The impact of media on women’s body image is at this point a nearly irrefutable fact. For example, Tiggemann and McGill (2004) showed the relationship between women’s viewing of magazine advertisements and negative mood and body dissatisfaction. We also know that on a daily basis we are bombarded by highly sexualized advertisements that are so ubiquitous that they are almost unconsciously processed without further conscious analysis. While we continue to make strides in opening up the dialogue on eating disorders and body image concerns, surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly to some), the conversation rarely includes men. What about the pressures placed upon them and the ideals toward “optimal” masculinity?
Perhaps much of the focus has been on women for good reason. Sexual objectification and victimization of women does in fact occur to women at a much higher rate than men, most commonly by male perpetrators, although not exclusively. But still, in today’s society with what’s been ungraciously dubbed “generation self-esteem,” there are some jarring concerns about body image and men that seems to be explored little in the field.
We have diagnostic categories that essentially address of range of body types for better or worse at a clinical level. The spectrum can go from anorexia to binge-eating disorder, although it’s also possible to be bulimic and of average weight. But what about the man who is so muscular he looks as though his veins are about to burst? Does he spend excessive amounts of time at the gym with unhealthy rigidity and vigor? Does he obsess about protein shakes, calorie content, and the development of each individual muscle on his body? Is he using steroids and supplements that can be hazardous to his health? Diagnostically, this can map onto traits associated with obsessive or neurotic tendencies. But globally, isn’t there something wrong with a society that isn’t concerned about this? Certainly, the goal would not be to point figures or carelessly label and diagnose individuals. The greater concern pertains to the underlying issues behind this.
What does musculature communicate about a man’s self-worth? What is it about appearing larger that implicates dominance, masculinity, strength and control? Could a man not embody all these characteristics without putting his body through excessive strain? Some have likened body building to be the male equivalent of women’s eating disorders—an attempt to gain control in a seemingly hopeless or uncontrollable environment. Possibly it is a means of obtaining praise and affection where little self-esteem and self-value exists. Does looking hyper-masculine protect a man’s sexuality from being questioned if he was taunted as teen? Further, it can be difficult to tell at what point the balance has tipped from the direction of healthy body image to unhealthy and excessive. For body builders and concerned friends, below are some factors for consideration:
1) How many hours of your week are devoted to your health and wellness regimen? Does it ever feel as though it is taking up too much of your time? How do you feel if you miss a day? Have others commented on your regimen?
2) Is it possible to limit “weigh-ins” and to shift the focus from numbers and visible results to an overall healthy feeling?
3) Do you feel that your social group contributes to a sense of pressure to keep building or push yourself harder? What would it be like to socially engage and surround yourself with friends who possess a healthier mindset?
4) What types of recreational media do you consume? Are you constantly on websites and pages that glorify building and make it seem like an ideal? Perhaps this perpetuates the cycle.
5) What does building symbolize to you? Is it a casual stress relief or a means of proving something to yourself or others? Would it be helpful to talk to a professional about these concerns?
6) What would it be like if you surrounded yourself with positive affirmations and inspiration that are uplifting and accepting of you as you are? For example, putting up favorite quotes on the refrigerator rather than photos of perfect bodies.
The psychology of men is its own intricate web of unspoken values and norms; one that women can be completely unaware of. As women, we are stereotyped for our strong verbal and communication skills since the time we are little girls. We are encouraged to speak up and to seek help more than men. Studies confirm women to have more positive help-seeking attitudes relative to men, and they are more often therapy clients than men. So what resources are available to men? Website such as mantherapy.org are a somewhat humorous and (and perhaps stereotypical) attempt to engage men in seeking out services. The APA’s Journal of Men and Masculinity is another such effort at prioritizing men’s issues. However, greater advocacy efforts are needed. Body image concerns have historically been aimed almost exclusively at women, but the tide most certainly needs turning.
A New Psychology of Men by Ronald F. Levant, William S Pollack, BasicBooks (1995).