Body Image: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice

By Thomas F. Cash; Thomas Pruzinsky | Go to book overview

24
Body Image and Muscularity

ROBERTO OLIVARDIA


MUSCULARITY AND MASCULINITY

Many men today suffer from an "Adonis complex." Adonis was the Greek half-man, half-god who represented the ideal masculine body image—the V-shaped, muscular body. Unlike many women who strive to lose weight and achieve thinness, many men are in a pursuit of losing body fat while maintaining lean muscle mass. Dutton maintains that muscles symbolize health, dominance, power, strength, sexual virility, and threat. Because muscular men are perceived to embody these traditionally masculine traits, they may feel or aspire to feel more respected, admired, attractive, and confident. "Threatened masculinity" theory, first discussed by Mishkind and colleagues, posits that the growing parity of women in Western culture has placed men in a crisis, leaving them to define their masculinity through the one thing that will forever distinguish them from the opposite sex—their bodies. As feminism has changed females' perceptions of themselves and their gender roles, the definition of masculinity and the way men view their maleness has also changed in the process. According to Gillet and White, men's quest for a muscular body is an attempt to establish dominance and reassert a social patriarchy among men and women. Because women are achieving more power and financial independence, they can be more selective in the mates they choose. Thus men are in a position of having lost many of their traditional bases for feeling masculine. As Klein argues in his book Little Big Men, the desire for a hypermasculine body may arise from men's growing insecurity about their gender role. Muscularity may be an attempt to preserve the traditional notion of the male role. In short, the relative importance of men's bodies in Western cultures seems to be changing.

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