By Shane Lynch
“Whoever said that big boys don’t cry
You say you never shed a tear
Well, listen that’s a lie
We’re all defenceless
When it comes to pain”
These are the lyrics from the famous eighties band Extreme, from their song, which is ironically called “Big boys don’t cry”. Mental health is a rather tough subject to discuss, as each individual will express their own experience of it in their own unique way. The great thing about mediums such as the spoken word is that a message can be spread about it through the way in which each person feels the most comfortable, whether it be through poetry, the medium of music, the beauty of an artistic embodiment of pain through colour or even anecdotal stories through an autobiography. One thing they all have in common, however, is that they are all unique and personal to the people who have experienced them.
The idea of masculinity being so very pronounced in the physical makeup of a man is one of the oldest typecasts. Through the society in which they grow up, there is a stereotypical stigma behind men that they should almost be superheroes, with, not only their physical shape, but in the way that they deal with problems, and most notably, and remarkably, their emotions. The archaic idea that being tough requires a physical suppression of how you’re feeling has been questioned throughout the natural progression of society.
The most stereotypical masculine element of the male is the ability to prove that he is the alpha amongst others in the ability to fight. As the generations go by, some of the most famous images ever captured are photos of moustached men in black and white going toe-to-toe in bare knuckle brawling, and images of strong men lifting comically large weights in order to appease their testosterone filled thoughts of triumph, in which winning involved showing no weakness. This way of thinking led many men to believe that showing any form of weakness led you to be less than a man, and so would bring great shame to anybody who was associated with you.
Through these questionable origins, the most historically masculine sport of them all is boxing. Boxing is often universally accepted as being the ultimate measure of a man’s man. The ability to be able to outthink a man whilst at the same time punish him for thinking he was tougher than you was an attractive offer for men throughout the beginning of the twentieth century, as they could receive an easy payday should they have a particular dexterity for combat.
However, today’s world has evolved in a majorly drastic way since the days of the composition of the ideals and beliefs of masculinity. The current lineal heavyweight champion of the world, Tyson Fury, a man who is a shade under seven feet and close to eighteen stone in weight, has become a chief pioneer of men’s mental health and is helping to break the stigma surrounding masculinity becoming an overbearing element in a man’s decision to seek help for mental health problems. Fury spoke on how mental health had brought someone as physically big and imposing as he was, and the heavyweight champion of the world, to his knees. It was humbling to see the proverbial “biggest boy” being the one who was metaphorically “crying”.
“I fight for those people: all the oppressed, depressed, alcoholics, drug addicts. I fight to give them hope every day so they can wake up in the morning and know there’s somebody out there banging for us.” Looking back at the career renaissance of Fury, it was a comeback story which Hollywood directors would snap your hand off to get the rights to. Over the course of just one year, Fury summoned the courage and strength to conquer his demons. Fury also lost a ridiculous amount of weight, almost nine stone, to return to the heavyweight division in the best shape of his career, both physically and, most importantly, mentally. Fury himself has since been praised by multiple media outlets for bringing serious issues such as mental health to the mainstream, and his colourful personality and outlook has made the press christen him “The People’s Champion”.
Mental health difficulties are probably the greatest challenge that anybody could ever face, and when facing any problems, the first thing that you need to do is rip away all the clichés and typecasting and ignore the archaic and soon–to–be obsolete thinking of the past. Stubbornness is a trait which goes hand in hand with, not only mental health, but with the way men think also. Once men begin to realise that it is a universal problem, and that the ways of the past should be left in the past, men’s mental health can be looked at through new, comfortable surroundings, and be treated as an illness rather than a weakness. The idea that today’s society promotes masculinity as being someone who is gentle and understanding, rather than dominant through emotional expressions of anger, is a small step in breaking the stigma of masculinity through bringing awareness to mental health.