This month at Humanoo is all about the topic #bodyimage and examining body awareness. We found out that dedicating even only a few minutes per day to your body has positive effects on self-confidence and self-perception and can, therefore, make your life happier.
In our last two magazine posts we looked at how healthy body awareness is formed and where it starts, and we put together practical tips for you on how to maintain a healthy relationship with your body in stressful everyday life. Today, we would like to take a detour and examine whether there are differences in the ways men and women perceive their bodies and how healthy they are.
So, in this post we’re asking: what differences are there between men and women in the way they perceive their bodies and health? How can you deal with challenges and; how can men, in particular, take better care of their bodies without being labelled as wimps?
Men and women: what’s the difference anyway?
From the day we’re born our gender is determined on the basis of our sexual characteristics: female or male. This classification comprises many other psychosocial and societal values, some of which we would like to examine more closely in this article.
Let’s have a look at the biological aspect first. Is there a difference between the male and female brain?
Evidence to answer this question is provided by neuroscientists who have analysed the brains of more than 1,400 people and have come to the conclusion that gender has no influence on the functioning and structure of the brain. Right here is where we can already walk away from clichés like “women have more empathy” or “men are better at spatial thinking”. One thing is certain: there is no “typical” male or female brain — although admittedly the myth has been holding up well.
As Marco Hirnstein, a neuroscientist at the University of Bergen in Norway, said in an interview, “Neuroscientists cannot tell from looking at a brain whether it belongs to a man or a woman. There are more similarities between men and women than differences.”
So why are we doing things the way we are? Is a “person” not just a “person”? Well, it’s not that simple. After all, as human beings we live in a world of polarities that help us find our way.
That means that everything in life has two sides, like:
- “day and night”
- “good and evil”
- “black and white”
- “beautiful and ugly”
- “female” and “male”
Humans have been creating order in this way since time immemorial.
The “female” principle and the “male” principle: yin and yang
To gain a deeper understanding, it can help to look at the principle of femininity and the principle of masculinity. The principle of a difference between masculinity and femininity is at least several thousands of years old already and allows us to look at masculinity and femininity from a different perspective.
Many of you know this principle from the yin and yang symbol, which stems from Chinese philosophy. The black in this symbol stands for feminine energy (yin) and the white part for masculine energy (yang). The two parts are not in competition but complement each other and only together do they form a whole.
In yogic teaching we find femininity embodied as “Shakti” (moon) and masculinity as “Shiva” (sun). This concept is embodied again and again in many other religious teachings, for example in “Mother Earth” and “Father Sky”.
It is important to know that our gender always embodies both these energies in different ways.
Feminine energy is roughly defined as:
- bringing ideas to fruition
- experiencing deeply and being emotional
- being creative and giving life
- characterised by surrender and passivity
- embodies impulse and incentive
- is combative and focused on one goal
- protects feminine energy and gives it a “space”
- characterised by structure and activity
The well-known Swiss psychiatrist C.J. Jung was an ardent believer in the wisdom of Chinese philosophy and described the unconscious masculine side in the personality of women as the “animus” and the unconscious feminine side in the personality of the man as “anima”.
So, we know that each gender (whether male or female) always possesses both these energies. If, for example, our male ego dominates too much in a given situation, the female ego will feel that it’s no longer needed and withdraws.
That is okay and also necessary. However, such an imbalance can, in the long term, lead to blockages, malaise or illness. It is therefore necessary to understand that we humans are made up of these two energies, and to ensure their natural balance for a relaxed and happy life.
The health paradox between men and women
Unfortunately, in our day and age, the principle of these two energies being inherent in every human being is not widely known, and it can easily lead to an imbalance if one pole takes over our thinking and acting in the long term.
For example, it is becoming more and more common for the male energy to gain the upper hand. This manifests itself in the dominance of the thinking and rational mind, which can lead to working too much, rigorous pursuit of goals and too little enjoyment. In such cases, we soon feel burnt out and hollow.
The following sentences may sound familiar to some of you and this type of thinking can foster such an imbalance:
- “Come on, you have to get over this.”
- “Close your eyes and go for it!”
- “You’ll just have to grit your teeth!”
- “Pull yourself together.”
Men, in particular, can be carried away by one-sidedly living out the masculine by ignoring the warnings of their body and mind and simply “pushing through”. This can cause depressive states.
Women pay more attention to their physical health.
The World Health Statistics of the WHO confirm that overall, women still live far healthier lives than men, who are rather less body conscious.
The WHO has found the following answers to why this is so:
- Men often live unhealthier lives than women
- Men go to the doctor far less often than women do
- Men are more likely to die from unnatural causes like traffic accidents or homicides
- Men are more likely than women to develop heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, liver cirrhosis, tuberculosis, etc.
In addition, men smoke more and drink more alcohol and the suicide rate is 75 percent higher than among women, according to the WHO.
Other studies have also found that women are better put together when it comes to body consciousness which contributes positively to their health.
No wonder, as every women’s magazine contains countless articles on the subject of body consciousness — while it looks rather bleak for men. It still appears to be a taboo subject.
It’s not for nothing that men are often seen as grumpy about self-care or doctor-shy. After all, “being sick” does not gel with the attributes with which one would like to identify as the “stronger sex”.
The pressure “to be strong” affects one’s health
So why is it that men care so much less about their bodies and minds than women? Frank Sommer from the Men’s Health Working Group at the Society for Sports Medicine and Prevention thinks that the fear of being seen as a “wimp” is the determining factor here.
Gabriele Fröhlich-Gildhoff, head doctor at the Department of Psychosomatics/Psychotherapy at the Wicker Clinic, explains that studies on the psychosocial position of men indicate that men are still under constant social and, as a result, internalised pressure, and have to prove their masculinity again and again.
It is possible that fears, pain and worries are either pushed away or not even noticed in order not to be considered “weak”. However, this does not help at all and only increases the pressure that will result in illness, which in turn would call the “strength” of the man into question.
It is precisely this vicious circle that must be interrupted in order to bring the holistic health of men into balance.
Healthy body consciousness on all levels
If you look at all these figures, it is no longer surprising that most prevention concepts on the subject of body consciousness and health are aimed at women — men are often neglected as a target group here.
In order to get men on board and make it easier for them to take preventative measures, a lot has to be done on current prevention options. Above all, men need to be seen and addressed as a target group. It is important to convey, especially to men, that taking precautionary care of your body and mind has nothing to do with “weakness”, and neither has strengthening your feminine side from time to time without being labelled a “wimp”.
At Humanoo, we would like to do our bit here and that is why we are bringing the subject of body health more into focus for men. You can slowly feel your way through more than 1,500 coaching sessions in the areas of exercise, mindfulness and nutrition, and test in your personal space whether they are good for you and your body and mind.
We very much hope that this series of articles has inspired you to become even more aware of your body and to recognise the signals it is sending you. If you’d like to share tips, ideas or feedback with us, we look forward to hearing from you!
We wish you all the best on your very own journey to body awareness,
Your Humanoo team