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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."


Interesting - but not entirely surprising.

Just as a side-note: is there anyone on the board who actually knows (or is) someone who has a "psychological disorder where life revolves around muscle building, dieting and the use of dangerous muscle-enhancing drugs"?

Just curious. Whenever I read something like that, I get an image of someone who (a) spends four hours a day in the gym, (b) eats 8-10 times a day, (c) can't talk about anything other than muscle, (d) spends all of his free time looking at the muscle rags/films of contests and (e) won't have sex because he's afraid the cardio will cause him to "lose mass". I personally don't know anyone even remotely like that, but maybe some of you do...?


The part I found most interesting was: "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."

This could explain why when someone posts their pic there's always at least one asshole who puts them down or calls them a "fag". The asshole is probably a fat tub who's jealous. Or when a female posts her pic, there's at one dude who cuts her down - it's because he knows he'll never have a girl half that good looking so he verbally attacks her.


I agree with you TEK. Hey this is probably the first time. Heheh. :slightly_smiling:


Ain`t that the truth. One more thing, if some people are obsessed about the perfect body well, my friends we are all in the same boat, and I am not about to jump out and swim for shore. Now whose with me?!?!?!


What is a goal to some is classified as an ' obsession ' to others, who the hell has a right to say what is important or unimportant for each individual?

"life revolves around muscle building, dieting and..."

precisely define -->life revolves around<-- is this a scientificly valid statement?

what "should " life revolve around, television and pizza?

"use of dangerous muscle-enhancing drugs"

as if all muscle-enhancing substances are dangerous drugs!

"social physique anxiety seems..."
means caring about how you look, everyone does to some degree, who decides what that degree 'should' be?

ninnys are just intimidated by those to take good care of themselves.


I have to show this to my cousin. We were having a discussion about this very topic a couple of months back. She's a hard core, feminist, lesbian, who feels women are very negatively effected by the media's constant bombardment of what the "ideal woman" should look like. While I agreed with her, I aslso noted that men were just as effected, by Calvin Klein adds, men's health magazines, and the physiques of many of the action movie stars. (ie,Brad Pitt, Vin Deisel, Mark Whalberg, ect.) She totally disagreed with me even after I asked her to explain the huge increase in the number of men seeking cosmetic surgery over the last decade, not to mention the millions of young men using performance enhancing drugs. Men are probably most influenced by women's reactions to these physiques. While most women don't care much for the 250lb.+ bloated up pro bodybuilder look, most of them love the 200lb., done a cycle or two, look. BTW, has anyone noticed the subtle changes in the Men's health cover models over the last few years. They have gradually gone from 260-170lb. lean guys to 190-200lb. lean guys. Take a look next time you walking through chapter's. (I'm not actually suggesting anyone purchase the mag)


I AM the 190lb 8%bf guy he he he. Sucks for you...:wink: Sorry, guys theres that physique anxiety again. I had to throw that up there and rub it in j/k. James


Also most times the "hunks" you see are 6 feet tall and white or black. Rarely is there an Asian male that is used in Men's Health or Calvin Klein ads etc. This had a profound impact on me, since I am Hapa and only a shade over 4.5 feet tall and speak poor english. However I realized that I can never be pure Haole and 6 feet tall, yet I have my good traits, legs health etc. However it seems that women still hold my apearance against me.