Truth in Hollywood?: Justin Baldoni on Body Image
I'm impressed. Justin Baldoni, known for his role in the TV show Jane the Virgin, has made a point for using his public platform in socially conscious ways. But you don't often see young male actors talking openly about their body image problems. One could argue that the TV and film industry is the biggest purveyor of false standards of physical beauty and fitness, and that Southern California is the quintessence of American materialism. Yet here is Mr. Baldoni sharing intimately about his own insecurities around his own body:
Two words you've probably never heard come out of a man's mouth. I would bet that most of us assume that women are the only ones who struggle with their body image & feelings of low self-esteem. That assumption couldn't be more wrong. As a man I can tell you right now that I struggle with my own body image & there are infinite layers that contribute to why. I grew up really skinny. I always felt like my T-shirts just hung from my neck because I had no shoulders. I wanted to have muscles because I thought that would make me a real man. I thought it would help me get friends & girls & be respected. I was wrong. Muscles don't give you anything except the insecurity & desire of keeping them & making them bigger. I don't think we have ever addressed the underlying reason why most of us really go to the gym & stay in shape. Why do we sacrifice eating the foods we want to eat, while spending hours, working on parts of our bodies that most people will never see? Pushing ourselves, sweating, buying billions of dollars in products & clothing that hide our problem areas while following influencers who spend their entire day in the gym posting about it and make $ off our secret jealousy? What does that say about how we feel about ourselves? Does it really inspire us or does it set an unrealistic expectation for ourselves & our partners? The truth is that I'm one of the many millions of men & women that have body dysmorphia. When I look in the mirror I'm not happy with what I see like so many of you. Yes of course you can all say what you want about me--but nothing you say can make the little Justin who was picked on, who felt weak and like he wasn't enough feel amazing about how he looks. So to my dear friends... be patient with yourself. Love yourself, & be OK having insecurities. To my men, talking about your insecurities doesn't make you less of a man... it actually makes you more of a man. We all have different reasons why we want to look the way we want to look... I just think it's important we start being real about it--because our children are going to grow up not just just looking at us but wanting to be like us.
Now as the photo accompanying the post indicates, I think most fair-minded people would classify Mr. Baldoni as a truly fine-looking man. But that's precisely the point. If even he, whose livelihood and fame have depended in part on his having become an object of desire in an industry that trades in artifice, can speak candidly about the ultimate emptiness of our society's obsession with bodies, then perhaps it helps empower more of us to have those conversations, too. As a man with similar insecurities, I appreciate his candor, and I can honestly say I feel encouraged. I'm not naive enough to imagine he can change Hollywood or the wider culture single-handedly, but he's hardly the only one contributing to such discussions, and he probably has a broader reach than many. And this is just one among many of his posts (brief essays, really) about fatherhood, women's rights, marriage, social justice, the importance of male friendships, and redefining manhood in a new age. This one from a couple of weeks ago about how he and his father responded to his daughter's tantrum in a public place really seemed to touch a chord with a lot of people. I found it touching, too.
I really like what this guy is doing. In our day-to-day interactions and increasingly in social media, each of us has a world of chances to encourage others, to speak and act with truthfulness and integrity, and to raise the level of constructive discourse in our society. Justin Baldoni's efforts are another great example (not too long ago I wrote about Andy Grammer here) of how to read the reality of one's situation and make the most of every opportunity to contribute to social progress. Thank you for doing your part to shed some light, Mr. Baldoni. Keep it up!