Male Body Image

How do men struggle with body image?

The field studying male body image, unlike that of female body image, is fairly new; researchers are still grappling with what the real issues are that need to be addressed and studies. So, the majority of studies struggle to prove whether or not men are influenced by media, and the results are fairly split within the body of research and sometimes even within a single study. While research is rather inconclusive as to the effects of media on male body image, researchers do agree that the trend is for men to desire bigger muscles and leaner bodies. However, societal assumptions about male body image can be very misleading.


Inconclusive Research Says:

1. Sociocultural pressures shape body image.                                                                                                                                            

1. That’s a minor thing; men are actually more concerned with attracting women and being healthy when it comes to body image.

2. Men only desire lean muscle and upper body development.

2. Men speak about a wide range of concerns beyond upper body mass, including other areas of the body, weight, and fitness and health.

3. Male body image concerns are focused on aspects they can change, mainly as muscle tone.

3. Men are equally concerned with things they can’t change, like body shape, balding, wrinkles, body hair, and height.

As a wide array of studies show, these assumptions are not accurate. The reality is, male body image is just as complex an issue as female body image, one that requires much more research as we begin to understand it. See sources: Ridgeway & Tylka 2005; McFarland & Petrie 2012; Burlew & Shurts 2013; Daniel & Bridges 2013; Barrow 2012; Schooler & Ward 2006.

 Just like with female body image, male body image is driven by a number of factors, not just media pressure and the need to fit society’s ‘ideal body’. Once we as a society can understand that men are more than the bulk of their muscles—just as women are more than the circumference of their waists—we can begin to change the culture of ideal bodies toward more productive ends of health, body acceptance, and celebration of all body types. For men no less than women, the results of unhealthy body expectations are far-reaching, affecting how boys grow up viewing themselves, leading to the development of eating disorders or muscle dysmorphia, and ultimate making for an unhappy, unsatisfied lifestyle.   

Ask Yourself—

  • What do you think of today’s body image standards for men? How do they compare with those for women?
  • Why might men receive the same pressure as women to achieve the ‘perfect’ body?
  • According to a British study, one in three men would willingly give up a year of life in exchange for his ideal body. Why might this be, when this seems to be such an extreme desire? Would you be willing to do that? What would you do for your ideal body? Why?
  • Have you seen or experienced the effects of media’s pressure on men to have a certain body type? How might this affect men?