Discussion and Results Chapter: Male Body Image

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¶ … Body Image

While precise definitions of beauty remain elusive and the subjective nature of the enterprise demands qualifications, it is clear that physical appearance has always fulfilled an important social function for humans, particularly women. From a strictly pragmatic perspective, more attractive women -- based on whatever definition was appropriate for the era -- stood a better chance of securing a mate and reproducing than their less attractive counterparts. For ancient mankind, physically attractive women may have been much more male-like and larger in their appearance than modern females because these women would have represented better hunters and even warriors than a demure and physically petite female. Indeed, it is not too far-fetched to imagine the most desirable women in a particular tribe of early humans as being a hairy, foul-smelling specimen who could nevertheless hunt, cook and bear children better than her peers. As time progressed, though, and domestic task responsibilities became more clearly differentiated between men and women, other physical attributes became more pronounced in terms of different perceptions of physical appearance. Smaller and more delicate women with physically attractive features might have become the most desirable, while the physical appearance of men would be viewed according to their ability to satisfy their more-physically demanding responsibilities. Certainly, these are broad generalizations but for better or worse, these same processes in one form or another have served as the basis for perceptions and interpretations of physical appearance for millennia, usually to the detriment of the female of the species in terms of body image, especially from a modern point-of-view.

Today, it is reasonable to suggest that men enjoy much great latitude for a wide range of social factors, particularly body image. According to Lee and Owens (2002), when compared to men, women have it much more difficult in terms of body image issues: "Women are implicitly positioned as 'other,' as objects to be looked at rather than as individuals whose subjectivity is of equal value to that of men" (p. 55). A growing body of evidence suggests that women in particular have been affected by these Barbie doll-like physical qualities as exemplified in a barrage of media messages in ways that have contributed to a higher incidence of eating disorders and body image disturbances (Twamley & Davis, 1999; Lee & Owens, 2002). Indeed, Chambers and Alexander (2007) report that research indicates that between 11 and 20% of young women today suffer from an eating disorder. According to Chambers and Alexander, "Previous research has established a link between eating disorders and the media images of ultra thin models" (2007, p. 491). These authors, though, also emphasize that it remains unclear why so many other women remain unaffected by the same media messages and suggest that additional research into this issue is needed before informed analyses can be achieved (Chambers & Alexander, 2007).

These trends have caused many researchers in recent years to posit that while women will be highly involved with their physical appearance, men will view their physical appearance in a more positive light and will likely experience much less anxiety and involvement in physical appearance maintenance than women (Lee & Owens, 2002). The studies to date indicate that men are typically more satisfied with their body weight compared to women (Leon et al.., 1985), physicality (Fallon & Rozin, 1985) as well as their general appearance (Pliner et al., 1990). Consequently, there remains a dearth of timely research concerning these issues as they apply to men, with the majority of studies being focused on women with the result being that these issues have assumed a female-specific quality (Rodin et al.., 1985; Thompson et al., 1999). This paucity of timely research may also conceal some very real problems men in general and American and other Western men in particular may be suffering from based on changes in social patterns during the past half century. The fact that men are being exposed to the same media messages being communicated to women as they relate to a desirable physical appearance suggest that body image is important to both men and women, but the emphasis on women's appearance sends a message concerning its importance to both sexes. According to Rothblum (1994), the majority of women-oriented magazines feature pictures of women which depict -- either purposely or not -- a desirable image to which women should aspire. Conversely, magazines that are targeted at a male audience typically contain advertisements and other images of idealized women rather than men (Lee & Owens, 2002). The basic message being communicated by the mainstream media concerning the relative importance of the female physical appearance compared to that of the male is described by Green (1998) as being, "In a phallocentric civilization in which women are always the passive objects of the active male gaze and of male desire, the spectator is necessarily interpolated as a man, or men; the structure of a culture in which men look and women are looked at is reified and preserved by cinematic structure that 'men look, and women are looked at'" (p. 155).

Taken together, these trends would suggest that women are far more interested in and concerned with their body image compared to their male counterparts; however, the few studies that have been conducted concerning body image and men indicate that men experience concerns over their weight and the shape of their bodies as well, but such concern has been denigrated by the scientific community in favor of further research concerning body image issues and women (Lee & Owens, 2002). In this regard, Lee and Owens emphasize that today, masculinity is increasingly becoming associated with muscularity in ways that are making men vulnerable to the same types of media messages that have long been blamed for women's eating disorders and social anxieties about their physical appearance. In fact, some researchers maintain that although the reactions by men to such media messages may manifest themselves differently from women, men likely suffer from the same general levels of body dissatisfaction as women (Davis & Cowles, 1991; Drewnonski & Yee, 1987), with some studies placing the dissatisfaction level as high as 95% (Mishind et al., 1986). Although few in number in comparison to those devoted to females, the studies to date concerning the issues that are of most importance to men with regards to their physical appearance include height, baldness and muscularity (Anderson et al., 2000; Phillips & Olivardia, 2000). The results of this early research are increasingly pointing to comparable concerns among men regarding their physical appearance and aspiration to an idealized body as captured in the mainstream media and other social forces that have resulted in permutations on the "metrosexual-but-buff" male theme (Fallon, 1990). Perhaps it is little wonder, then, that the smattering of recent research to date in these areas has found that men suffer from body dissatisfaction and associated adverse healthcare consequences in far greater numbers than previously believed (Andersen et al., 2000; Cash, 1997, Kurth & Krahh, 1995). Therefore, sociologists, anthropologists and clinicians must take body image issues into account when studying the male population given the complex nature of the relationship between males and their physical appearance as influenced by various sociocultural forces. It should be pointed out, though, that not only is there a dearth of relevant and timely research into male perception of body image and the mediating factors that affect it, many of the studies that have been conducted in recent years are flawed in several ways that limit their reliability and generalizability to the larger population. For instance, much of the early findings concerning male body image were based on surveys from magazines, content analyses or other types of research that lacked the credibility of thoughtful research studies using reliable and verifiable methods. In fact, more than 92% of the studies that have been conducted during the past decade or so that included men in their sampling were correlational in design and just two studies used an all-male study population; moreover, while the results of these studies provide a point of departure for further investigations concerning male-specific issues about physical appearance, future studies must taken into account the fact that even the best of the research to date has been flawed by using survey instruments and rating scales that were normed on female responses and were intended to identify body image issues among women (McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2004). Not surprisingly, the majority of the studies to date using these female-targeted metrics were unable to identify specific areas of concern among their male respondents simply because they failed to include appearance issues that were relevant to men (McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2004). In this regard, McCabe and Ricciardelli conclude that this lack of male-specific, reliable clinical research has resulted in some misconceptions and an unclear understanding concerning male body dissatisfaction.

The current limited research in the area of male body image perceptions attempts and continues to explore questions such as: "What concerns do men have about their body image?"; "To what extent do men… [END OF PREVIEW]

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