When you hear the phrase “body image,” (particularly when followed by the word “issues”) your brain may immediately associate the concept with an insecure teenage girl, walking through the magazine aisle of her local grocery store. With photoshopped images of hundred pound, six-foot tall super models littering the covers of each issue, you wouldn’t be wrong – our society has established a frankly unrealistic standard of beauty for women to aspire toward, and even if you’re the type that’s not prone to such aspirations, we all have to acknowledge that the pressure is there, in one form or another.

The thing is, that pressure isn’t relegated only to impressionable young women.  In recent decades, we’ve seen a significant transition in the way all demographics are marketed to – which includes projecting physical standards on women who left their teenage years behind long ago, and yes, even men (*collective gasp*).  Oddly enough, throughout the past 10 years or so of society beginning to embrace the idea that we should skew our depictions of beauty back toward realism in magazines and advertisements directed at women, there has been an inverse reaction in material directed toward men.

No, this fitness column isn’t about to take a hard right into “men’s activism,” but if we’re going to have a frank discussion about fitness goals, we should agree that an objective understanding of where those goals comes from, and if they’re even healthy, is an important factor here.  If you’re shaking your head at the idea that men might find themselves pressed by similar societal expectations when it comes to physique, I present to you just one of many examples: Wolverine.  See, when the first X-Men movie came out 17 or so years ago, Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) looked an awful lot like a regular dude… and we were all okay with that.  He played the role well and, at the time, we were willing to accept our heroes looking like a guy we might know.

Fast forward a few movies and…

(21st Century Fox)

Hugh Jackman, perhaps better than most, personifies the transition we’ve seen over the past two (plus) decades toward expecting men to maintain a similarly impossible physique in order to qualify as “hot.”  When “X-Men” (2000) came out, no one complained that we couldn’t see the veins through Hugh Jackman’s skin.  But when “Justice League” premiered this year, Twitter was aflutter with comparisons between Ben Affleck’s pretty normal, fit physique (as a bad thing) compared to Jason Momoa’s super ripped aqua-abs.

Just like Chris Evans in “Captain America,” Ryan Reynolds in “Blade: Trinity,” and countless others, stories on the internet are abound of what these guys go through in order to look this ripped for the scenes with their shirts off: spoilers, this isn’t how these dudes look on your average Tuesday, it’s the culmination of months of workouts, weeks of cutting, and days of the same sort of unhealthy habits body builders use before a competition to dehydrate themselves until their skin shrink wraps around the muscle.

Why would they do this?  Well, in part, because it looks rad.  We want our superheroes to be, well, super – but that’s not the only thing.  While some of SOFREP’s more seasoned readers may not think that muscles are the most important part of a man’s physique, the current generation of young women attending college certainly seem to think they are.

If young and old versions of me were included in that study, I somehow doubt young Alex would be the outlier.

In a recently published study, an (admittedly fairly small) group of 160 women rated images of men in terms of attractiveness.  The men were depicted with their shirts off, with obscured heads, and the women, ranging in age from late teens through their 20s, were asked to rank them in attractiveness on a scale of one to seven.