We Are Not Talking About a Man's Body

Men, unlike many women, continue to avoid discussing the societal pressures associated with beauty standards, harming their mental health and overall well-being. In this text, the author attempts to understand this phenomenon and describes the evolution of the idea of masculinity among young Georgian men, and the transformation of their bodies, or how new norms shape new bodies.

ცირა ინანეიშვილის ნამუშევარი

In the fourth season of the popular Netflix series Stranger Things, the beloved character Jim Hopper, after serving his eight-month prison sentence, reunites with the other characters in the series. One of the first things they notice about him is how much he has changed physically, particularly how much thinner he has become. This transformation is even humorously acknowledged in a heartfelt conversation when he meets his stepdaughter, Eleven. What's intriguing is that, while the audience primarily adores Hopper for his caring and loyal nature, a fact that should relegate his physical appearance to a secondary position, the show's creators paid particular attention to his look during the character's development. Hopper's significant physical transformation is a consequence of periods of starvation and strenuous physical labor mirroring the strict diets and rigorous exercise regimens often promoted as methods to attain the “perfect body”.

The body positivity movement, advocating against prevailing beauty standards and promoting the acceptance of all body types, is gaining increasing prominence in mainstream culture. The exclusive and unrealistic norms, unattainable for the majority, imposing rigid definitions of what a body should look like, were initially challenged by women. In a patriarchal world where women have often been objectified as trophies and exotic beings, their beauty used merely as inspiration for men. They have been subjected to intense scrutiny and judgment based precisely on their bodies. However, thanks to the feminist movement, women have gradually and increasingly rejected these harmful standards that have had detrimental effects on both their physical and mental well-being.

The extent to which this process involves all women and how modern consumer culture exploits it for financial gain is an important and critical part of this discussion. However, the primary question of this text aims to shift the focus: Where do men fit into this process? Have we all absorbed the patriarchal belief that associates a woman with the body and a man with the mind, to the point where we have completely overlooked the male body? However, this question isn't directed at women who have challenged discriminatory cultural norms based on their own experiences; rather, it's aimed at men, particularly heterosexual men, who often remain silent about the pressure to conform their bodies to a specific ideal.

According to the patriarchal norms, the penis serves as the central symbol for men's perception of their physical bodies and their perceived ideas of manhood - masculine culture has primarily defined manhood through the genital organ. Strikingly, it's rare to encounter a man who openly discusses how this universal construct of masculinity has negatively affected him. What men have often delegated as the cornerstone of their identity has paradoxically become a weakness for them. For instance, when one man seeks to demean another, he may say that the other has a small penis. This phrase, “small penis,” does not denote the actual size; it's a direct challenge to a person's perceived “manhood.” Yet, the anxiety surrounding penis size can trigger a host of psychological issues for many men, impacting both their sexual and everyday lives.[1]

Understanding a man's personality traits or conduct as a consequence of his penis size mirrors the way society sometimes marginalizes women, using their unmarried status or calling them “menopausal”, unjustly stigmatizing them by portraying them as hysterical and inadequate. Apart from the sensitive nature of evaluating a man's worth based on this singular characteristic, such notions continually reinforce the patriarchal formula. If we associate a “small” penis with negative connotations, it inadvertently suggests that a “big” penis is synonymous with a more esteemed or superior man. Regrettably, in various contexts, we frequently encounter instances where people blame a host of issues on a small penis, even ridiculing their former partners for it. Notably, a few years ago, a social campaign based entirely on this concept protested urban environmental problems with a slogan that went like this: “Big Jeep = Small Dick.” While some may view this as a direct challenge to the patriarchal order using its own values, it's crucial to remember that if we agree on the acceptance of all body types, in contrast to the patriarchy, we must acknowledge that a man's body is just as much a part of his identity and that disregarding this fact can have negative effects on people's mental health. In a patriarchal culture, masculinity is often defined by various criteria, including attributes like height and physical strength. Take, for instance, the patriarchal ideal of the heteronormative family: in order for a heterosexual couple to be deemed successful, it is typically expected that the man should be taller than the woman. I was still a child when I overheard people being judgmental at a wedding where the bride happened to be taller than the groom—“She could have  at least worn a lower heel and there would be less of a difference,” they said. The assessment of physical attributes is usually regarded as a matter of personal preference and aesthetics alone. However, our perceptions of bodies reveal much about the prevailing cultural norms and gender order that effectively shape this seemingly “individual” or “subjective” taste. The fact that, in a heteronormative couple, the man should be taller than the woman (otherwise, they face ridicule or are labeled an “incompatible couple”) can be viewed as a general model of power relations. As a result, men often feel uncomfortable when interacting with taller women, while women, in turn, find it challenging to deviate from this established norm - heterosexual women also frequently express their difficulty in considering a shorter man as a potential partner.

In addition to stature, maintaining physical fitness is a crucial aspect for men. Priority is given to strength, and any doubts regarding this may arise if one surpasses a certain weight threshold. In today's world, the battle against fatness is often disguised as healthcare. However, in reality, being overweight is associated with attributes such as laziness and irresponsibility, which are considered as unfavorable traits for a citizen of a capitalist society. Consequently, men are not exempt from this scrutiny either; a visible potbelly can instantly undermine the patriarchal archetype of a capable hunter. Interestingly, an overweight man's body is sometimes perceived as having feminine characteristics. Common phrases like “Your tits are larger than a woman's” or “Look at your gut. When are you due?” further highlight the overarching hatred for femininity within the construct of masculinity.

In the upcoming sections of this text, I will delve into a more detailed exploration of the primary body-related trends shaped by Georgian masculinity. Within these trends, I will identify a common issue that inhibits men from openly discussing their individual body experiences.

Traditional Masculinity

As the concept of masculinity continually evolves, I use the term “traditional masculinity” to highlight the distinctions between it and other contemporary norms. This term primarily pertains to the expressions of masculinity that are most prominent in Georgian men over 30. Symbolically, we can envision a collective of men who were born before the dissolution of the Soviet Union because over the past three decades, particularly after the 2000s, the understanding of masculinity in Georgia has undergone notable changes. Those who experienced their childhood or adolescence during this period had a distinct journey in terms of initiation and the development of their manhood.

Within traditional masculinity, the perspective on a man's body finds its most apt expression in the Georgian slang term “pijhoni.” A comment posted on the “Tbilisi Forum” in 2011 elucidates this term as follows: “He devotes more attention to appearance than to his manhood.” This definition effectively encapsulates the essence of the term and the broader attitude toward a man's physique in Georgian masculinity, where it's generally discouraged for a man to overly prioritize his physical appearance. This primarily extends to one's choice of clothing, which is expected to be simple and unassuming, not to mention one's hairstyle and accessories.

In today's context, it may appear amusing to many that the length of a woman's dress was once used as a measure of her morality. It might be even more amusing for some to learn that this same logic can occasionally be applied to certain men who opt for wearing shorts during hot summer days. Those who exhibit courage by choosing looser attire over pants often settle for an intermediate choice, such as so-called “breeches” – relatively short pants that reach to the ankles but cover the knees. In certain men, it is apparent that they harbor concerns about their bodies. Oddly enough, this anxiety seems to be particularly centered on their legs, even though some of them may be comfortable exposing their upper body.

The same concept applies to colors: certain shades are traditionally regarded as masculine, often those that are dark and do not garner attention, whereas lighter and brighter colors are frequently labeled as unmanly or feminine. A similar line of thinking extends to earrings and piercings. Particularly during the Pride Week or on the 17th of May, many boys are attacked due to their earrings, consequence of a deep-seated homophobic bias. In the context of traditional Georgian masculinity, wearing an earring is viewed as a symbol of femininity, potentially labeling the wearer as a gender traitor. Consequently, even today, donning a piercing in Georgia demands a certain degree of courage. Many individuals are aware that in different settings and moments, one has to either hide this accessory or not show themselves in general due to potential danger. One such common setting is the family: many boys, including heterosexual ones, remove their earrings when in the company of family members.

Modern Masculinity

I used Georgia's declaration of independence as the marker distinguishing traditional from modern masculinity, not due to the political importance of this event, but rather because modern masculinity has been predominantly shaped by Georgia's integration into the global landscape, the accessibility of the Internet and social media, and the infiltration of significant elements of Western pop culture into our society.

First and foremost, it's essential to recognize a shared trait between these two forms of masculinity: the obsession with a man's strong body. Moreover, modern masculinity has elevated this obsession to an entirely new level. With the widespread popularization of fitness culture, a visibly muscular physique has become the exclusive ideal for men. Hence, both individuals with excess weight and those with lean bodies experience marginalization – a man's body devoid of well-defined muscles is not worthy enough. Various media platforms are flooded with videos and photo narratives depicting how specific men aspired to and, through tireless efforts, either shed or gained weight, radically transforming their lives to attain a muscular physique. Often, strict diets and rigorous exercise regimens prove insufficient to achieve similar results, leading many to turn to supplements to sculpt their bodies according to precise standards. In the case of traditional masculinity, a man's “strong body” was, to some extent, justified by existential necessity: men engaged in physically demanding labor and had to be prepared for potential violent confrontations. Although the need for such physicality is relatively diminished today, office workers and Instagram celebrities still aspire to possess a muscular physique. In the realm of modern masculinity, such a body is more a matter of aesthetics and a means to establish one's identity within the contemporary consumer market.

Because the aesthetic aspect holds significant importance for modern masculinity in contrast to its traditional counterpart, the term "pijhoni" is now seldom heard. One's appearance has even become prioritized, and alongside cultivating a muscular physique, men now invest in hair, beard, eyebrow, and nail care. The market has responded with tailored services for men, including grooming salons where they can not only receive hair and beard treatments but also purchase specialized grooming products. The beauty industry has broadened its reach to include men, ushering in new norms for the ideal male physique within urban spaces. As a result, new habitui have appeared in urban spaces: attributes like long hair, earrings, piercings, and colorful clothing that were associated with femininity and perceived as signs of weakness have become gained preference in certain groups. Within Georgian masculinity, this transformation has given rise to what is colloquially known as the “cool guy,” hipster, or raver.

New archetypes certainly did not emerge without the cultivation of difference: modern masculinity rebuked traditional masculinity not only in terms of values but also in terms of physical attributes. This is how the so-called image of a “Ghruzini” was fashioned, often depicted in the collective consciousness as an unkempt,  potbellied man with excessive body hair, dressed in dark colors, also associated with homophobia, racism, violence, and being a perp. “Ghruzini” refers to a Caucasian, Georgian man, in contrast to the modern masculinity ideal, which envisions a more open-minded, cheerful, colorful, and lean man with less body hair - essentially, a white, European man. This may have contributed to the increasing popularity of hair removal among Georgian men, whose body hair is occasionally derogatorily and hyperbolically referred to as “banjgvli”, a term that means “shaggy” and primarily connotes animal hair. To be considered desirable, a contemporary Georgian man is expected to resemble a rational European rather than a forest-dwelling creature.

Banality of Masculinity

But, why are men still quiet? Why don't they, like women, voice their concerns about the pressures that attempt to shape their bodies in accordance with the ever-changing standards of masculinity at various stages of life? The answer may well be found in the prevailing norms that at times stigmatize long hair as unmanly, yet at other times, portray it as potentially more appealing to prospective partners. Likewise, there are instances when eyebrow plucking is viewed as disgraceful, and then there are times when discounted waxing vouchers are advertised. All of this stems from the long-standing marriage of the patriarchy and capitalism, which, unlike women, grants men various privileges in return for their compliance, making it challenging for them to resist. Giving up manhood is not an attractive option; they dare not even introduce a new, alternative concept of masculinity, as queer men often do. However, it's worth noting that certain standards related to bodies are also established and categorized by queer men, with a consistent emphasis on distinguishing “straight” and “gay” bodies.

In order to alleviate the stress of perceived failure in different facets of life, such as the job market, family, social media, or their sexual experiences, men should acknowledge that the production of beauty standards is deeply connected to gender norms established by patriarchal ideals, which define what constitutes an ideal woman and man. Women have long contended with these standards, and it's now imperative for men to come clean about the emotional toll these preconceived notions can have on them. Just acknowledging their concerns, sadness, nervousness, or even fear is a significant step forward.

I'm a man, and I'm worried about my penis size;

I'm a man, and I’m worried about being skinny;

I'm a man, and I'm worried about my weight;

I'm a man, and I'm worried about my muscle mass;

I'm a man, and I'm worried about my thinning hair;

I'm a man, and I'm worried about the amount of my body hair;

I'm a man, and I'm worried about my height;

I'm a man, and I'm worried about my voice;

I'm a man, and I'm worried about how I dress;


I'm a man, and I’m worried about whether or not I’m a man at all.


[1] See Study:  Veale, D., Miles, S., Read, J., Troglia, A., Wylie, K., & Muir, G. (2015). Sexual functioning and behavior of men with body dysmorphic disorder concerning penis size compared with men anxious about penis size and with controls: A cohort study. Sexual Medicine3(3), 147-155.