We’re sorry, the old Marlou Arizala can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, because he’s dead. In his place rises Xander Ford—beaming, upright, and marginally more confident. After rumors swirled last month that Ford had gone under the knife, his big reveal on ABS-CBN’s Rated K shocked fans and naysayers all over the country. Ford endured a legendary bashing from the internet when he was a member of the boy band Hasht5 from 2015 to 2016, taking potshots left and right about his nose, his complexion, his acne problems—you name it, they’ve tweeted it. At only 20 years old, Ford is arguably on the younger side of the spectrum if we’re talking a complete physical overhaul. And his transformation is living, breathing proof of the excessive value our society places on physical appearance. Even, dare we say especially, on men.
Jonah Hill has been known to lose and gain weight periodically for movie roles, but that hasn’t stopped people from poking fun at him when he’s working on the latter. Rob Kardashian’s tumultuous marital life does nothing to protect him from those who lambast him for not conforming to Hollywood body standards (as his sisters continue to do). Locally, we don’t hear much about male actors who’ve undergone transformations; the attention’s always been on the ladies, with Arci Munoz being the latest victim. Why is that so?
Here’s the difference between how men and women receive and respond to criticism on their looks: the pressure on women is institutionalized and comes from all angles. Society acknowledges that this pressure comes precisely from itself, and therefore does not look down on women for being vocal about it. For men, on the other hand, the pressure bubbles just underneath the surface, and they’re given nary a platform to open up about their insecurities. Enter archaic ideals such as “machismo” and “masculinity,” and you’ve got a whole generation of men who aren’t emotionally prepared to grapple with body image.
It was easy for the internet to lay it on Marlou Arizala. The criticism reeked of elitism and even borderline racist rhetoric. Many said his silly boy band didn’t make “real music” and the mere fact he was in one must have meant he thought himself way more attractive than he actually was. Words like “jeje,” “pangit,” and “nognog” were commonly thrown around. Who in their right mind would be able to withstand this type of persistent negativity? It comes as no surprise that Marlou did a complete 180 and tried—oh, Lord, did he try—to shut the haters down once and for all.
But all it gave them was more ammunition to attack an already easy target. See, no matter how he plays it, it’s like he can’t win.
When public figures who have been known to espouse a certain aesthetic decide to conform to traditional beauty standards, they are accused of “selling out” (just look at Hollywood actresses Lena Dunham and Ashley Graham). Xander Ford may have earned himself legions of screaming fangirls, but this new direction in his career only serves to confirm the adage that looks do matter.
While we’re glad that Xander Ford is finally having his time in the spotlight, we can’t help but point out how sad this whole affair is. The only way Marlou could save his career was to completely change his identity and his appearance, essentially shedding the skin of his old self in order to be embraced by society. He’s not the only one. There are men all over the country who are attacked for their weight or their facial appearance, and they’re expected to just take it simply because they are men. This can lead to a host of body image problems and mental health issues. And the epidemic isn’t going away any time soon.
Is it fundamentally wrong to “give in” to societal pressure as to how a man must look like? No. Plenty of men go to the gym, make appointments with dermatologists, and go on diets for this very reason. Plain and simple, however, Marlou was the skinny, helpless kid that the schoolyard bullies roughed up a little too hard. All he wanted was for the bullying to end. And in the process, he became, well, unrecognizable. We can only hope he is happy now.