“Today I found myself the subject of an Internet meme. Not for the first time. This one, however, stands out from the rest,” Wentworth Miller wrote on Facebook. (Photo: Facebook)
For Selena Gomez, Gigi Hadid, Ariel Winter, and more female celebrities, body shaming is just a part of the job, a prerequisite for being a public persona. But their male counterparts, on the other hand, can pack on pounds without a whiff of derision. The dad bod fad even fetishizes those — including Jason Segel, Chris Pratt (before his Guardians of the Galaxy makeover), Leonardo DiCaprio, and others — whose six packs have ballooned into beer bellies. While this double standard is rampant, that doesn’t mean that men are completely immune from the same distasteful body talk their counterparts incessantly face. Case in point: Wentworth Miller.
The actor, known for his role on Prison Break, was recently made into a meme by The Lad Bible, an online community for millennial men. The viral post, which was shared on the site’s Facebook page, featured side-by-side images of the actor: on the left, a photo of him shirtless, a promo photo for the series (the show aired on Fox from 2005 to 2009), showing off fake tattoos and ripped muscles; on the right, a paparazzi image taken while he was on a hike in Los Angeles in 2010. The caption reads, “When you break out of prison and find out about McDonald’s monopoly…”
Miller, 44, came across the composite and explained on his own Facebook page that this isn’t the first time he’s been subjected to fat shaming, but this one stands out from other incidents due to the fact that he was suicidal — a subject he’s since been very open about — at the time the latter image was taken. “Ashamed and in pain, I considered myself damaged goods. And the voices in my head urged me down the path to self-destruction. Not for the first time,” he wrote. “In 2010, at the lowest point in my adult life, I was looking everywhere for relief/comfort/distraction. And I turned to food. It could have been anything. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. But eating became the one thing I could look forward to. Count on to get me through.”
The first time the photo of Miller in the red T-shirt was published, it was used in the tabloids with such headlines as “Hunk To Chunk” and “Fit To Flab.” Now that it’s cropping up again, it reminds him of not only his struggles but also “endurance and my perseverance in the face of all kinds of demons. Some within. Some without.”
By distributing the photo himself, Miller managed to shift the conversation. “The first time I saw this meme pop up in my social media feed, I have to admit, it hurt to breathe,” he explained. “But as with everything in life, I get to assign meaning. And the meaning I assign to this/my image is Strength. Healing. Forgiveness.” The LAD Bible apologized, admitting that “mental health is no joke or laughing matter” and conceded that Miller “responding head-on to our post is something we applaud as it will help others through similar challenges in their lives.”
The exchange not only draws attention to how cruel memes can be, that the faces appropriated for a laugh aren’t anonymous, but it also highlights the fact that men share the weight shaming experience with women — they just experience it differently. Whereas the aforementioned females have found it in themselves to speak out against the negative narrative regarding their figures, their counterparts seem to suffer in silence.
Take Rob Kardashian and Jonah Hill as examples.
They’re each routinely bullied in the press for their bodies, but remain silent and stoic (Kardashian even depends on the women in his life — his mother, sisters, and girlfriend — to fight his battles).
As body image expert Heather Quinlan explains to Yahoo Style,
“Women and men are both impacted by social, cultural, and internal pressures to look a certain way, and for both genders those pressures may contribute to difficulties with self-esteem, body image, depression, anxiety, etc.” Whereas women are consistently advised throughout their lives to speak up about injustices, men are conditioned to be stoic and tough. “It may be more difficult for a man to admit that his feelings were hurt because someone criticized his appearance, since it’s often difficult for men to openly discuss emotional vulnerability and self-esteem.”
Miller, however, poured his heart out. And by doing so, he likely made himself feel better — and highlighted the contradictory nature of body conversations.