Living Outside ‘The Man Box’: A Look At Masculinity And Self-Care
A study from Promundo and AXE aimed to open up a larger conversation about masculinity. For the 2017 research, a large group of men from the United States, U.K. and Mexico were surveyed about their day-to-day habits.
The findings concluded that most men ages 18 to 30 often feel pressured by society to fit into what is called “The Man Box,” or a social construct of male identity that pushes stereotypes on boys and young men regarding how to act “like a man.” These stereotypes include behaving “tough,” being aggressive to prove masculinity and ignoring aspects of self-care, such as mental health and emotional vulnerability.
Throughout the last few years, several male-centered brands have attempted to rectify these stereotypes. Gillette released an advertisement calling out toxic masculinity at the top of 2019. AXE has been committed to shedding hypermasculinity and harmful stereotypes through the promotion of various campaigns such as “Senior Orientation” with artists such as John Legend and rapper KYLE, and its latest campaign, “Bathsculinity” featuring Lil Rel Howery.
“Bathsculinity” is categorized as “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of young men who take pride in their appearance and feel confident in expressing their most attractive selves, inside and outside of the bathroom.” While it may be difficult for some men to embrace their self-care sides, it’s incredibly important for them to find time to take care of themselves.
"AXE continues to break the barriers of masculine stereotypes each year by partnering with great organizations and individuals who support this mission," said Dawn Hedgepeth, General Manager and Vice President of Unilever Deodorants, Men's Grooming and Hand and Body Lotion. "It is our hope that the Bathsculinity mindset will encourage guys everywhere to embrace self-care and self-confidence in every aspect of life.”
Self-care involves multiple avenues, and many men are starting to come to terms with the importance of self-care and keeping their own health in check.
Physical Self-Care Is More Than Just Looking Good
“…Men in the Man Box in the U.S. and UK are significantly more likely to report having “often” or “very often” spent an hour or more bathing, grooming and clothing themselves in the last month,” according to The Man Box findings.
Many men may think that self-care is purely physical; you know, the “sitting in the bubble bath, cucumbers over the eyes” deal. Public figures like Pharrell and Frank Ocean have been open about the importance of male-grooming. In a rare 2018 interview with GQ, Ocean discussed his serious skincare routine. Pharrell spoke with DAZED in 2017 about his regimen for his ageless skin, stressing the importance of exfoliation. The Man Box research reads that this emphasis is due to the belief that “Women don’t go for guys who fuss too much about their clothes, hair, and skin.”
While the notion that “when you look good, you feel good” is still important, this is one mere, surface-level aspect of physical self-care. Despite these high-profile admissions of personal grooming, 24-year-old Weso tells us that to him, physical care is so much more than face value. VIBE reached out to numerous young men regarding the importance of self-care in their own lives.
“Self-care to me is anything you do that makes the mind, body, and soul feel good,” he explains. “Putting the right food in your diet, washing your face to prevent acne, speaking to a therapist to stay on top of your mental health.”
Weso adds that this means resting when necessary. In mid-May, Steve Harvey made controversial comments about the importance of sleep, stating that “rich people” don’t sleep the recommended eight hours a night, suggesting that a lack of rest is the key to becoming successful. Additionally, Diddy has been a vocal advocate of “Team No Sleep,” a lifestyle promoting a non-stop work ethic to achieve greatness. However, it has proven to have some consequences for him in the long run.
"I was proud of working 18 hours a day and sleeping three hours a night," he told ABC’s Nightline in 2010. "It's something now that has turned into a problem for me: not being able to sleep.”
25-year-old Justin notes to us that while “the hustle” is idolized in American culture, nothing is more paramount to self-care than listening to your body.
“Many of us come to ‘the city that never sleeps’ in pursuit of excellence and have watched our fair share of motivational videos that instruct us to sacrifice sleep for 'success,’” he says. “By constantly consuming this propaganda, we compare our lives and work ethics to a photoshopped standard.”
Additionally, men have to be on their P’s and Q’s when it comes to their inner physical health. Earlier this year, 52-year-old actor Luke Perry and 51-year-old director John Singleton both passed away from reported stroke complications. Their sudden passings were surprising because not only were both men healthy in appearance, but they were both relatively young. While strokes, unfortunately, affect people of all ages, statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the chance of a person suffering from a stroke doubles after the age of 55, with 75 percent of strokes occurring in individuals over the age of 65.
“Seeing your idols or celebrities dealing with these same life stressors should make them more relatable and open people’s eyes up to the fact that money and fame does not solve everything,” 25-year-old Nikko explains to VIBE when asked if men should consider headlines about health as cautionary tales for their own lives.
“I see these headlines and start thinking, ‘Do I want to work ridiculously hard, peak at 35 and die at 45? Or do I want to run at a marathon pace and grow steadily throughout the course of a long healthy life?’” Justin continues. “I'd choose the latter, but I think each of us has a choice.”
Don’t Downplay The Importance Of Mental Health
Perhaps the biggest stigma plaguing men pertains to the importance of mental health. The Man Box study reports that many men don’t discuss mental health due to the notion that it’s not masculine to discuss issues surrounding the topic, nor is it masculine to ask for help to cope with them.
“Some members of the Bestow Gill, Leeds, UK group said that if they were having a problem [with mental health], they would simply ‘bottle it up and get on with it,’ or ‘work it out,’ perhaps by going to the gym, or ‘just put the kettle on,’” the report reads. “In other words, they don’t talk about feeling sad or depressed.”
Instead, boys are conditioned to “act tough” in order to maintain a certain level of perceived masculinity, to conceal their true feelings or any problems they may be facing. Despite the stigma that surrounds such an important topic, the study did reveal that while men don’t always seem to be comfortable reaching out to professionals regarding mental health, they found solace in discussing it with those closest to them.
In the U.S., 25 percent of the men surveyed revealed they felt most comfortable seeking help with sadness or depression from their mothers, compared to 11 percent with a male friend and 7 percent with their own fathers. This coincides with the belief that women are usually more perceptive with discussions surrounding emotions.
“I think it's important to be vulnerable in the face of adversity,” Justin says. “The relationships you've built are meant to be relied upon during these times. Trust your friends, rely on your family, and also check on your friends, even the ones who seem to have it all figured out.”
There’s also shame of some sort surrounding the importance of mental health as it pertains to black men. According to the National Alliance On Mental Illness, nearly 19 percent of African Americans are reportedly living with a mental illness, with 1 in 5 American adults having experienced it.
In an interview with Black Enterprise, psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor discussed that stigmas regarding mental illness in the black community–– especially among black men–– could potentially lead to a “why try” attitude when it comes to getting help.
“See your primary care provider, get a physical, examine your medications and talk about your stressors,” she recommends. “Be open and honest about what’s been going on. Follow up if recommended to a therapist or psychiatrist.”
Another tip? Don’t ignore mental health issues, and try to develop good habits while on the road to seeking necessary help.
“This world is hard enough as it is even with your mind and body operating optimally,” Nikko says. “You may be faced with bad breaks, but I always say to myself that this situation could be so much worse. Focusing on the positives as opposed to the negatives again ties back to developing good habits. [These choices] and consistently reminding myself of this has largely shaped my outlook on life.”
It’s Okay To Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve
“Some young men in the U.S. and UK who adhere to more rigid gender norms also demonstrate transgressive emotional behaviors such as crying in front of friends or talking about emotional topics,” Promundo writes in The Man Box study.
There are various ways in which humans, in general, can experience different emotional issues. Even as something as simple as the amount of social media likes and comments we receive, Weso explains, has effects on our confidence and self-esteem, resulting in emotional distress– as small as it seems.
“The sad truth is that these apps can alter your mood,” he continues. “Putting up a picture and not getting enough likes can make you start second guessing your appearance.”
One of the biggest examples of toxic masculinity involves the notion that men “aren’t supposed to cry.”
When dealing with grief, trauma and other emotionally taxing issues, it’s actually more beneficial to your health to cry, rather than to “stay strong.” Psychiatrist Judith Orloff M.D., author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, wrote in 2010 that tears actually release endorphins, which reduce stress for the crier.
“Typically, after crying, our breathing and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state,” she discusses in a piece for Psychology Today.
Dennis, 28, tells VIBE that after a bout of depression a few years ago, he realized there’s nothing wrong with showing emotion, and that crying is important to experience every once in a while.
“Society used to make me feel that If I was vulnerable to ask for help or express my grief then it would be accounted as weakness or feminine, which is ridiculous in hindsight,” he says. “I’ll be the first to say I’m man enough to cry. I was conditioned to believe that If I fail in life, that it’s my fault and only I can change it. I used to bottle up my worries and say nothing. I took depression with a coke and smile, so be weary of those fake smiles men put on. [They’re] probably a little deeper, and you will be astonished with the heavy load men carry just make sure no one else can see their troubles.”
“We deal with the pressures, sometimes we just deal with it in silence, in a dark, dark closet,” a focus group participant for The Man Box (U.S.) stated. In dealing with these pressures, many men often feel like it’s their best bet to talk to someone they trust. Weso tells VIBE that in times of emotional strife, he often leans on his family members.
“Surrounding myself with my family gives me piece of mind,” he explains. “My family is my constant reminder to keep going and in a sense play as the angel on my right shoulder.”
Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is not feminine. Self-care is necessary, and now more than ever, it’s important for men to take hold of this fact in order to make sure they’re performing, living and thriving to the best of their abilities in all areas of their lives.
“Your life is yours, and the decisions you make are your own,” Nikko concludes. “To truly believe in ‘self-care,’ it’s vital to prioritize and choose yourself over others when the opportunity presents itself. It may sound selfish, but to truly take care of yourself you must sometimes be selfish with your time because it’s what’s best for you.”