Our Bodies, Ourselves Revisited: Male Body Image and Psychological Well-Being

By Tager, David; Good, Glenn E. et al. | International Journal of Men's Health, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview
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Our Bodies, Ourselves Revisited: Male Body Image and Psychological Well-Being

Tager, David, Good, Glenn E., Morrison, Julie Bauer, International Journal of Men's Health

Given increasing objectification of the male body and rising steroid and supplement use among young men, it is imperative to explore associations between body image, masculine norms, and psychological well-being. This study examines correlations between these constructs in 101 male college students. Results revealed significant associations between participants' physical self-evaluations and two aspects of psychological well-being. Appearance evaluation accounted for approximately 20 percent of variance in participants' psychological self-acceptance. Body image correlated positively with perceived environmental mastery and with the masculine norm of dominance. A negative correlation was observed between childhood victimization and body image. Participants who considered themselves overweight reported lower self-acceptance than participants who considered themselves to be underweight. Results support the hypothesis that body image has become a significant predictor of psychological well-being in young men.

Keywords: male body, body image, masculine norms, psychological well-being, weight


There is substantial literature on the relations of negative body image to self-concept, eating disorders, and psychological distress in females, and on addressing body image issues in counseling (e.g., Fallon, Katzman, & Wooley, 1994; Johnson, Roberts, & Worrel, 1999; Srebnik & Salzberg, 1994; Stice & Shaw, 1994; Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999). The wealth of theory and studies in this field are due, in part, to a strong feminist critique of the impact of female objectification and to the dramatic rise in eating disorder diagnoses among young women. In comparison, male body image has received much less attention as a factor that might contribute in important ways to male self-concept and behavior (Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000).

In recent years, however, more young men seem to be conflicted about their physical appearance. The prevalence of diagnosed male eating disorders appears to be on the rise (Braun, Sunday, Huang, & Halmi, 1999). Steroid and supplement use for the purpose of improving appearance or strength has increased dramatically, and their use appears to be associated with weight preoccupation, body dissatisfaction, poorer health-related attitudes, and higher levels of consumption of men's fitness magazines (Field et al., 2005; Irving, Wall, Neumark-Sztainer, & Story, 2002; Smolak, Murnen, & Thompson, 2005). McCreary and Sasse (2000) note the change toward a more muscular body ideal in general, and several studies document the increasing muscularity of male action figures, Playgirl centerfolds, and male advertising models, whose half-dressed representation in the media has risen sharply since the 1950s (Leit, Pope, & Gray, 2001; Pope, Olivardia, Borowiecki, & Cohane, 2001; Pope, Olivardia, Gruber, & Borowieki, 1999).

Much as the predominant images of a singular, objectified, and unattainable female body ideal contribute to psychological distress in women, gender theorists hypothesize that the idealized lean and muscular male body that dominates the covers of men's magazines tends to contribute to low self-esteem and psychological conflict in men. In fact, there is growing evidence for an association between negative body image and psychological distress, physical distress, and aggression in males (e.g., Agliata & Tantleff-Dunn, 2004; Cafri et al., 2005; Furnham & Calnan, 1998; O'Dea & Abraham, 2002; Olivardia, Pope, Borowiecki, & Cohane, 2004; Ricciardelli & McCabe, 2004). Also, recent work suggests that higher endorsement of traditional masculine norms is related to higher levels of body dissatisfaction (Kimmel & Mahalik, 2004). In general, there seems to be increasing empirical support for the relation between body dissatisfaction and psychological conflict in young men.

While the increasing fetishization of the male body appears to have initiated men into a struggle with body image similar to what women have long experienced, there are, of course, differences associated with the different constructions of gender.

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