If you only knew Justin Baldoni from the hyper-masculine, often shirtless roles he’s played in movies and television, you might be surprised to learn that much of his current work is dedicated to confronting common myths about masculinity.
In his popular TED Talk, Baldoni addresses how playing these roles, including Rafael on “Jane the Virgin,” drove him to explore his own masculinity and start a dialogue about how to be a better man and person. Since then, he’s written a book, “Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity,” and launched a similarly branded podcast to continue the conversation. In his work, Baldoni challenges men to open up about their feelings, be more vulnerable, and take an active role in their physical and mental health.
We talked with Baldoni to learn more about his journey and discuss his upcoming partnership with Healthline, on the video series “No More Silence.” In this series, Baldoni explores how race, gender, sexuality, and more present serious challenges to men’s health, and how vulnerability is a powerful defense against these challenges.
How did your childhood influence your views of masculinity and vulnerability?
For me, in terms of masculinity, it was the other boys bullying and teasing me. It was my dad being an emotional, nurturing dad, but not knowing how to be a vulnerable dad. It was movies, the super muscular action stars, and the X-rated magazines that were for sale on my walk home from elementary school. It was all of those kinds of moments, and more, that formed and cemented these ideas of what it meant to be a boy and a man.
Was there an “aha” moment or experience that changed these views?
It wasn’t an “aha” moment as much as it was a bunch of little moments where I was super aware of the conflict with who I was on the inside and who I was pretending to be on the outside.
If there was a catalyst for the work I’m doing and the journey I’ve been on, it was becoming a parent and realizing that I didn’t want my children to feel the pressure I felt to conform to these preconceived ideas about gender in order to determine how they show up in the world.
What are some of the ways you’ve challenged masculinity stereotypes through your own work in your book, podcast, and TED Talk?
I think the message that my book, TED Talk, and our podcast challenges the most is that men shouldn’t open up and admit their struggles. That message tells us to stuff our feelings down and suffer in silence.
I’ve learned the biggest myth of masculinity is that we have to go at it alone, and I hope that this work is helping change that myth by inviting men and assuring men that we do not have to do this thing called life alone. We can be human together. We are human beings, not human doings.
You start almost every episode of your “Man Enough” podcast by asking guests, “When was the last time that you didn’t feel enough?” Are there any themes you’ve found in their answers?
Oh for sure, the answer we get the most is “every single day,” which shows that this is a universal feeling, something we’ve all felt. That question is such an invitation to be honest and open about it so that we can go on this journey of enoughness together.
What are the most common concerns your audience has shared with you when it comes to health and wellness?
I get so many different messages that it’s hard to narrow it down. Some common concerns have been being addicted to porn, how to navigate a breakup, how to apologize, and how to repair damage that has been done unintentionally.
Regardless of the situation, my advice is always the same — be radically honest, both with yourself and/or the person. As The Baháʼí writings say, “Truthfulness is the foundation of every human virtue.” We must start being willing to get to those deep uncomfortable hidden truths in order for us to heal.
What men’s health issues do you plan to address in your upcoming video series with Healthline, “No More Silence”?
With “No More Silence,” we talk about topics like preventative care, aging, body image issues, mental health issues, the importance of therapy, domestic violence, and sexual assault. These are issues that affect so many of us, and too often men don’t feel like they can talk about them, let alone seek the care they need.
Are there any particular roles that you’ve played that caused you to question your own sense of self while comparing yourself to that part?
A lot of the roles I’d get early on in my acting career made me aware of that inner conflict I was having with who I was and who the messages of masculinity told me to be. I talk about this in my TED Talk; how I’d get these very stereotypical manly roles, guys that oozed machismo, and there was such a disconnect because I never saw myself as that guy. Yet, that’s what Hollywood saw me as.
That said, over the course of my life I have absolutely attempted to be that guy while trying to fit in and find my place as a man in this world. Every time I did, I was left feeling more empty than I felt before.
What’s interesting about acting, being a character that’s not at all like you are, is that it helped me begin to get curious about the disconnect I felt within myself. The more curious I became, the more I realized I needed to heal.
WATCH MORE: “No More Silence”
Do you think Hollywood is doing enough to be more inclusive when it comes to representing diversity within masculinity?
Hollywood can always be doing more to be more inclusive. That not only includes diversity as it relates to race, but also diversity of gender, disability, and masculinity. We need to continue to have representation of all human beings, showing our similarities, and celebrating the different ways we experience this journey.
When it comes to masculinity specifically, let’s see men from all walks of life crying, willfully going to therapy, respecting women and all genders, being kind, speaking up when another man says or does something that isn’t right, showing up as present and involved fathers, doing domestic chores, and being their own full expression of who they are. It doesn’t have to be a PSA or home-school special either. Art reflects life, and there are millions and millions of men who live this way.
Is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self about masculinity? What do you hope to teach your children about it?
I am doing a lot of inner-child work in therapy, so I am actively going back to those different ages of myself and giving myself new messages. I’m telling that 7-year-old boy that it’s OK to feel, telling the 17-year-old that it takes strength to be vulnerable, and telling the 27-year-old that it takes courage to show up and be authentic, be human.
That’s what I want to teach my kids, too. That they are human, that Emily and I are human, and that we get to be human together. That I am, and we are all, enough.