Poulter spoke out about the extreme diet and exercise routines actors go through to look the way they do in superhero films. How can we help boys and men grapple with the unrealistic male beauty standards set by Hollywood?

Superhero franchises have been the most popular and highest-grossing films for over a decade. It can be difficult to find someone who hasn’t seen or enjoyed at least a handful of Marvel or DC movies, let alone someone who doesn’t have a favorite superhero. Many of us have spent our formative years looking up to heroes on the big screen.

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Gone are the days when only the geekiest in society enjoyed comic books and looked up to their characters, and with superheroes now firmly in the mainstream, there is a new responsibility for these characters to be good role models. So what happens when they accidentally set a harmful example?

Will Poulter Speaks Out Against Hollywood’s Physical Expectations on Actors

Chris Hemsworth naked in Thor- Love & Thunder

Actor Will Poulter recently spoke out against a potentially dangerous practice among actors in superhero franchises. In an interview with The Independent, Poulter warned fans that trying to look like a superhero can be unrealistic — and even dangerous.

Poulter will be playing Adam Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Warlock is a genetically modified superhuman, created to defeat the Guardians of the Galaxy in the story, or so the theories go. He is meant to be a “perfect being,” so it’s only natural that he will be in peak physical condition. That said, what looks healthy or ideal on screen isn’t always what’s safe in real life.

The exact workout and diet regimens that actors undertake for Marvel films has never been fully revealed to the public, but we know they’re rigorous. Poulter told The Independent, “It’s been a lot of gym work and a very, very specific diet. Quantities of food you wouldn’t necessarily want to ingest, and other times not enough food.”

How Training for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Took Over Will Poulter’s Life

Will Poulter looking at Marvel's MCU Guardians of the Galaxy

“I’ve gone through a series of different diets over the last few months,” Poulter continued. “Now I’m in a maintenance phase, which is quite nice. I’m not eating copious amounts of food to bulk, and I’m not cutting. I’m just maintaining my weight. I’ve gone through periods of looking at food and feeling like I can’t face it, and then you blink and the next minute you’re ready to eat furniture because you’re so hungry.”

Poulter says his extreme diet and arduous exercise schedule has basically taken over the last several months of his life. “The whole social side of your life has to take a back seat,” he said. “I’m in a routine that is so rigid that being able to go out for dinner with friends is not something I’ve been able to do. I’m looking forward to being able to again.”

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Poulter added that others shouldn’t try and emulate his diet and workout schedule, and that doing so could even be harmful. “The most important thing is that your mental and physical health has to be number one, and the aesthetic goals have to be secondary,” he said.

“Otherwise, you end up promoting something that is unhealthy and unrealistic if you don’t have the financial backing of a studio paying for your meals and training. I’m in a very privileged position in that respect, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone do what I did to get ready for that job.”

Robert Pattinson Caves Under the Pressure to Bulk Up for “The Batman”

Poulter isn’t the only actor to speak out against the extreme lengths performers are often expected to go to look “perfect” on-screen. In 2020, Robert Pattinson told GQ that he wouldn’t be training for his role in The Batman, saying, “I think if you’re working out all the time, you’re part of the problem. You set a precedent. No one was doing this in the ’70s. Even James Dean—he wasn’t exactly ripped.”

He later said that he was joking in the GQ interview, adding that training was helping him to focus on his health and citing Marvel actors Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Hemsworth as role models for his physical transformation.

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But Pattinson made a good point in the GQ article. Actors of previous generations weren’t expected to be unbelievably, unrealistically buff. He points out that heartthrob James Dean had a “normal” physique. So did most Bond actors — and that never stopped women from wanting them and men from wanting to be them.

The recent trend toward hyper-muscular male bodies isn’t just harmful to the actors who are paid to achieve them, they’re bad for the audience. They “set a precedent,” as Pattinson said. The more we see buff actors, the more these extreme bodies are normalized. Suddenly this becomes the ideal that women might expect in men and men might expect from themselves.

Hollywood and the Rise of Body Image Issues in Boys and Men

KUMAIL NANJIANI and Chris Evans topless for Marvel movies

When we talk about body image issues, the image that comes to mind is likely a young girl staring, troubled, into a mirror. And while unrealistic standards of female beauty are definitely still an issue in our society, it’s not the only way our culture sends the message that our bodies simply aren’t good enough.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 10 million men in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. It’s often difficult for boys and men to receive adequate help, since treatment plans and centers will often focus on treating eating disorders in girls and women.

Naturally, what boys and men go through is a bit different. For instance, muscle dysmorphia is an increasingly common condition among men. This can manifest as an obsession with gaining musculature, working out tirelessly at the gym, spending a lot of money on supplements, and even taking steroids.

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NEDA reports that 9 out of 10 teenage boys work out with the objective of building more muscle, and portrayals of men in the media has been linked in body dissatisfaction in males.

So what can we do about this? The first thing is to question the standards we’re placing on male (and female) bodies. Who exactly are modelling these ideals? Are they safe and healthy? Are they realistic for the average person, who isn’t funded by a studio or backed by a dedicated team?

The next (and hopefully obvious) thing is to look at ourselves and others through a kinder lens. The truth is, we all have wonderful, attractive features, regardless of our shape or size. Hopefully Hollywood will return to portraying more natural body types in film. Until then, it’s up to us to celebrate ourselves and each other exactly as we already are.

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