When it comes to men’s health, a lot of the talk around it has to do with image and strength: How chiseled are your muscles? How high is your protein intake? How much can you bench?
Unfortunately, our culture of masculinity can actually have negative implications. In fact, a 2016 study found that men were less likely than women to visit their doctor if they had a health concern.
In an age when social media has immense influence, the men behind these eight Instagram accounts are breaking down traditional stereotypes of “masculinity” while raising men’s health awareness.
Birckbichler is a testicular cancer survivor who uses humor to spark important conversations about cancer. When he was diagnosed at the age of 25, he created his own blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor, which explains what men should expect when going through chemotherapy, how to do self-exams to check themselves for testicular cancer, and good resources for men’s health. Even though the topics are deep, he uses humor to ease the discomfort and create a conversation.
Speaker, human rights advocate, and journalist Tiq Milan is working to dissolve stereotypes about masculinity for transgender and cisgender men. He speaks about how “trans men fall for [the traditional expectations of what it means to be a man] as we try to find the best routes to authentic manhood. Eating a salad, doing yoga, practicing mindfulness doesn’t make you less of a man.”
Matthew Hodson has been living with HIV for more than 20 years and is the executive director of NAM, a UK-based charity that provides accurate information about HIV and AIDS. He uses his social media platform to break down the damaging stigmas people have surrounding HIV and to show others who are living with HIV that living a long and healthy life is possible.
Almost 800,000 Americans suffer from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that often needs multiple surgeries, dietary restrictions, and an ostomy bag. McConnell was only in the ninth grade when he was first diagnosed and had six inches of his colon removed. Then, when he was 28, another 1.5 feet of his colon was removed along with his ilium.
He started his Instagram account, Crohn’s Veteran because he was struggling to find people of color in the Crohn’s community, particularly men. He says, “If I’m looking around and not seeing people who look like me, maybe I could be the person other people are looking for… I know there are a lot of people like me, but they’re not yet sharing their stories.”
Dave Wilson spent 40 years drinking, but after a challenge from a friend, decided to do what felt impossible to him and go sober. Now he uses his Instagram because he thought “it would be useful to share the highs and lows of [his journey].” Now, Wilson is a trained peer mentor, completed a mental health first aid course, and started his own online sobriety coaching business.
Michael James Wong
Michael James Wong is the founder of Boys of Yoga, a community for men who practice or teach yoga. Wong explains the basis behind his organization: “Ultimately, it was to break down the stereotypes of what men thought yoga was all about and inspired a new perspective to see that it’s a practice for everyone.”
He also wrote Sit Down, Be Quiet, a book for a modern male who recognizes that “it’s time to smash the stereotypes and appreciate that it’s cool to be kind, self-aware, and nonjudgmental.”
Self-taught vegan chef Rudy Ramos knows that, despite the health benefits, there’s a lot of hesitancy, (especially for men) about eating vegan. However, his enticing photos of plant-based burgers and other hearty vegan dishes prove time and time again that being vegan isn’t just about salads, tofu, and green smoothies. “The world is a bounty of delicious healthy possibilities only limited by your imagination,” he says. “Start simple and build from there. It’s easier than it seems.”
When Canales was first diagnosed with prostate cancer, he met doctors and experts who taught him about various lifestyle interventions, like exercise, that could prevent or improve outcomes for many of the health issues that kill American men. He’s taken the advice in stride and has lived with and managed early-stage prostate cancer for a decade now.
To help others, he founded Blue Cure. According to Canales, the organization is “a men’s health nonprofit that started off solely as prostate cancer patient advocacy and education and broadened to educate men on lifestyle interventions to prevent, improve outcomes, and reverse many of our top killers.”
However, according to Canales, 70 percent of his Instagram followers are women. This is probably because men struggle to talk about their health. “We have to remove stigma,” he declares, “and that starts with men sharing stories.”