Media Images of 'Hunks' Spur Body Anxieties in Men
By E. J. Mundell
CHICAGO (Reuters Health) - Research has for years linked women's exposure to photos of skinny supermodels with feelings of inadequacy about their own bodies. Now, a new study suggests that men are driven to the same insecurities when faced with magazine portrayals of buff, muscled hunks.
"We always think about these sorts of things with women, but we see the exact same things with men," said study co-author Dr. Regan Gurung of the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. He and co-researcher Jennifer Otto presented the findings here Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
Magazine, television, and other media depictions of extremely fit, muscled men have increased in number over the past few decades. "There is data that, in the media and advertising literature, exposure of men in advertisements is coming very close to that of women," Gurung said. He said one watershed moment occurred when rap star-turned-actor Mark Wahlberg posed for designer Calvin Klein "in his little white briefs." From then on, images of buff, semi-nude men have become as ubiquitous in advertising as those of the curvaceous supermodel.
What effect are all these images having on the average male viewer? In their study, Gurung, Otto and their colleagues had 45 male and female college students fill out standard questionnaires assessing levels of mood, personal self-esteem, and body-image anxiety.
They then asked each man to view a number of photos of semi-clad male models, asking them to also rate the attractiveness and masculinity of each model depicted. Women were asked to perform a similar task with photos of female models.
"We found that women and men are equal as far as how much physique anxiety they experience after they see these types of pictures," Otto said in an interview with Reuters Health. "We also found that a man who has more physique anxiety is more likely to rate the models as lower (in masculinity and attractiveness), whereas a man who feels good about his own physique would 'call it as he sees it'--he would rate the model high."
The researchers then pushed the experiment a little further. To compare men's and women's feelings of body insecurity in particularly stressful situations, they had participants change into skimpy outfits--a tight vest and shorts for the men--and then have their picture taken by an attractive member of the opposite sex. The participants were then asked to complete some more questionnaires while wearing the outfit.
As expected, levels of physique anxiety rose even higher, but the change in physique anxiety for men "was parallel to the physique anxiety of women doing the same thing," according to Otto.
The take-home message, Gurung said, is that media images of the "perfect body" work to undermine men's body-confidence, too.
For most guys, this may only lead to fleeting resolutions to work out more at the gym. But for a minority of men, an obsession with physical perfection can lead to a psychological disorder where life revolves around muscle building, dieting and the use of dangerous muscle-enhancing drugs.
"Whether it's men or women, there's always that group who are in the danger zone," Gurung said. "What we are trying to do here is get a better handle on what are those identifying flags of people in the danger zone. And social physique anxiety seems to be a very good one."