Media messages about bodies & violence

It is clear from the research that the media present powerful messages about ideal body types for men and women, and that such messages can shape our attitudes and behaviors. But images of ideal bodies also carry meanings about the kinds of roles and traits that are desirable for men and women. There is a growing awareness of the ways media representations of masculinity and femininity contribute to patterns of violence in the United States today.

Jackson Katz, in his films Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis of Masculinity(2000) and Wrestling with Manhood: Boys, Bullying and Battering (2002) and his book The Macho Paradox (2006), argues that the mass media in the US construct violent masculinity as the norm. Through exposure to the media, he suggests, boys learn that “real” men are physically dominant, tough, aggressive, and willing to use violence to achieve their goals. He notes that violence is one of the nation’s most serious epidemics, and most of that violence is committed by men.  In 2006, Katz reported that 85% of murders are committed by men; 90% of physical assaults, 95% of domestic assaults, and 99% of rapes are committed by men.  More recent statistics show that by 2012 88.7% of murders are committed by men; 77.1% of aggravated assaults, 72.3% of other assaults, and 99.1% of rapes are committed by men (FBI 2012).  Katz reminds us that  pointing out such statistics is not anti-male. After all, most victims of male violence—76% of victims—are other men. So trying to break the association between masculinity and violence promises to benefit both men and women.

Media depictions of large, heavily muscled male bodies emphasize male power and dominance. Although little systematic research has been conducted to test the effect of such media representations on the body image, it has been proven that it is in fact harmful for males to be bombarded with such body ideals. Men, after watching television advertisements promoting the muscular and ripped body ideal, have increased levels of depression as well as increased body dissatisfaction. This unrealistic ideal is becoming more and more extreme as time goes on and is one of the causes for the increase in use of steroids and excessive exercise (Halliwell et al., 2007).    

last update:  9 April 2021