Date: 16 February 2024

From Manning Up To Opening Up

From Manning Up To Opening Up

TREND 3 From the Global Wellness Trend Report

This is an extract from 2024 Wellness Trends, from Global Wellness Summit.

 

From Manning Up to Opening Up

By Skyler Hubler & Cecelia Girr

Wellness has been complicit in reinforcing a very narrow view of masculinity—but in 2024, that’s changing with retreats, small groups and apps finally focused on men’s social and emotional well-being.

When you think of social and emotional wellness, what comes to mind? Perhaps a group meditation, or maybe a sharing circle? Most importantly, who do you picture taking part in these experiences? Odds are that the image you conjured up was of women. And it’s not hard to understand why.

While wellness has provided a space for women to open up, explore their emotions, and build community, the same can’t be said for men. Rather, men have either been left out of the equation altogether or, where they have been served wellness, they’ve been served clichés centered around the physical. Think warrior-like fitness challenges, age-defying biohacks and rugged outdoor adventures—all exercises of strength and extreme mastery where performative masculinity comes wrapped in wellness. In many ways, wellness has been acting as a reinforcer of oldschool manliness, not a corrector of it. But that’s beginning to change.

 

Male Friendship

FUELING THE TREND

If you tell someone that men today are struggling, their first response might be disbelief or possibly even an eye roll. After all, the modern feminist movement has taught us that in a world built by and for men, it’s women who now need to be empowered and supported. But the data tells a different story.

 

To understand the need for healthier, more intimate male-to-male relationships, we must first understand the problems:

 

  • Male friendship has been steadily declining around the globe. In 2021, 15% of men in the US stated they have zero close friends, compared to only 3% in 1990. A similar trend is shaking out around in the UK, Australia, Singapore, South Korea and elsewhere. Experts point to remote work, overwork, religious decline, lower marriage rates, and rising divorce rates as contributing factors.
  • Men also report being less emotionally connected to the friends they do have, making them much more susceptible to feelings of loneliness. For instance, only 22% of young men say they would turn to their friends first in times of need, down from 45% in 1990.
  • This rise in loneliness is taking a significant toll on men’s health, putting them at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death. This is especially alarming considering men consistently live shorter lives than women in almost every country, and that men are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than females.
  • Finally, men are falling behind women in both work and education—something that could very well be improved by deeper, more emotionally-fulfilling relationships. Craig White, transformational men’s coach at UK-based retreat Men Without Masks, also notes shifting gender roles as a contributing factor. “For so long men have needed to be providers and protectors,” explains White, referring back to tribal times. “So, by natural evolution we had to become more stoic, ready for battle, detached from our emotions. This breeds stereotypically masculine traits.” Now, however, as more women step into the role of protector and provider, White says many men are left without a clear purpose. “Who am I? What is my role in society? What is my vocation? These questions are being asked more than ever.”

 

ASPECTS OF THE TREND

Despite the grim statistics, the silver lining is that awareness of these issues is growing—fueling a much larger conversation about the need to redefine modern masculinity. While pervasive cultural beliefs have long taught men to suck it up and hide their emotions, especially from other men, vulnerability is now being hailed as a sign of strength.

Especially notable is the fact that evolving attitudes around masculinity are coming from the same institutions that have historically offered cues on how to “be a man.” Traditional men’s magazines like GQ, Esquire and Men’s Health are embracing male emotion with articles like “Voices of the New Masculinity,” “The Rules of Being a Man are Bullshit,” and “Our Sons Deserve Better than Manning Up,” respectively. And television’s grittiest survivalist, Bear Grylls, is making the leap to “mental fitness” with a new app tailor-made for men.

 

Sport And Fitness

Sport and fitness are helping to lay the cultural foundation

Sports, perhaps the longest standing domain of the “man’s man,” are also experiencing a shift as more male athletes begin opening up about their mental health struggles—debunking the idea that physical strength and emotional vulnerability are mutually exclusive. Just look to NFL hall-of-famer Randy Moss, who teared up while discussing racism on ESPN; or to European football stars like Ben Chilwell and Paul Pogba, who are insisting that sports, depression and counseling all belong in the same conversation. Former international rugby star Anthony Mullally has even gone further by establishing his series of men’s mental health retreats called Both Sides. His goal? To “break down stereotypes and re-establish the integrity of masculinity in the modern world.”

This new attitude is laying the cultural foundation for new forms of male bonding to emerge. Bonding that doesn’t necessarily exclude things like sports and fitness, but builds on them. One grassroots group to watch is F3 (for fitness, fellowship and faith). Through the free outdoor workout program— which recently expanded to over 4,000 groups across 14 countries—men gather to run, do pushups, and lift cinder blocks while praying together and openly discussing their struggles.

The wellness industry is getting in on the trend too, as seen through the rise of men’s retreats that combine the physical, spiritual and emotional—a recipe that may be more appealing for men who aren’t quite ready to spend three full days in a sharing circle. According to one survey, searches for these kinds of male-only retreats are up 200% in 2023 compared to last year. And just like men themselves, they come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and vibes.

One standout example is Menspedition pilgrimages. After scaling some of the UK’s highest peaks, guests take part in meditation class, cacao ceremonies, cold water immersion sessions, and workshops that push them to reconsider what it means to be a man. A similar format can be found through Rewilding Surf Retreats in Cornwall, where men “use surfing, breathwork and coasteering to push past limiting beliefs and find their true power in honest vulnerability and connection.” And finally, there are multidisciplinary retreats like Rainbow Men that are specifically designed for gay and queer men—offering everything from yoga and hiking to dance sessions and body art classes.

This multi-faceted, multi-dimensional approach is key to ensuring that in our push to dispel one singular portrait of masculinity, we don’t just create another opposite but equally limiting one.

 

Men Cooking

Teaching emotional literacy and taking down toxic masculinity

Other initiatives are even more overt in their mission to take down toxic masculinity. In Colombia, for example, Henry Murrain, founder of the School of Care for Men, is teaching men how to do things that are widely considered unmanly. In four 10- hour sessions, Murrain and his team teach men how to change diapers, clean, cook, treat women with respect, and talk about their feelings, all while reflecting on the impacts of machismo. Similarly, in South Africa, a nonprofit support group called Young Men Movement is combating gender-based violence by giving men a safe space to practice vulnerability.

A growing category of men’s wellness retreats are popping up with the same emotion-based goals in mind. Two pioneers in the space are EVRYMAN and Junto, where unlearning stoicism and authentically sharing your feelings is the name of the game.

Mike Sagun, a certified professional men’s coach and senior facilitator at EVRYMAN, says that relationship problems are the number one reason men attend. In fact, many men only sign up after being given an ultimatum from their partner, but are typically quick to open up once they’re there. “That’s the power of community,” Sagun says. “Most men crave that connection and don’t know what they’re missing until they actually experience it. Then, they recognize that the void in their life is having deep, genuine relationships with other men they can trust.”

While most men will attend retreats at most once a year, apps can also help fill this void by getting men in the habit of regularly checking in with their emotions and with one another. One app bridging the gap is Unbreakable Men. The platform not only encourages men to assess their feelings against different criteria, it also connects them to in-person support groups and wellbeing events happening across England—offering a positive example of how tech-based solutions can lead to meaningful connections in real life.

And with men chronically underserved by the $6.2 billion dollar mental health app industry, it’s only a matter of time before these types of male-specific solutions explode into their own mainstream category.

The tough-guy stuff is still fighting for its place Not every men’s wellness offering is quite as progressive, though. As softer, more sensitive versions of masculinity continue to show up in culture, some are responding by planting their feet even more firmly in the aggressive, masochistic, chest-pounding manliness of yore.

Perhaps the most extreme example of this comes from the Modern Day Knight Project in California. “The Project,” whose logo features a skull and Viking axe, is essentially a reenactment of Navy SEAL Hell Week. Attendees wrestle one another in chokeholds, undergo tactical gun training, hike while carrying heavy weights and sledgehammers, and crawl a mile across a dirt field.

In one exercise, men are even instructed to dig their own grave, get inside a body bag, and then lie there as instructors shovel dirt on top of them and tell them to “bury their inner bitch so that their inner beast may rise again.” Graduates of the program do say they feel bonded afterward, as typically happens when people overcome adversity together, but it’s worth asking ourselves if this kind of bonding is actually connecting men through productive means or if it’s just reinforcing outdated and potentially dangerous ideas of what it means to be tough.

 

THE FUTURE

While there’s been lots of chatter about the problems with men today, we’ve only just begun turning the corner and getting to work on real solutions. Yet there are still major gaps to be addressed.

For one, wellness offerings for men largely exist at the extremes. We’ve seen plenty of instances where the ultra-aggressive has been challenged by the ultra-sensitive, but much fewer models that make room for men in the middle: men who maybe do enjoy casual “bro time” and hitting the weight room, but who are also making a conscious effort to prioritize their emotional health and be more open in their relationships. This presents a huge opportunity for wellness to champion a more nuanced view of modern masculinity, and to bridge what Sagun describes as “the political divide in men’s work,” referring to the issue of polarized thinking.

Secondly, we anticipate that the emphasis will expand beyond middle-aged men to become more evenly distributed across all stages of life. Think relationship lessons for teenage boys, emotional wellness workshops for guys in their 20s, and communities that give men a sense of purpose post-retirement. Just as the wellness industry as a whole is focusing on preventative care, these earlier interventions will be key to creating healthier habits when it counts.

Finally, social and emotional wellness solutions for men will become increasingly global. While a significant percentage of retreats currently take place in the Western world, it’s actually men outside of these countries who are most eager to connect. According to TBWA’s Disruption Index—a proprietary data product spanning 18 countries— men in India (40%), South Africa (29%), Brazil (29%) and China (26%) are the most willing to spend on wellness solutions that help them “intentionally nurture and prioritize relationships.”6 Companies that give these men the space and tools to do just that will be ahead of the curve.

Above all, the key will be establishing human connection as a core component of men’s health. “As we take into consideration that community is part of healing and part of health, we will see less suicides, less anxiety and less depression in our world,” says Sagun of his hopes for the future.

Similarly, White anticipates that “men’s groups will eventually become a prescription.” As we’ve experienced over the past several decades, the consequences of not closing these gaps in men’s wellness are far too great to be ignored. The cost to the world—in terms of divisiveness, violence and health issues—is immeasurable.

 

For an Upcoming Men’s only retreat in Australia see our Retreat Calendar HERE

Read more Global Wellness Trends For 2024

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