We shouldn’t ignore the fact that unrealistic body expectations are also being aimed at boys.
Full disclosure: I’ve never actually watched Spongebob Squarepants, but like most people I’m familiar with his square, yellow, cartoon shape. It figures, then, that when I saw this advert for the new Spongebob movie on the side of bus recently I had to do a double take – loveable Spongebob has undergone quite a dramatic makeover and now sports a muscular and, dare I say it, sexualised physique. Yes I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence either, just imagine how ridiculous it would be if the Dora the Explorer movie remodelled Dora to have huge boobs and a tiny waist.
Although the title of the movie ‘sponge out of water’ suggests the reason for this dramatic change (kind of), I can’t help thinking about the images of ‘Disney princesses with realistic waistlines’ that was circulating on the internet recently. If internet users are going to voice concerns about unrealistic body proportions being peddled to children, then surely super macho Spongebob fits into the same category? Recent studies have shown that body image pressure is something that is now affecting young boys and men in much larger numbers than previously thought, but whereas girls typically feel pressure to be thin, boys are more likely to feel pressure to gain muscle.
Methods such as excessive weight lifting at the expense of cardio, eating well above the recommended intake of calories for men and even the use of anabolic steroids with the aim to gain weight and build muscles are increasingly used by young men. I can’t help thinking that this kind of extreme pushing of the body is unnatural – and certainly not as advisable as following healthy eating and regular, moderate exercise habits. Like with the Disney Princesses, Spongebob’s rebranding demonstrates an idealised and unattainable expectation of the male body that is being marketed to children.
This isn’t to downplay the more intense scrutiny that women come under for their bodies in the media. But to dismiss this worrying trend towards unrealistic depictions of the male body and negative body image in boys because women, by and large, have it worse could just play into the hands of people that think that feminism doesn’t care about men.