Jonah Hill, male body image and the conversation that needs to be had

Jonah Hill
Jonah Hill

Evan Ross Katz is In The Know’s pop culture contributor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram for more.

Like in so many modern-day news stories, there’s what happened, the reaction and then the reaction to the reaction. Such was the case after Jonah Hill responded to a Daily Mail story in which he was photographed without consent during a day spent surfing in California.

“Jonah Hill slips into his black wetsuit for surf day in Malibu… before showing off his tattoos while going shirtless to towel himself off,” the expectedly long-winded Feb. 25 headline read, accompanied by photos and videos of the actor in the water and removing his wetsuit.

The photos are in line with the Daily Mail’s usual practices of tabloid imagery. But Hill’s response — and the depth of it — is what really got people talking.

“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,” Hill wrote on Instagram. “Probably would have happened sooner if my childhood insecurities weren’t exacerbated by years of public mockery about my body by press and interviewers. So 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.”

He went on to clarify how at 37 years old, he is finally able to love himself, noting he wasn’t writing for sympathy, but rather to teach kids like the child he was who don’t take their shirt off at the pool that “you’re wonderful and awesome and perfect.”

Male celebrities talking about body image remains a taboo topic, but has been spoken about on several rare occasions. Robert Pattinson revealed that he suffered from body dysmorphic disorder in 2013, telling Australia’s Sunday Style: “I don’t have a six pack and I hate going to the gym. I’ve been like that my whole life. I never want to take my shirt off.”

Actor Chris Pratt took to Instagram in 2017 to condemn those who criticized his appearances in an episode of Entertainment Tonight’s What’s My Snack?

“So many people have said I look too thin in my recent episodes of What’s My Snack?” Pratt wrote at the time. “Some have gone as far as to say I look ‘skeletal.’ Well, just because I am a male doesn’t mean I’m impervious to your whispers. Body shaming hurts.”

Sam Smith acknowledged their own “body trauma” in a now-deleted 2019 shirtless picture posted to Instagram: “Some may take this as narcissistic and showing off. But if you knew how much courage it took to do this and the body trauma I have experienced as a kid you wouldn’t think those things.”

These instances highlight the pressures and insecurities that befall men in the public eye.

And Hill’s most recent clap back stands out as undeniably powerful. It didn’t present any kind of body transformation or before-and-after photo as a “solution” to his life-long insecurities. Instead, it promoted a change in mindset that’s core-to-body acceptance.

Ady Del Valle, a plus-size model, told In The Know that posts like Hill’s serve to amplify “the dialogue and conversation of body acceptance and body love.”

“In Jonah’s case, a lot of people — men in particular — don’t speak up about these insecurities about their bodies so openly because of societal stigma,” Del Valle said. “It may seem ‘too soft’ or ‘feminine’ to want to express a vulnerable area you struggle with… and how you overcome or are dealing with it.”

The reaction to Hill’s post thus far has been incredibly positive, with nearly 2 million “likes” and 45,000 comments, including support from Hill’s sister Beanie Feldstein, as well as Diplo, Kat Dennings, Sam Smith, Andy Cohen, FKA Twigs, Johnny Knoxville, Justin Timberlake, Ava Duvarney, Olivia Munn, Rashida Jones and more.

But even following such a glowing show of acceptance, there still exists stigma around men speaking up about body image. Why?

“This is not new. These dialogues are not new. They have been a part of conversations and advocacy for years by people that look like Jonah — heck even people bigger than Jonah — that also share that struggle,” Del Valle explained. “People like myself talk about these body acceptance topics every day on our platforms and spaces. We are also doing the work and being the voice for people that look like Jonah or look like me – a Puerto Rican, fat, queer plus model – to be the representation in media, in fashion and in the industry.”

“We have been having these conversations long before and helping so many along the way everyday,” Del Valle added.

So where do we go from here? How do we keep the conversation going post-virality?

Well, it’s probably best to view this moment as the door cracking open even more to much bigger conversations, as well as an acknowledgment of those who have long been championing and advocating for body acceptance.

“We hope these conversations keep happening, and that posts like this are not shock factors but become normal to have everyday by everybody,” said Del Valle.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating habits, contact the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237. You can also connect with aCrisis Text Line counselor at no charge by texting the word “HOME” to 741741. Visit the NEDA website to learn more about the possible warning signs of eating disorders and disordered eating.

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