“Orange is the New Black” and "How to Get Away with Murder" star Matt McGorry spoke with TODAY about why men are often unwilling to discuss issues relating to body image. He also shared his own personal struggle.
I would never say that the objectification women face on a broad scale isn't a thousand times greater than that of men. But for me, coming from a background as a personal trainer and bodybuilder, I've certainly seen my fair share of "body-shaming," too.
As a bodybuilder, I was required to have a very specific aesthetic, one that was far beyond my normal, healthy abilities to maintain. Feeling constantly pressured to look like that "ideal" eventually changes your perception of your own body. And it definitely changes what you can be happy and satisfied with.
When I was training for those competitions, I was miserable. One of the big draws for me was that this misery allowed me to test my will and self-determination. And yet, when I stopped competing, I couldn't help but separate my misery from what I looked like. Logically, I understood that in order to look like what I used to look like, I'd have to do things I never wanted to do again. But I couldn't help but mourn not looking like that.
When I had my first shirtless scene in "Orange is the New Black," those same ideas crept into my mind again. I did some unhealthy crash dieting. And now, I look back and I think that's really sad. Ultimately, I was already in great shape. For me, it has required some loud self-narrating to challenge my own ideas of body image and to remind myself of those things at times.
I'd say it does take a conscious effort to try and hack that mental process where we're very self-critical. I really had to work on it. Even now, it's an ongoing journey. Being on TV in front of millions of people probably doesn't make it any easier, but it's something that nearly all of us have to work on.
I hope that discussions of body issues and self-criticism will become more of a conversation among men. I really do think that tied in those issues, and our willingness (or lack thereof) to discuss them, is a conversation of how vulnerable men are willing to be in general. We're taught, typically, that a real man doesn't show vulnerability, nor does he exhibit self-conscious behaviors.
But in my experience, being public about things like that leads to great freedom. It's the first step. If we can't express it, it's hard to change how we think and feel about it.
When we lock our boys away from those feelings, not only are they more likely to hurt themselves, they're more likely to hurt others and to hurt women. They'll likely be the ones policing masculinity among other men, too.
It's time to get away from the idea that men are supposed to be strong and hard and unfeeling and women are soft and maternal. Gender is a spectrum, not a binary system, and it's time we view our behaviors, emotions and appearances on a spectrum as well. Many men are vulnerable to unhealthy, powerless feelings when it comes to body image. Let's talk about it.
As told to TODAY's Emily Sher and Rebekah Lowin.