Distorted male body image a potential serious health issue 1

by Conor Nimmons

A young male model is noticeably thinner than his female counterpart. Photo: melted-snowball

“Over time the archetypal male has changed from being one in which size, particularly muscularity, was championed. It appears the archetypal male body of today is not only muscular, but also devoid of fat,” says leading health sciences academic Dr Murray Drummond, of Adelaide University.

Dr Drummond’s comment is in accord with recent statistics published by the Butterfly Foundation, the national organisation that supports people with eating disorders, that 68 per cent of Australian boys aged between 12 and 17 have been on a diet and 10 per cent of all eating disorders are among males.

Coupled with a Mission Australia report that almost 45 per cent of Western males are unhappy with their body image, these statistics indicate a greater need for more focus on male dissatisfaction with body image in a society that is preoccupied with female body image. In fact, leading health sciences academic, Dr Murray.

Dr Drummond says men’s body image concerns are not regarded as a serious public health issue and they should be. In a report on men’s bodies and the meaning of masculinity, Dr Drummond says men equate words such as “muscular”, “strong”, “powerful” and “athletic” with masculinity.

He gives an example of the shift by pointing to the original Cleo magazine centerfold showing a photograph of a naked, hairy and solid Jack Thompson which is in stark contrast to the pictures of buffed, sleek men who appear in the contemporary Cleo Bachelor of the Year feature.

In the research for his report, Dr Drummond interviewed over 150 males of all ages and found comments from adolescent boys such as “I am never happy with myself, I have always wanted to improve my body” and “I guess I find it’s attractive to have a bigger body because people think, I don’t want to start a fight with him because he’s pretty big”.

He found that his younger interviewees often raised issues about body fat. As one young man said, “I would like to be a little bit skinnier, not anorexic or anything, but you know, everywhere.” Another said, “I have cut back on food here and there.” And a young man, already in the throes of an eating disorder, said, “You look in the mirror and you think, ‘oh yuck’. It’s either that or occasionally you might put on a little bit of weight and everyone will notice and you think ‘I’ve gotta lose weight, gotta lose weight’.”

India Pembroke, a spokeswoman for the Butterfly Foundation, says that “men are increasingly being bombarded by images of perfect looking men”. She says, “The media doesn’t have a direct effect on the onset of eating disorders but affects our body image if we are already insecure people.”

Dr Drummond’s research found the majority of males he interviewed believe the media has a significant role in the construction of the archetypal male physique. As one man said, “…the media sets the standards for the rest of us as to what we see, what we accept and what we buy. You might think, he’s pretty hot but then you try to get that body and it just never happens.”

Typically, secondary school is a breeding ground for young men’s insecurities. Richard Lacey, a physical education teacher at St Pius X College in Chatswood, is among staff members who do their utmost to assist in the healthy development of young men. Mr  Lacey agrees the media plays a big part.

“Media portrays ideal male body image as being  ‘ripped’ and promotes the ‘six-pack’ look. It’s unrealistic,” he says. He mentions some men’s health magazines as reinforcing such images.

“I see students taking supplements such as protein and creatine to bulk up at a young age without a reason other than body image, and not understanding effects of these supplements.”

Mr Lacey tries to help young men take a more realistic approach to their bodies, to develop “a more realistic portrayal”. He believes education on the issues of health and body image and the way the media operates are critical to young men’s ability to deal with image pressures.


One comment

  1. The “crisis of male body image” was pushed on us thirteen years ago by Dr. Harrison Pope. The “crisis” just didn’t take, to the chagrin of gender feminists and academicians everywhere.

    So some men want to look better. Big whoop. This is hardly a “serious public health issue.”

    Men don’t worry about such things the way women do, and when they do, it isn’t for long.

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