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Now here’s a body image twist for you: The naked athlete gracing the cover of the latest ESPN the Magazine is being fat shamed all over Twitter. And said athlete is a man.
“He's overweight, injured, and has declining stats when he should be in his prime,” is just one of the many judgmental tweets about Major League Baseball player Prince Fielder of the Texas Rangers — this one courtesy of “The Paleo Manifesto” author John Durant, who shared that opinion with his nearly 16,000 followers. Other choice tweets about Fielder, whose image fronts one of six versions of the magazine's annual Body Issue:
i always thought the body issue was so the rest of us could gawk at exceptional bodies. prince fielder looks like all of my uncles.
— solarge knowles (@crissles) July 8, 2014
Huh, why is Prince Fielder trending? He's not injured, is he? Let's just click and see what's going on OH GOD OH GOD KILL IT KILL IT
— ToddInTheShadows (@ShadowTodd) July 8, 2014
I woke up, saw Prince Fielder naked, and decided to go back to bed.
— Katie Nolan (@katienolan) July 8, 2014
— Mike Modano (@9modano) July 8, 2014
Where Fielder seems to have gone wrong is not with his sculpted and tattooed arms or solid-as-tree-trunk thighs, but with his minor paunch (if one could even call it that) and his lack of six-pack abs. Luckily, there’s also a growing chorus of those who support his body, with positive tweets calling him “an inspiration,” “our new body image hero,” and “way sexier than a carved up freak.”
If this public discourse has a familiar ring to it, it’s because we’ve heard it before, ad nauseam, through recent incidents including the fat-shaming of an Irish opera singer, the plus-size reimagining of a Sports Illustrated cover, and the tale of the fat-pride blogger who was unwittingly turned into a diet poster girl. Only typically, these themes about not measuring up to societal body-image standards revolve around the physiques of women (with only occasional departures, such as when a swimsuit-wearing Leonardo DiCaprio was mocked in a New York Post gossip item headlined “The Great Fatsby?” earlier this year).
But having the focus widen to include the male form is not something to celebrate: A recent survey by the "Today" show found that men now harbor more anxiety about their bodies than about their jobs. And a study published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal's January issue found that nearly 18 percent of adolescent boys are highly concerned about the appearance of their bodies, particularly about not being sufficiently muscular; the most concerned boys in the study were also more likely to be depressed or abusing drugs or alcohol. There’s also been a marked rise in the incidence of eating disorders among males in recent years. And it can be traced, in part at least, to the same influences that women are susceptible to: changing standards influenced by the all-powerful media.
“I can't remember anyone worrying if they had a six-pack of abdominal muscles when I was in high school,” Harrison Pope, MD, director of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School, told Yahoo earlier this year during a discussion of yet another study of male body image. “Now it's reflected by many aspects of culture, and why that has happened is less clear. But a somewhat cynical theory is that advertisers for body-related products thought they had already saturated the female market, and if they could only succeed in making men feel insecure about their image, they would get that other half of the population, too."
In Fielder’s case, it’s clearly media of the social kind that’s fueling the fire. But luckily, the first baseman seems pretty grounded about shape. “A lot of people probably think I'm not athletic or don't even try to work out or whatever, but I do,” he said in the ESPN magazine interview. “Just because you're big doesn't mean you can't be an athlete. And just because you work out doesn't mean you're going to have a 12-pack. I work out to make sure I can do my job to the best of my ability. Other than that, I'm not going up there trying to be a fitness model.” Well-said, mister.
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