Buff, Tough, and Rough: Representations of Muscularity in Action Motion Pictures

Article excerpt

Body image may be understood as a multidimensional construct that represents how individuals "think, feel, and behave with regard to their own physical attributes" (Muth & Cash, 1997, p. 1438 as cited in Morrison, Kalin, & Morrison, 2004). Two basic attitudinal elements of body image are evaluation and investment. Evaluation refers to the self-appraisal of one's appearance, which entails body-image satisfaction or dissatisfaction in relation to one's internalised physical ideals. Investment refers to the cognitive and behavioural importance placed on one's appearance, including appearance-related self-schemas (Jakatdar, Cash, & Engle, 2006). Given the connections between low body esteem and issues of public health (Vartanian, Giant, & Passino, 2001), body image has been a topic of vigorous examination for a number of years. A prominent theme that has emerged from decades of research is that the appearance-related messages provided by various socialisation agents within one's culture may influence both the evaluation and investment components of body image (Vartanian et al., 2001).

Some researchers contend that men's body image evaluation is becoming progressively more negative (Pope et al., 2000) and, as a result, men's level of body image investment is intensifying (e.g., Morrison, Morrison, & Hopkins, 2003). These observations may be supported, in fact, by research on the drive for muscularity, which is defined by Morrison and colleagues (2003) as "the desire to achieve an idealised, muscular body type" (p. 113). The most desirable body shape for men emphasises muscle mass and physical bulk, what researchers refer to as the muscular mesomorph (Mishkind, Silberstein, & Moore, 1986 as cited in McCreary & Sasse, 2000). As there is little requirement for men in modern Western society to possess large muscles, men's striving for the muscular mesomorphic ideal suggests that their attitudes toward the body have undergone a profound shift, from predominantly instrumental to predominantly ornamental (Morrison et al., 2003).

In the current study, the prevalence and characterological representations of muscular performers appearing in top-grossing action motion pictures was investigated. This genre was chosen because it appears to be particularly relevant to young men. For example, among a small sample of teenage boys, Ging (2005) found that the most popular category of film was action (60%), followed closely by comedy (54%). Male-oriented genres and stereotypical representations of masculinity were strongly evident in participants' tastes and preferences across all media forms especially in relation to motion pictures. Participants also had a very clear idea regarding the gendering of film: when asked what genres they thought appealed most to men, 80% said action (Ging, 2005).

To provide a framework for this investigation, the remainder of the Introduction focuses on research concerning media representations of the male body. Prior to discussing this research, however, two caveats must be issued. First, by focusing on mass media, we are not suggesting that it is the only factor that influences men's body image evaluation and investment. Indeed, other factors such as peers and family have been found to be influential (e.g., Ricciardelli, McCabe, & Banfield, 2000). Second, we are not proposing that exposure to specific categories of media invariably affects how men perceive themselves physically. The putative consequences of media exposure must be understood within a complex bi-directional model that incorporates myriad individual difference variables (e.g., self-esteem). However, with these caveats issued, it is important to note that mass media are often regarded as "probably the most powerful conveyors of sociocultural ideals [in terms of appearance]" (Tiggemann & Slater, 2003, p. 49). Thus, the ways in which media directed at men represent the male body is a critical topic for inquiry within the field of men and masculinity. …