Masculinity, Femininity and Male Body Image: A Recipe for Future Research

Article excerpt

Male body dissatisfaction is now approaching parity with female body dissatisfaction, and generally manifests as either a drive for enhanced thinness, as in anorexia nervosa, or more commonly as a drive for enhanced muscularity, as in muscle dysmorphia. However, little research has been undertaken to explicate the factors implicated in the divergence of male body image disorders amongst body dissatisfied males towards either thinness or muscularity oriented body image concerns. We aim to review several constructs which have been explored in attempting to better understand the causal pathway into this divergence, including sexuality and gender role identification. Gender role orientation may be particularly relevant in underpinning this divergence, in that masculinity is likely implicated in the drive for muscularity, whereas femininity is implicated in the drive for thinness amongst body dissatisfied males. Suggestions and implications for future research in further explicating the role of gender role orientation in the divergence of male body image psychopathology are discussed.

Keywords: male body image, masculinity, femininity, gender role identification


While empirical research pertaining to the nature of body image has largely focussed on the female experience, a growing empirical thrust has focussed on illuminating the male experience of body image pathology. Increasing data suggests that males are approaching parity with females in terms of the prevalence of body dissatisfaction (McCreary & Sasse, 2000), which has gone some way to diluting the once held notion framing body image concerns and eating disorders as a predominantly female oriented domain. Estimates posit that up to 95% of college age American men experience some level of body image dissatisfaction (Mischkind et al., 1986), and on average, report a discrepancy between their current and ideal body of approximately 14 kg (Pope et al., 2000). Indeed, a large proportion of men report being prepared to sacrifice years of their life in exchange for their ideal body, and even boys as young as six prefer an ideal body which differs drastically from their current body (Olivardia et al., 2004; Ricciardelli et al., 2000).

The less well understood nature of male body dissatisfaction (relative to female body dissatisfaction) holds particular significance given its association with elevated psychological distress, depressive symptomatology, lower self esteem and overall psychological well-being (Bergeron & Tylka, 2007), in addition to potentially harmful behavioural practices including the consumption of steroids and diet pills, and compulsive exercise practices (Tylka et al., 2005). In the context of this body dissatisfaction, many men report a preference for a more muscular physique, which is consistent with the male body ideal frequently portrayed in the Western media, which results in the drive for muscularity (Pope et al., 2000). However, contrasting research demonstrates that some men, in the context of body dissatisfaction, desire weight loss and reduced overall body mass (Olivardia, et al., 2004), demonstrating a drive or thinness. To date, much of the empirical research applied to male body image has focussed on illuminating the drive for muscularity, given the preponderance of males experiencing their body dissatisfaction as a drive for enhanced muscularity (McCreary & Sasse, 2000), and relatively fewer comprehensive investigations have attempted to examine the male drive for thinness, despite recent research illuminating that up to one third of boys diet to lose weight (McCreary & Sasse, 2002). The current consensus indicates that research attempting to further explicate the nature of male body image ought to take into account both antonymic facets of male body image; the drive for muscularity and the drive for thinness (Bergeron & Tylka, 2007).

Body image dissatisfaction amongst males is said to aetiologically underpin the development of both anorexia nervosa (Waller et al. …