If there’s any way in which celebrities are truly just like us, it’s that they, too, are filled with nuclear self-loathing about their bodies. Supermodel Kate Moss hates her small breasts. Former sexpot Britney Spears says her big toe is repulsive. Angelina Jolie — on the short list of the most beautiful women in the known universe — thinks her face is all lips.
But as the above list indicates, it’s female stars who have the monopoly on public self-evisceration—not surprising in a world where women invariably face far more looks-based pressure than men. Now, however, Arnold Schwarzenegger joins a small but growing cohort of famous men who are willing to admit they can’t stand their bodies, either — even when those bodies are routinely given awards for being better than all the rest.
“When I look in the mirror, I throw up,” Schwarzenegger told Cigar Aficionado for its January issue, the Daily Mail reported. “And I was already so critical of myself, even when I was in top physical shape. I’d look in the mirror after I won one Mr. Olympia after another and think, ‘How did this pile of shit win?’”
In recent years, other male celebrities have copped to similar angst. Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson confessed that he’s so insecure about his body he never wants to take his shirt off. Ryan Reynolds admitted he feels like an “overweight, pimply faced kid a lot of the time.” Chris Pratt said transforming his body from super-schlub Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation to superhero Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy gave him serious body-image issues. Even Jon Hamm, the standard-bearer for elegantly retro dapper-good looks, isn’t above being comparative about his appearance, quipping, “I’m no Ryan Gosling,” in response to claims that he’s “so sexy.”
But what makes Schwarzenegger’s insecurity so interesting, aside from the fact that he’s using the sensational parlance of teenagers to describe his self-hatred, is his age. At 69, he’s also a baby boomer, meaning he’s of a generation that should allegedly be immune from the shallower, less masculine concerns of the young men of today.
Again, however, he’s not the only one. Recently, 66-year-old actor Ron Perlman, known for his roles in Hellboy and Sons of Anarchy, admitted that it took until he was 40 years old to not despise his own body.
When men who’ve spent their careers in the public eye admit to a level of self-scrutiny once exclusively reserved for women, you have to wonder what’s in the water these days.
It’s likely a number of things. First and foremost, boys and men of all ages are increasingly bombarded with cultural images of chiseled, impossibly fit men on par with anything women see in Cosmo or in movies and on TV, all of which present extreme fitness as the ideal. And studies have found men self-objectify just like women as a result, holding themselves up to the standard they see on magazine covers and movie screens and walking away convinced they’re falling short. (Note: You are falling short. We all are.)
Second, the number of grooming products aimed at men has grown exponentially — e.g., a study from market research group Mintel in 2012 found they’d increased by 70 percent over the previous six years alone. Third, social media has given men a platform for talking about this stuff, with an overwhelmingly positive response. When comedian Matt Diaz posted a video on Tumblr in 2015 about his struggle to not just lose 270 pounds, but the mixture of shame and pride he felt in inhabiting a body of now-loose, stretched skin that wouldn’t snap back, it inspired a crowdfunding campaign that paid for surgery to remove the extra skin in six days. And finally, there’s a growing body-positivity movement where more and more men have found a supportive community.
Contrast this with what men were up against previously: The perennial perception that caring about how you look is the vain province of women, who must consequently be the only ones with body image issues. Take eating disorders as an example. When men do succumb to eating disorders, they don’t always look like the typical cases, since they’re often overly concerned with bulking up (called muscle dysmorphia, or “reverse anorexia”) rather than slimming down. And though some men do avoid food as a means of becoming thinner, current figures put more traditional-looking cases of male anorexia at about 10 million in the U.S., compared with some 20 million women.
All of which brings us back to The Arnold. It’s worth noting that celebrity chatter about this stuff actually helps. When even famous men can admit they sometimes feel like gargoyles, then more regular dudes, too, can drop the Teflon act.
Hating yourself sucks, but men might take a few pointers from women, who’ve spent a good bit of time in these trenches. Trying to rid the world of overly perfect beautiful alien beings is like stopping a freight train with your bare hands. So instead, look elsewhere — real-life examples of don’t-give-a-fuck bodies that remind us it’s okay to look human (from plus-sized models with guts to those with stretch marks). In fact, any body that’s not afraid to tell a story of a life well-lived will do.
And any guys in search of one such feel-good hero might do well to contrast the cases of Schwarzenegger and Perlman with that of Iggy Pop, who, at 69, recently signed up to be a nude model for a life drawing class currently showing at the Brooklyn Museum. His body, once lean, muscular and full of youthful swagger, now looks exactly like you’d think it would for the sort of aging punk star who once took cocaine with him into the pysch ward: Like shit.
Which is also why it looks totally amazing.
Because there’s something to be said for normalcy. Or, at least, there’s something to be said about having complete confidence in that normalcy.