Men Muscle in on Body Image Problems

Gabriel Moisa,

For decades, women with perfect bodies have adorned the covers of fashion magazines and created an ideal that teenage girls aspired to. The obsession with the flawless body has recently crossed genders, causing men to suffer from eating disorders, consider steroid use and to have unhealthy obsessions with weightlifting, new research suggests.

"Men see these idealized, muscular men in the media and feel their own bodies don't measure up," said Tracy Tylka, the lead researcher and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

Reviewing previous studies, Tylka "found that media images of men in action toys, Playgirl centerfolds, etc., have become increasingly muscular over the last 25-30 years."

The effect was apparent when Tylka surveyed 285 college men to find out how much pressure they were under to have a muscular physique.

The more the surveyed men felt under pressure through media, friends, and family, the more they were compelled to live up to the ideals, Tylka reported Aug. 10 at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

"They start to believe that the only attractive male body is a muscular one," Tylka said.  "And when they internalize that belief, they judge themselves on that ideal and probably come up short, because it is not a realistic portrayal of men."

Those who felt their bodies didn't measure up to the ideal reported that they worked out so much that weight training interfered with other parts of their lives. They also took protein supplements, were likely to report eating disorder symptoms, and thought about using steroids to enhance muscle growth.

"It is good to exercise, to lift weights, and to eat the foods that make your body function well," Tylka said. But it is not good to be preoccupied with working out just to bulk up, she said. These men were not eating healthy, but cutting out major food groups like carbohydrates and consuming massive amounts of protein.

"Instead of seeing a decrease in objectification of women in society, there has just been an increase in the objectification of men. And you can see that in the media today." 

Sara Goudarzi
Sara Goudarzi is a Brooklyn writer and poet and covers all that piques her curiosity, from cosmology to climate change to the intersection of art and science. Sara holds an M.A. from New York University, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, and an M.S. from Rutgers University. She teaches writing at NYU and is at work on a first novel in which literature is garnished with science.