feel equally rubbish about their figures, while ogling those on-screen? That’s an equality of sorts, granted, but it’s surely not the one we should be striving for. Men and women should be equally free from the commodification of their bodies; equally free from the socio-cultural expectation to look a certain way. That’s true equality, and it’s hotter than any snap of Jude Law in his undies.

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