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Let’s talk about male body image for once

Vukasin Ljustina/Thinistock

Noah Brand has a BMI that teeters between overweight and obese. He's also got profuse body hair and "male pattern baldness."

"You see guys like me all the time, with our wide shoulders and wider beer guts. It is not, it's fair to say, a body type that is highly lauded by media culture," he writes.

Earlier this week, Mr. Brand posed stark naked for the Good Men Project, a publication that centres on modern masculinity, where he is editor-in-chief.

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Suggesting he'd done things to his body out of "self-hatred and shame and fear over the past decade or two," Mr. Brand called the photo shoot "intensely liberating," encouraging other men to follow his lead and take male body image issues into their own hands.

The editor had his lover take the photos, asking her to shoot him "naked the way she sees me, not the way I see myself." He also didn't want any photoshopping. (NSFW images here.)

Commenters on the Good Men Project were supportive of the highly personal shoot: "My body is similar to yours, and seeing yours made me feel less gross. Like, 'Hey, that guy looks like me. That's… not repulsive. Huh.' Thank you," wrote one, el oso.

The mood was quite different at Jezebel, where the story quickly derailed into a gender showdown: "I give absolutely zero [expletive] if guys are struggling with their body image due to media et al. You know why? Because women get it 50x worse," a commenter wrote here. She (presumably) continued: "Old, fat men can still find tons of work in Hollywood ...I just do not feel that men are capable of understanding the shame and pain that go along with trying to live up to western society's standards for beauty. They just can't possibly understand."

Hugo Schwyzer, who wrote the Jezebel piece, took issue with Mr. Brand's exhibitionism: "By using the power of his editor-in-chief position to all but compel visitors not only to gaze at his nakedness but to validate his bravery ... Brand is responding to his own body issues in a classically male way: by throwing them in everyone's face while insisting that he doesn't care whether anyone else likes it or not."

Mr. Brand did himself allow: "Maybe that's just me performing masculinity again, 'If you have an emotional problem, punch it to death.' On the other hand, punching it to death is helping me, and I am loath to argue with results."

Ultimately, Mr. Schwyzer argued that pop culture's ideals of male beauty are even more narrow and rigid than those carved out for women: Where women are faced with waifs in Vogue (which itself has promised to stop featuring severely underweight and underage models), men have the hairless-chested, impossibly cut Adonises of fitness magazines to contend with; these publications also teem with ads for tubs of protein powder and weight loss supplements.

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"While we assume men are allowed greater leeway to be physically imperfect, how often do we see shirtless male models that are anything but perfectly ripped?" Mr. Schwyzer wrote. "The tyranny of the six-pack is absolute."

Are men facing a "body image crisis?"

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