Why Jonah Hill’s ‘body love’ tattoo is so important for the male body positive movement

·5 min read

Jonah Hill debuted a new tattoo reading the words "body love" in homage to his newfound passions in surfing and body positivity.

The 37-year-old actor took to his Instagram on Sunday to post a photo of his flexed arm with the tattoo on display on the back of his shoulder. And while it grabbed the attention of fellow surfers for its play on the brand name and logo of Body Glove, a water-sports apparel brand, Hill's ink was mainly praised for spreading a positive message about body image and being amongst the first of male celebrities to do so. 

"You f***ing rock! Thanks for being yourself and loving yourself. I know it isn’t easy," one person commented on the photo. Another wrote, "Bro you are an inspiration!"

Most importantly, others remarked that "we need more of this" — a sentiment to which Illinois-based clinical psychologist Emily Edlynn agrees.

"Any body positivity messages from high profile celebrities have the potential impact of influencing the landscape of body image messages in our culture," she tells Yahoo Life of Hill's post. "I work with teens on looking for and focusing on these messages rather than the traditional body-shaming messages, so the more that exist, the better."

She continues, "This problem has gotten less attention for boys and men, so all the more important that someone with the status of Jonah Hill adds to positive messaging."

While body image has become a topic of conversation amongst female celebrities and influencers who have used their public platforms to speak out about their own experiences with body shaming, body positivity and body acceptance, males in those same spaces seem to be addressing these topics far less. According to an analysis of male-driven data by Newport Institute, however, that doesn't mean that boys and men are encountering their own struggles with body image any less. In fact, young males are said to experience body dissatisfaction as a result of body ideals presented in the media, which can lead to disordered eating and mental health issues including anxiety and depression.

The difference between women and men is who are talking about these issues and how.

"I think a lot of the silence comes down to toxic masculinity," Virgie Tovar, one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image, tells Yahoo Life, pointing to the "shame or worry" that is likely keeping men from expressing these insecurities. 

In fact, most celebrity men who have opened up about feeling uncomfortable in their bodies have done so in an effort to shed light on what they'll undergo to rid themselves of those insecurities or to lose weight in order to obtain a more idealized figure. Will Smith, who started a trend amongst celebrity men to post photos of their "pandemic bodies" and weight gain in an effort to hold themselves accountable to losing the pounds, is an example of just that.

"It felt really positive to see different kinds of men's bodies, especially with celebrities," Tovar says. "But when you have the weight-loss messaging coming right on top of, it nullifies. It doesn't really do any good, it just reconfirm this idea that this is the wrong kind of body, and this is the body that we're all striving to have."

With Hill, however, a message of acceptance and self-love is what he's displayed, therefore setting him apart from the movement that Smith spearheaded. But Tovar points out that Hill was already differentiated from many of these male figures simply because of his fatness.

"His celebrity came alongside an understanding of him as a legitimately fat man," Tovar explains. "His comedy's very physical, and so we sort of understand his fatness as his real estate. And we judge him based on that. Versus Will Smith introduced as a celebrity being very slender and Mark Wahlberg very muscular."

While fatness is something that other men in the spotlight have experienced — whether manipulating their bodies for roles or falling out of their diet and exercise routines — it has been viewed by both themselves and society as a temporary state. By contrast, Hill's fatness is something that he's been labeled by and mocked for throughout his time in the spotlight and even before.

"I became famous in my late teens and then spent most of my young adult life listening to people say that I was fat and gross and unattractive," the actor said during an appearance on The Ellen Show in 2018. "And it’s only in the last four years writing and directing my movie, ‘Mid90s,’ that I’ve started to understand how much that hurt and got into my head."

In February, the actor spoke out about the media's treatment of his body, the insecurity that he faced as a result and expressed pride in his ability to overcome it.

"I don’t think I ever took my shirt off in a pool until I was in my mid 30s even in front of family and friends. Probably would have happened sooner if my childhood insecurities weren’t exacerbated by years of public mockery about my body by press and interviewers," he captioned a photo of a Daily Mail article featuring a shirtless photo of him. "The idea that the media tries to play me by stalking me while surfing and printing photos like this and it can’t phase me anymore is dope."

Now, he just has the "body love" tattoo to prove it.

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