Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Male Voices on Body Image

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Male Voices on Body Image

Article excerpt

This study examines male body image perceptions, motivations, and related behaviors through a qualitative approach. Eleven males between the ages of 18 and 25 participated in two semi-structured interviews. During the first interview, participants were presented with three pictures that represented different body types as well as two image scales that ranged in muscularity and adiposity. The images served to stimulate conversation about a number of questions posed. The follow-up interviews permitted the participants to voice additional information pertaining to the first interview as well as assess their comfort level with the interview process. Discussion surrounds the males' level of body satisfaction, perception of the ideal male physique, perceived influences, perceived psychosocial consequences, perceived motivations, and behaviors employed to attain or maintain their desired body type. Finally, the utilization of cross-gender interviewing when investigating male body image is addressed.

Keywords: male body image, body satisfaction, perceptions, motivations, behaviors, qualitative inquiry, cross-gender interviewing


Body image, a multidimensional construct, can influence one's thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and may be revealed in attitudinal and perceptual components (Pruzinsky & Cash, 2002). Commonly investigated in female samples, research on male body image and accompanying behaviors has increased in recent years (Cafri & Thompson, 2004). Similar to the desired achievement of the thin ideal in females, attainment of a particular ideal has also been noted for males, specifically, the mesomorphic or muscular body type (Olivardia, Pope, Borowiecki, & Cohane, 2004). Again in line with the female literature on this topic, accompanying male body dissatisfaction as a function of desiring the mesomorphic ideal has been identified, as well as adverse psychosocial consequences, including depression and low self-esteem (Olivardia et al., 2004).

In addition to the potential mental health ramifications, attainment of the ideal build may result in the engagement of unhealthy behaviors associated with achieving muscle. For example, excessive weight lifting (Pope, Gruber, Choi, Olivardia, & Phillips, 1997), the consumption of supplements such as creatine (Olivardia et al., 2004), and the use of anabolic steroids (Wroblewska, 1997) have been reported to increase size and may present health risks for the user. Thus, it is important that we gain a better understanding of the potential mental and physical health consequences of male body image concerns.

Although research on male body image has increased, it is still quite limited in scope (Olivardia et al., 2004). A possible explanation for this dearth of research is a lack of appropriate measures to tap into concerns unique to men. Indeed, researchers have questioned the relevance of using existing questionnaires, designed from the female perspective, in male samples (Edwards & Launder, 2000). Hence, there appears to be a need for male body image questionnaire development that is driven from male conversation (Dittmar et al., 2000). To this end, the long-term objective of this research is to develop a male body image behavior questionnaire. With this long-term goal in mind, and considering that quantitative studies pertaining to body image-related perceptions, behaviors, and motivations dominate the literature, a qualitative approach was anticipated to be insightful, particularly given that male body image is not a widely discussed or even acknowledged topic of conversation among males (Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000).

It should not be assumed, however, that all methods of qualitative inquiry will provide insight into male body image. On the contrary, focus group methodology, for example, may create an atmosphere where insight into male body image could become a manifestation of social desirability. …

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