Saturday 24 March 2018

Jamie Dornan and 50 shades of low self-esteem

In an Irish Independent interview that's gone viral, actor Jamie Dornan admitted he doesn't like how he looks.

Jamie Dornan
Jamie Dornan

Joe O'Shea

The insecurities laid bare, the crippling anxiety that comes with having to show your body on the big screen, it's almost what we have come to expect from a newly minted Hollywood sex symbol.

"'I think I am like anyone, I have massive hang-ups about my physical appearance.

"I was always fighting against stuff when I was a kid. I always felt skinny and small. Now, I'm 32... I have the same insecurities when I was a kid and when I see an image of myself, all I see is this skinny kid and I don't like it".

It might be Anne Hathaway or Cameron Diaz, two leading ladies who have talked extensively about their insecurities and body-image problems. But it is in fact Jamie Dornan, the Irish actor tasked with embodying the essence of rampant male sexuality and desirability in the most-talked-about movie of this year, Fifty Shades of Grey.

While his co-star Dakota Johnson plays the initially submissive and inexperienced college grad, as Christian Grey, Dornan must convince as the powerful, sexually dominant man. In the wildly overheated scenario created by author EL James, Grey must have the kind of body and dark, sexual charisma that can make women rip their clothes off at 10 feet.

As Dornan confessed to the Irish Independent in an interview that's been picked up by media outlets around the world, that sort of role can put a lot of performance pressure on a guy.

"I only had four weeks to work out for this role. I would have liked more time. But I don't think I am ever going to be happy with how I look," he says.

On a superficial level, Dornan's anxieties might draw a wry smile from actresses and every woman who has had to deal with the pressure from our increasingly body-image obsessed media.

And for guys, it is some comfort to know that the former underwear model turned representation of ultimate sexual fantasy, still worries about what that one beer might do to his abs.

However, Dornan's anxieties do throw some light on an issue that almost always gets overlooked when we talk about body-image, hang-ups and the mass media's obsession with impossible standards. Yes, ladies. What about us poor men?

Having worked in TV myself, I know that feeling of worrying about how you look like on camera (Jamie Dornan, I feel your pain).

HDTV in particular is notorious for showing every blemish and wrinkle in unforgiving high definition.

Working in a studio, you have screens everywhere showing you the live feed. A very in-your-face, living mirror. You remember the old saying that the camera adds 10lbs. And then realise there are at least three cameras on you. Only the very secure, or extremely deluded, look at themselves on screen and think; "Wow! I'm a bit of a ride-and-a-half!".

And images of male perfection are everywhere. What is the ordinary guy in the street expected to feel when he walks past a giant billboard featuring sculpted muscles of the world's top male model, David Gandy?

The fact that Gandy has confessed to having his own issues (saying; "I have quite a big nose, a prominent nose. Some people love it, some people hate it") is little comfort when your other half drools over his M&S underwear ads.

The most recent statistics show there has been a big increase in the number of Irish people taking regular exercise - up from 41pc to 47pc between 2011 and 2013 in the 35-44 age group alone.

And it may come as a surprise that significantly more 30 and 40-something Irish men in that age group are working out than women - 50.2pc as opposed to 43.8pc.

Irish men, like their counterparts all over the developed world, are now having to deal with the kind of body-image issues that have long been faced by women.

Men in the public eye, especially on network TV, are expected to look ultra-fit and lean. Former Westlifer Nicky Byrne, now fronting RTE's new prime time Lottery show, has never looked slimmer, even in his boyband days. Image-conscious guys watching his show will think; "Well, that lad hasn't seen a carb in six months".

Social media has proved to be very democratic when it comes to body-shaming celebs. Few male TV personalities, or even news anchors, can expect to appear on screen carrying a few extra pounds without attracting a slew of snarky tweets, often directly to their Twitter accounts.

It used to be that male TV personalities, or leading men, could afford to have a more lived-in look, while their female counterparts had to be physically perfect and impeccably coiffed and made-up. That is not the case today.

Can you name one overweight chat-show host on TV? Even at 50 and hardly big to begin with, Graham Norton appears to be shrinking before our eyes.

And it is not just celebs. While a string of studies going back a decade or more have argued that thinner women have an edge in the workplace, some recent surveys have also shown that men, if they are of above-average weight, are also perceived as less dynamic and less deserving of promotion or pay rises.

For guys like myself, on the wrong side of 40, there is always the worry that letting yourself go will result in feeling yourself fade-out, that unless you project some semblance of youth and vitality, you will become The Old Guy.

In a culture that slavishly worships youth and beauty, the worst blasphemy for a man or woman is to let themselves go.

The upside, which you have to focus on really hard as you take your early morning run in the wind and rain, is that regular exercise makes you feel good in yourself. Physically and mentally.

Of course, if all else fails, we can kid ourselves that while the likes of Jamie Dornan may have the killer abs, he is almost certainly, tragically lacking in experience and technique. There are some advantages to getting older....

Irish Independent

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