I GREW UP with a "chivalric ideal" of "women and children first" and giving up my seat on a bus for a lady as a sense of order and decency. Today's attitude is "every man for himself".

Are young men now in the grip of an identity crisis? 

My mother instilled in me a strong sense of masculinity – to be strong and resilient in the face of racism and adversity. My friends and I rejected any activities associated with girls. If you crossed that line, you were picked on and considered soft and a mummy's boy. 

These days, young men cannot handle the pressure to live up to my generation's rugged, self-sufficient image. I understand this because I struggled too, but it was something every man did as a rite of passage into manhood, and it wasn't easy. Trying to live up to the old precepts of masculinity in today's society comes with a heavy price on young men, especially in childhood.

But what has changed so drastically that around three-quarters of registered suicide deaths in 2020 were men? And nine-year-old boys are twice as likely as girls to need additional learning support and are more likely to be excluded from secondary school?

A recent survey asked young men to rate themselves on a scale of "totally masculine" to "absolutely feminine" in a YouGov American study, and only 30% of those aged 18 to 29 chose "totally masculine." This compares to 75% of men over 65.

Does the term masculinity need to be redefined to make it better for everyone?

What I see now is a weak masculine construct reshaped by social media—with body image driving the new male identity. 

There is a saturation of photoshopped lean, and muscular near-naked men in movies, magazines, television and social media. With all this fake nakedness, it is hardly surprising that men with low self-esteem are depressed and anxious about their self-worth, ultimately damaging their body confidence. It has become an advertiser's dream to see their self-fulfilling prophecy playing on men's insecurities and putting enormous pressure on them to buy into their bull-shit.

As a coach, I meet many guys embarrassed by their body image, living with insecurities and a lack of confidence and struggling to express their feelings. One of my clients said he'd hated his body since he was a young child because he always had an issue with his weight. He felt pressure to lose weight because he always saw models and adverts implying that he should look muscular and toned. He said: 'I struggle with low self-esteem and a lack of confidence because I've made several attempts to lose weight, and I never achieve it, making me feel like a failure. I don't relate to my body; I want a flat stomach and lose my man boobs.'

A University of Central Florida survey revealed that 95% of male college students were dissatisfied with their bodies. Some claimed the advertisements they saw projecting an 'ideal body' image made them paranoid about their body shape.

This confusion over what masculinity means for young men now coming of age also coincides with them having less testosterone, which has been dropping for decades, according to studies. The most well-known, a 2007 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that testosterone levels in American men have dropped "substantially" since the 1980s, with average levels dropping by around 1% per year, linked to higher rates of obesity https://rdcu.be/cPxQf.

Three evidence-based ways to naturally increase testosterone.

• Resistance Training

• Consume less alcohol

• Meditate to lower stress and cortisol levels

I was born malnourished, but I was determined to get a great physique – and become stronger mentally and physically. I looked up to my late older brother, who was everything I wanted to be, strong and principled. He pointed me in the right direction and provided encouragement and support when needed.

I believe there's nothing worse than a man who doesn't believe in himself. As a father, I lead with courage, leadership, and protectiveness. My sons, who get tough love, often disagree with me, calling me old-fashioned, and they are right to call me old-fashioned because that's what I am. I could never win father of the year, but my sons know that masculinity is about the strength of character rather than physical power. Every conversation, whether one minute or one hour, ends with me saying 'I love you' – even if they don't say it back. I am old school, but I am always learning. It may be tough love, but I want it to be the foundation that won't be shaken and give them the confidence to grow and take risks. 

Finally, my masculinity defines my identity, socially and as a father, and my sons know me for what I am and have become masculine men.

Copyright © Wayne Lèal
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