Why the response to Zac Efron in his latest movie highlights toxic body standards

The star has been candid about his own body image struggles in the past.

Actor Zac Efron on the red carpet
(Image credit: Getty Images)

New images from Zac Efron's latest movie, The Iron Claw, have been released this week.

In the movie, the High School Musical actor plays former pro wrestler Kevin Von Erich and documents the "rise and fall" of his career.

The first-look paparazzi images have garnered lots of attention on social media - but, sadly, not just because people are excited to see the movie.

Trigger warning - discusses themes of suicide, fad diets, and extreme weight loss

Instead, many have taken to commenting on the actor's appearance in the film, comparing him to characters such as Lord Farquaad from the Shrek franchises. 

Some media outlets have even labeled his look as "shocking", with one fan sharing on Twitter: "Lmao he looks like the Hulk from the 80's [sic] I’m screaming why does zac efron look like this rn".

Toxic body image standards don't just affect women - far from it - and this week's comments only further prove how anyone can be subject to unnecessary and unwarranted scrutiny about their appearance.

How comments on Zac Efron's latest movie transformation highlights toxic body standards

One study from Calm last year found that nearly half of men (48%) have suffered from mental health issues directly related to their body image, and it's worth remembering that more men under the age of 50 in the UK die from suicide than anyone else.

Granted, Efron does work in the public eye, but when did that become a hall pass for sharing negativity online?

The star has been candid about his struggles with body image issues in the past - when filming Baywatch in 2017, he suffered from symptoms of depression after losing weight for the role. Again, in 2020, he was subject to pretty intense media scrutiny after his appearance changed during lockdown.

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On his Baywatch transformation, he said to Men's Health magazine: “That required Lasix, powerful diuretics, to achieve. I fell into a pretty bad depression, for a long time. Something about that experience burned me out. I had a really hard time re-centering. Ultimately they chalked it up to taking way too many diuretics for way too long, and it messed something up.”

It's worth flagging here that taking diuretics to achieve a certain body type is never advised and, as Efron highlights, can pose some pretty serious physical and mental health risks.

While women have undeniably come under more scrutiny than men in the past, as we continue to move in the right direction with regard to self love and realistic body image standards, it's important to remember to be kind - to all genders.

We're all human, after all, and creating a kinder world for one gender is pointless if we start scrutinising other genders, instead.

If you have been affected by the themes in this article, eating disorder charity Beat's helplines are open 365 days. In England, call 0808 801 0677 or email help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk.

Ally Head
Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.